Whether you're looking them over with your architect or checking out house plans online, it's nice to know a few things about homes to help you understand the plans and decide whether they represent what you want in a house.
For example, did you know that styles of homes are defined by how they're laid out as well as their architectural features? A colonial home generally has a central hallway with square rooms on either side and two larger rooms in the back. A ranch home is "L"-shaped, one-story, with the bedrooms grouped on one side of the house. A Victorian house is defined by features like fish-scale shingles and bay windows. And a Cape Cod home has two bedrooms upstairs with sloped ceilings [source: TheHouseDesigners.com]. By learning about the various styles of homes, you'll be able to identify their features on a house plan, which will help you be able to picture the house in your own mind.
In addition to evaluating the layout of the house, take a long hard look at the materials and finishes. Weigh your desire for granite countertops and energy efficient appliances with your desire for a big footprint. Those nickel and dime features can take you over budget quickly. Also, when looking at the materials and techniques listed in your plan, remember that green design can pay off in the long run, but that green techniques may not be appropriate for all climates [source: HomeBuildingSmart.com].
Overall, remember that house plans can be changed -- and it's better to troubleshoot on paper than change the design during the building process, or worse, realize once the house is built that you don't like it. Work with your architect and/or builder to fully understand your plans, then adjust them as needed. Does your modern life require more electrical outlets in the office? Add them. Does your site require the plans be flipped to their mirror image? Flip 'em. Will little kids running through a tight hallway require pocket instead of swinging doors? Change it.
In short, the ideal home isn't necessarily the biggest or prettiest -- it's the one that best fits your life. Think about what's important to you, and then work to make sure your priorities are represented on paper.