Editor’s Choice: Virtual Architect Ultimate Home Design
This program earned the top spot in our round-up of the best home design software. It includes everything you need to design a home and is one of the easiest programs to master.VIEW DEAL ON Virtual Architect
Whether you’re building an entire home from the ground up or just rearranging your apartment, the best home design software makes it easy to turn your dreams into reality. They enable you to see exactly how your ideas will look in reality, right down to the color of the paint on the walls, and in many cases you can export out your plans and send them to your architect or contractor so they can start bringing your plans to life.
There’s a big range of home design apps out there, with prices to match. It’s quite possible to get a really good home design app for free – in fact, a free app is one of our favorites – but if you’re willing to spend a little bit of cash you can get hold of apps that do most of the work for you. Most of them also come with enormous libraries of objects that make it easy to add specific plants to the garden or particular items of furniture to the interior.
If you’re only interested in landscape or interior design, there may be a better program for you in our best landscaping design software and best interior design software buying guides.
Home design apps for home users
To find the best home design software we focused on the apps that are aimed squarely at home and hobbyist users. While many of the apps here also have professional and/or architect editions that are packed with power features, they’re overkill for most users. We used them to create single-floor plans featuring standard items such as doors, windows and furniture, and if the apps included tools for landscaping or decking we tried them too. We also fully explored additional features such as multi-floor support, virtual walkthroughs, materials editors and anything else relevant to a typical small build or remodel.
We didn’t just focus on what the home design programs can do, though. We also paid close attention to how they do it. Were the apps user-friendly with helpful wizards for common tasks? Did they deliver rock-solid performance, or did things start to get creaky when there were a lot of items in our plans? What were the help options like? These things are just as important as the toolset in any app, and for new users the help provided – or not provided – can be a deal breaker.
1. Virtual Architect Ultimate Home Design: Best overall
Virtual Architect Ultimate Home Design
A superb all-rounder that includes every feature you could conceivably need
Helpful tutor panel
A little pricier than rivals
This was our favorite home design app in 2019, and the 2020 version retains its crown. It’s a little more expensive than some rivals but not by much, and that extra cash gets you a ton of extra features including a massive library of objects for indoors and out. This is the Landscape and Decks version of the app so it’s just as good outside as it is for the inside.
One of our favorite features in Virtual Architect Ultimate is its wizards. There are lots of them, and they make it easy to create even fairly complex results – so for example there’s an entire House Builder Wizard that takes you from foundations to finished building in no time at all. You’re not limited to the wizards, though: the design tools in the app are well thought out and sensibly organised.
2. TurboFloorPlan Home & Landscape: Best value, best for Mac
An excellent home design app with an impressive pedigree
Easy to learn
Build Green option
Useful video tutorials
Slightly limited compared to pro version
We’ve given TurboFloorPlan two gongs here: one for its quality as a Mac app, and one for its value for money on both Windows and Mac platforms. At $49.99 it isn’t a lot of money but you get an awful lot of features.
TurboFloorPlan comes from the same stable as the famous TurboCAD design app, and it’s a very polished and mature product: it doesn’t suffer from the interface quirks or performance and stability issues that plague some of the cheaper apps out there. It’s easy to learn, its drawing tools are very good and it feels more like using an illustration program than a home design one. We mean that as a compliment, as it’s easy to create fairly complex designs with the minimum of effort thanks to the format painter and object distribution tools.
We also liked the Build Green option, which can help you make more environmentally responsible choices when you design your project. It won’t turn an environmental horror into a hero but it does help you find ways to make your build a little more efficient and reduce its environmental footprint.
3. Sweet Home 3D 6.2: Best free app
Surprisingly good for an app that doesn’t cost any money
A little clunky-looking
Sweet Home 3D proves that you don’t always get what you pay for. With a price tag as low as zero, it’s nevertheless a really useful app. You wouldn’t want to use it to design a skyscraper, but it’s brilliant for small projects such as studio apartments and simple outbuildings.
Sweet Home 3D comes in two versions. There’s the free download, and a paid-for version that costs around $13. That latter one is the same app but it comes with a much bigger library of objects (1,400 compared to the free one’s 100) that you can drag and drop into your creation.
It’s not the prettiest app but it’s pretty good. The 3D view updates in real time as you change things in 2D, it’s really easy to create even fairly complex structures and you can import photos to make things look more realistic. The export options aren’t brilliant and creating realistic 3D images takes a very long time if you want anything bigger than a postage stamp, but these are very minor niggles in an app that doesn’t cost any money.
4. DreamPlan Home Designer: A decent all-rounder
A decent app for simpler home design projects
Easy to use
You can work in 3D mode
Navigation isn’t brilliant
Smaller library than some
This is very much aimed at home and hobbyist users, and it’s cheaper than its similar rivals. It’s easy to learn and to use, its 3D mode is fine and while the included library isn’t as large as some other apps’ libraries, it covers the essentials and it’s easy to adjust the dimensions of the supplied items to get them just-so. It’s a decent app for straightforward projects such as planning a deck, experimenting with ideas for extensions or working out how much furniture you can stuff into the front room.
5. Home Designer Suite 2020 by Chief Architect
A little intimidating but the online help is good and there’s a free trial
Excellent camera controls
Excellent object library
Good drawing and editing tools
Interface is a little intimidating
We like Home Designer Suite 2020 a lot, but at $99 it’s more expensive than the other apps here: that price puts it up against their Pro editions, not the entry level ones. We’d recommend looking for deals as the previous version was very dramatically discounted.
It’s not the easiest app to learn from scratch but once you’ve got the hang of things it’s nice enough and includes a good selection not just of home design tools but CAD-style drawing tools including shapes and text boxes. The library is good for both interior fittings and exterior features, and there’s a particularly good plant chooser that even enables you to search for plants that’ll attract butterflies and birds.
6. SketchUp Free: Simple and free
This lightweight 3D design app is fine for simple projects
Brilliant tutorial panel
Great viewing features
Not strictly a home design app
SketchUp Free is a cut-down version of SketchUp Pro, which you may have seen on home renovation TV programmes. It can do pretty much anything its $299 sibling can do, but the import and export options are much more limited.
SketchUp isn’t just a home design app; it’s a 3D design app that you can use to design homes. That means it lacks the wizards, samples and objects of dedicated home apps, and while there’s a giant online selection of other people’s plans and objects it can be very tedious to navigate. But if you’re willing to put up with that, SketchUp Free is easy to pick up, fast to use and includes superb camera options that enable you to see your design from every conceivable spot.
7. RoomSketcher: Easiest to use
A really good app let down by a not-so-good pricing model
Exceptionally easy to use
Great drawing tools
Branded items eg IKEA furniture
RoomSketcher may well be the easiest home design software we’ve ever reviewed. It has a simple, fast and intuitive interface and it delivers silky-smooth performance even on underpowered hardware. There is a free version but it lacks too many key features to be genuinely useful; the paid-for versions include every feature you’re likely to need and they’re designed well enough that even complete beginners can use them.
The downside, and it’s a big one, is that buying the app doesn’t mean you get unlimited use of it. Despite the price being an annual subscription it limits what you can do with the app, so for example the $49.99/year plan only gives you enough credits to save five different plans before you need to buy more.
Best home design app for iPad
There are several home design apps you can download on your iPad. The highest rated app in the iOS app store is Home Design 3D Gold. It is quite intuitive and feels more like a game than an architectural or interior design application. It allows you to create both 2D and 3D floor plans by placing doors, windows, walls and more. The app also has a sizable library of furniture, plants, decorations and other objects.
In addition to displaying a photo-realistic 3D preview of your design, this app has augmented reality features. You need the ARKit to make it work, but once you have that installed, you can take a tour of your design as if it were already built. This is invaluable for spotting flaws and getting a better idea of how you want your home to look.
You can download this app for $11.99. However, if you’re reluctant to purchase the app, you can start out on Home Design 3D for free. It’s a watered-down version of the program, but it still has many of the great features found in the Gold version.
What is the best home design app for me?
Everybody’s different, of course, but after nearly 200 hours of testing the best home design programs on the market, Virtual Architect Ultimate is our top pick. The latest version retains everything we liked about its predecessor and adds some useful new features, and we think it’s the best option for most people: it’s easy to learn, it enables you to get things done quickly and it also includes lots of advanced features to help you design every part of your home.
How much does home design software cost?
That depends on what you want it to do. You can pick up a really good home design app for free, but it’s going to be very limited compared to the paid-for products. For home and hobbyist users the sweet spot is currently around $49 for a do-everything app, rising to around $99 for a home design app with a really big object library and lots of advanced tools. It’s possible to spend much more but we think that for most people, there’s no need to go beyond $99 unless you intend to make a lot of plans.
The majority of home design apps are one-off purchases, but some are moving to the same subscription model we’ve seen on smartphone and tablet apps. If one of the apps we’ve reviewed is subscription-based, we’ve made that clear in our review. Watch out for extra charges, too. One of the apps we reviewed charges a subscription but also limits key features such as how many plans you can make. Once you hit the limit you’ll need to get your credit card out to get more. We’re not fans of this approach.
What should you look for in home design software?
When you’re considering which home design software to buy, it’s important to think about what your project actually needs. There’s no point in getting a cheap app that doesn’t include landscaping features if the outdoors are a key part of your project (and if all you want to do is landscaping, you may find there’s a better solution in our guide to the best landscaping design software), and there’s no point in paying for a do-everything app if you just want to work out the best place to put some IKEA wardrobes in your new apartment. If that’s you, you might want to check out our best interior design software buying guide.
You’ll need to make sure that the app you’re considering works on the kind of computer you have. Most of the apps here, but not all of them, are available for both Windows and Mac – but some aren’t, and some others charge more for the Mac version than they do for the Windows one.
When it comes to specific features, these are the key ones to consider.
2D and 3D views
Do you want to create very realistic 3D models of your design, or do you just want to create two-dimensional floor plans? If you do want 3D, are you okay with static 3D images or do you want to create virtual walkthroughs where you can move around your building as if you were playing a video game?
Are you going to be designing empty spaces or will you want to fill them with furniture and photo frames? Some home design apps concentrate just on the actual buildings, but many come with libraries containing hundreds or even thousands of objects that you can drag and drop into your creations. Some libraries also include extensive ranges of textures such as floors, stone and even paint that you can use to make your 3D models look more realistic.
Will you be creating plans and then sending them electronically to your architect or contractor? If so, find out what formats they can handle and make sure your chosen app can export in those formats.
What home design software do the pros use?
When you ask home design professionals about their chosen app, you tend to get the same answer: AutoCAD. It’s been the industry standard for designers since the earliest days of computer-aided design, and it’s continually evolved to take advantage of ever-better hardware. It’s the best in the business but it has a price tag to match: expect to pay more than $1,000.
What home design software do they use on HGTV’s Fixer Upper?
Joanna uses SketchUp Pro to make her designs. It’s pro-level software with a pro-level price, but you can get a cut-down version of it for free in the form of SketchUp Free. We wouldn’t recommend that one for a massive project but it’s great for straightforward ones.
What home design software does HGTV’s Property Brothers use?
The identical twins who find and renovate run-down homes use very impressive computer-generated walkthroughs made in an app called Neezo Renders, which is well out of most people’s price range: we understand that the Property Brothers pay around $10,000 an episode for their walkthroughs. If your budget can’t quite stretch to that, many of the apps here can generate 3D walkthroughs for considerably less money.
Finally, you might be interest in our 10 top tips for smart home design.