SketchUp Talk: Residential Construction

Let’s talk… about residential construction! Today, we take a deep look into how the places we live actually get built. We will discuss the current state of the residential building market, and what role SketchUp plays in it.

What’s the difference between software use for custom homes vs. commercial production building? Let’s talk about it! This episodes’ special guest is veteran SketchUp builder John Brock.

Listen to the podcast:

Watch the podcast:

Constructability3D -
Estimator for SketchUp -
Constructible from Trimble -
SketchUp for Builders on Amazon - -
SketchUp Forum -
Enscape -
Lumion -


…and the Podcast is now live! Let me know if you are having any problems getting to it!


Great talk, Aaron. And always interesting to listen to John.

I’m finding that, as you and John noted, that the custom residential industry is very slow to adopt new technology. When I show my models to builders they look at me as if to say “the last thing I want to do is learn something new.” And architects, when you mention Sketchup, think you’re just toying around.

But, there may be light at the end of the tunnel (hopefully its not an oncoming train!). I’m working on a project now and consulting with the builder, using my model of the project to guide them through the construction. I identified a number of potentially devastating errors in the plans, and we’re working through the resolutions to all of them. I’m using the model to check their structural steel shop drawings. And the architect’s office, big Revit junkies, are jaw dropping blown away at the level of detail I put into the project model. We’re using it to fine tune finish details and how we need to tweak structure to accomplish them.

I’ve studied so much in the past 3 or so years related to BIM. I saw a recent report that noted that, on the site, field crews spend as much as 2 days of every week just scratching their heads over the plans and details, trying to figure it all out! A virtual construction model makes it all so very clear.

Great work on the videos! One good subject I’d like to see you cover, but its a deep one, is model organization. I think I’ve settled, finally, on something I like, but that is a very important subject to investigate, particularly when dealing with larger models. Mine, probably like John’s, are running in the 150 MB range. Hard to keep the software nimble at that size.

Best regards,



A year ago, I designed a house completely in SketchUp and Layout. Previous projects were either entirely in AutoCAD or a combination of ACAD and SU. Of course I began the project in version 2017, and midway through version 2018 came out. Scared that I’d mess something up, and as I was against a deadline, I stuck with 17.

I fought my way through Layout’s idiosyncrasies, and came up with a good set of paper documents. However …

During the process, the builder had input, and when he saw how a digital model of the building was vastly superior to 2D paper drawings, at least as far as understanding how things went together, he immediately went out and bought his crew tablets and copies of SU. He was fully ready to build the house completely from the SU model, and would have, had the owner not crapped out and the project died.

He and I are now waiting for another project where we can utilize the technology. Now, if only the building department would buy in.


It still amazes me that this industry is so resistant to change! I do see and hear about those successes (like your own) and it gives me hope! Keep fighting the good fight!!

1 Like

I LOVE hearing about people willing to step outside of the norm and trying to make something new work! When that next job comes along be sure to let us know all about it!

1 Like

I’ve actually been working with a number of production home builders in both the US and Canada who are now using SketchUp almost exclusively to model and create production documentation for their residential home building businesses.

SketchUp is definitely making inroads into the residential construction market. I’ve always argued that other design software and packages are too restrictive in their nature whereas SketchUp has the innate freedom that allows the designer to really express their creativity. The problem in my mind has been the lack of tools and automation available within SketchUp. This is where the plugins/extensions come into play, extending the ability of SketchUp (parametrics and automation) while at the same time trying to maintain the free flowing (design) nature of SketchUp.


Great topic/subject…I have done work similar to John Brock for one off structures, and even designed jigs for pre-fab components (built on the ground/hoisted by crane) for a ZIP line project.
The problem I (we) face is two fold as I see it:
Getting site crew(s)/leaders up to speed and confident in using SU to exploit the model “on site”. (I have offered to train in SU use on more than one occasion)
And equally important is getting those holding the cash to part with it for a complete/accurate model to build from.
Anyway…I feel the desire is there from the contractor/builder but the “cost” is something they just resist and I am not sure they can be “sold” easily… (In my experience)

PS… “collision detection” is something else I have been involved in vetting out in a pre-construction model. (HVAC ducting “crossing” large steel I Beams was a big one I “discovered”)

1 Like

Hello Aaron,
This was a great Podcast! I have never listened to a SU podcast before and when I saw this one posted on LinkedIn I knew I wanted to listen. I will definitely become a regular listener. I am not new to SketchUp, I am a Residential Designer that has a construction background and I have been using it for several years to create massing models of the homes I design. I primarily use 2D AutoCad for all my design and construction drawings once the initial concept is nailed down and I am absolutely burnt out on 2D drawings. It has been a desire of mine for years is to fully model all my designs in SketchUp and create all my design, preliminary and construction drawings in Layout. My goal for 2019 is to be using only SketchUp and Layout by the end of the year. I have started my recent projects in SU. So far I have not moved out of the “Conceptual” and massing stage of the projects but the plan is to continue on using SU once the concept is set. My plan is to become efficient at producing 2D construction plans for my initial projects and then move towards producing and supplying a fully detailed project model along with the plan set.
So far I like using Michael Brightman’s ConDoc tools and ConDoc workflow. To me, ConDoc seems like it is easily adaptable and customizable once I get used to the workflow. I know I have a rough road ahead of me and some kinks to work out. I also know from seeing some of the examples of plans created in SU and LO, that with the patients and effort, I can get where I want to be.
I hope that this topic on this board keeps growing. I don’t know anyone in my area that works in SketchUp and it would be nice to talk to other SketchUp users that are in the Residential Design and Construction field. Every time I hear of someone having success using SU and LO for residential construction it gives me hope and motivation. Thank you for creating this Podcast! I hope to hear from others that are in the same shoes as me.

If ONLY there was someone out there willing to author extensions that would automate the monotonous portions of building… like… maybe the framing… I agree, the right extensions are key to SketchUp succeeding in the building marketplace!

This is an enormous issue for the construction industry! The fact that we still have people on sites fighting against anything that is not a paper plan is crazy. This is why we need innovators on site helping to prove that there is a better way!

Hopefully, you can connect with others in your shoes (or similar shoes) here, via the forum! It is a great way to connect with people that you would otherwise never be able to speak with!

Thanks for listening everyone!


Framing is only a small part of the bigger construction picture. Let’s not forget concrete, finishes, trim, moldings, fixtures, electrical, plumbing, decks, landscaping, HVAC, and the list goes on.

As John mentioned, Didier Bur was probably the first to really broach the subject with his Housebuilder plugin. Before I wrote my own wall plugin I actually used Housebuilder extensively. Even with its limitations it still was leaps and bounds above trying to model everything manually.

Now the SketchUp designer has more options at their disposal. Of course I am partial to my own offering but it should be noted that Plusspec has done a magnificent job of bringing a lot of the entire structure together with their extension(s) and John Brock has furthered his Estimator’s reach by offering an integrated framing and slab solution. However, I do think that these products and even my own are still in their infancy and much work remains to be done.

This is only the beginning of SketchUp’s entry into the architectural (BIM) world. I predict there will be many more plugins/extensions that will further extend SketchUp’s capabilities. No one has really even covered the structural engineering fields for example.

With the ruby backend and even the C API the gloves really come off, anything is possible. I would like to see someone put together a matrix analysis engine that runs inside of SketchUp (RISA 3D equivalent). I actually coded a simpler 2D version in Perl a couple years back that now runs as a web based app. Ruby and SketchUp are certainly up to this type of complex task and more.

A reinforced concrete plugin would certainly have some utility in the commercial and industrial realm. I’ve got all sorts of ideas for extensions that can literally make SketchUp compete with a myriad of engineering softwares out there, and would knock your socks off.

I think the point here is that SketchUp is a wonderful 3D drawing environment. It is simple and easy to use with a minimal learning curve. You couple this with a full on programming language like Ruby and the blank slate now becomes anything you want it to be.

Comparing Revit to Sketchup is like comparing a (farm) tractor to my toaster. One of these you can throw on a different implement and now you are planting instead of plowing. The other, well, you can make toast, that’s about it.

1 Like

The other talking point that I really think needs some coverage is the two camps that seem to exist within the SketchUp universe when it comes to architectural design and modeling. There are those who advocate the use of the native SketchUp tools and say that is all you need and then there is the extension/plugin advocates. I’m not saying strictly that one is wrong and the other is right but I do side very heavily with the extension camp and I will try to explain why below:

First, it is readily obvious that yes, you can model an entire structure successfully with just the native tools provided by SketchUp and perhaps a few minimalistic plugins to aid you with basic geometric steps (ie. mirroring etc…) I think this methodology is best demonstrated by the amazing work done by Nick Sonder, his models and drawings are fantastic and I know that as a purist he pretty much puts it all together without the aid of complex plugins or extensions. I can only imagine the level of detail and work that this must entail and applaud such commitment and devotion to providing such a superior product.

On the flip side who among us wants to devote weeks of our time painstakingly putting together a model or can even afford to do so in today’s fast paced economy. As they say time is money, and the quicker you can turn over a job the quicker you get paid and move on to the next one. If you are designing a one off custom home for a buyer who has deep pockets then it is probably feasible to model an entire home with nothing more than SketchUp’s native tools. However, if you are trying to pump out as many designs as you can on a razor thin margin with the competition breathing down your neck then extensions and automation is the only real way to go.

The upside to the purist route is that you maintain full control over your workflow and you dictate every little detail of the design, model and how the data is handled and presented. The downside of course is the loss of efficiency and time. You as the designer has to determine what trade offs you are willing to accept and what makes the most sense for your workflow.

I have spent a good amount of time examining other architectural software out there, in particular Chief Architect, and comparing and contrasting with what can and should be done in SketchUp. The biggest problem I see with a product like CA is that it locks you in too tightly into its overly restrictive paradigm or modeling system, there is no freedom. This is the primary reason in my opinion why SketchUp has a major leg up on products like CA. The more important point though is that to be successful in the SketchUp universe an architectural plugin needs to be able to provide the convenient parametric ability and automation of CA while at the same time be flexible enough not to loose the freedom (or as I like to call it the free flowing 3Dness) that is SketchUp. This is a tricky balance , and if navigated correctly could potentially convert a lot of would be purists.

In the end the almighty dollar usually wins out so my bet is on the extension camp when it comes to architectural modeling. Only by leveraging the number crunching capabilities of the computer and automating otherwise redundant tasks can one fully realize the true power of SketchUp.


SketchUp is amazing for design and visualization of residential projects - they’re just the right size and complexity for it to be used to its fullest advantages.
I have designed 100s of homes using Sketchup as the primary tool. Exterior, interior, landscape - but only up to the “developed design” stage (from there I hand over to Architects/Draftspersons who detail the model for construction).
I’ve also designed 100s of streets (including all the street environments, utilities, etc). Doing this live at a ‘workshop’ format is so good for client interactions and I have lot so clients who now know how to open and view Sketchup (and some even take measurements off it).

Unfortunately, however, I have battled for years (like many) and understand it takes a HUGE amount of ongoing research, optimism and perseverance to get SketchUp to come close to a professional-grade architectural design & documentation tool.

I believe a large factor in the slowness of the industry to adopt SketchUp is that the Developers have made SketchUp as different to traditional drafting tools as possible. There are pros to this (design flexibility, realism and intuitiveness) but also some big cons.

Industry uptake could be a lot faster. Clients, contractors and consultants, Councils, etc, who we work with expect to (and need) to receive certain things in the deliverables we provide to them.
Things I commonly hear:
“Your file is corrupt because everything is on Layer 0 and there are no lineweights”
“Your z values are wrong - check your USC because when i import it, it appears at 0,0,0”
“Your file is too complex and crashes my computer, just give us the 2d and we’ll trace over it.”

I thin the fixes are fairly straight forward, but it requires SketchUp develiooers to recognise that we need to output 2D files.
Some of the solutions could include:

  • georeferencing is included (or added on export)
  • 2d drafting mode within SketchUp to fix everything on to a flat plane
  • much better SketchUp annotation capability
  • Scenes, sections or camera views can be used in the same way as mview/defpoints and have selectable paper size/scale factors.
  • export to DWG/IFC can map geometry/groups/etc to layers (or blocks/levels/etc) and with lineweights/colours
  • materials convert to hatch patterns
  • annotations and symbols scale
  • the model exports components (furniture) using a selectable LOD

This would give SketchUp the design power of, well, SketchUp, but the 2d interop of AutoCAD.


I really don’t mean to toot my own horn but as you know I am all in. Right now the plugins are my sole income source and my job, I live and breath these plugins. Residential construction is my specialty, if you put up a topic like this on the boards you can bet I’m going to chime in and voice my thoughts on the matter.

I’m very open with my plugin development and my opinions on all related matters. The long threads I have created on this board and others bear this out more than anything else. I am sorry if this does not always come across in the correct manner but I do my best to educate and inform and at times solicit a response. Feedback is very import to me and literally guides me daily with my work.


Some do fight it for sure, but I have also found the prospect of on-site use of SU intimidating for some. Many in the trades are very good at their craft and take pride in it, but often struggle with proper invoicing/contracts/etc. and so having to struggle (publicly) on-site with SU would be/is avoided.
Not trying to be negative, just sharing some experience(s).
I have converted some (superintendents) and they definitely want it more as do the carpenters/laborers/etc., but big boss only wants models for the unique projects at this time.

(not the place probably)
Wish there was a Speed Square tool for trades to use like the protractor tool, as it is something many are familiar with and I get questions about “angles” sometimes.


1 Like

I never took anything your comment as negative, @Charlie_v! I did not mean to come off as negative, either! I am always excited to hear that technology is moving forward in the construction industry! I know home building is a unique industry, so advancements in industries like car fabrication cannot be directly compared, but many industries have take steps forward while home building sits still. I have worked with a handful of bulders, both big and small, who have tried to formalize and streamline the building process only to get tripped up by trades refusing to change the way the operate. It’s a bummer!

Again, I see every step forward as a huge success and am excited to see the improvements people like yourself can get in place!!

1 Like

Please also see my additional comments pertaining to this podcast on my own thread here:

I really do think we are at a critical juncture with regards to residential construction.


For me, the perfect plug-in would allow me to easily convert the non-intelligent and hollow walls, floors and roofs, that I use to create my model by using native SketchUp faces, to intelligent walls, floors and roofs that contain the studs, rafters etc. This would allow me to be creative and play around with shapes to create the initial design concept and then convert all those shapes into intelligent walls, roofs and so on once the design is pretty well established. The problem I find with many of the “BIM” software packages, including Plusspec, is that you have to know too many perimeters before you can design and that makes it too hard to play “what if” while designing. I believe @TheOnlyAaron Aaron pointed this out in his BIM Podcast (S02 E01). He hit the nail on the head with that one! This is the main reason I am trying to use SketchUp as my modeling software. Yes, it is painful to not have the automation of a Plusspec, Softplan or Chief Architect but compared to the way I have been creating my designs and construction drawings (2D AutoCad), it is still a better method.
Maybe I have it all wrong and there is such a plug-in or program that does this, I would love to find out.


I don’t think such a plugin exists but maybe this sort of thing is possible. I do like the concept, the question is how hard would it be to implement? I’ll have to think on this one for a bit.


I have no idea how to program but in my mind, it would work something like this:

  1. Create walls, Floors Roofs as separate groups using surfaces and native SketchUp geometry. Manipulate each group, move, push, pull, rotate etc. until your design is set.
  2. Select the wall group, activate the plugin, tell the plugin you would like to convert the group to a wall, the plugin makes it a wall and adds in the studs plates, drywall, cladding etc. The same method would apply to the floors roofs or whatever. The openings in the walls for windows or door would get a header, sill (if a window), jack studs, cripples and so on based on user input.

Shoot me an email or PM if you want to talk more about it. It may be an unrealistic dream but, It would allow the designer to design without thinking too much about software inputs and parameters and still produce an intelligent model…best of both worlds!