Software to build on
Programs that help you design a house, garden or reno
By Anne Gregor
First published in Chatelaine’s November 1995 issue.
© Anne Gregor
As winter edges closer, you can keep your mind off the cold by dreaming up home and garden projects for next spring. Now, your plans can take shape on the computer screen, with programs to help you arrange interiors, plan and carry out renovations and repairs, create gardens, even design houses.
Most of these programs are usable by beginners, with built-in features to prevent you from making a counter too high or a stairway too narrow. They can’t adjust for local building codes and bylaws, though; you’ll need an architect, contractor or landscape designer for that.
Many of the programs are on CD-ROM, but a good number are still available on 3.5-inch diskette. You need a fairly modern computer with a minimum of 4 megabytes of RAM (8 megabytes for the more complicated programs). Most of the available programs are for PCs operating on the Windows 3.1 platform, but there are a few for the Mac format. Prices are approximate.
3D Home Architect from Broderbund provides a blueprint for designing all but the house’s exterior. The tools are easy to use, and a click of the mouse flips the screen into a 3-D view. The CD-ROM version includes more sample house plans as well as home-improvement tips. Rating: 9 out of 10 (Windows CD-ROM $70, Windows diskette $60).
Planix Home Architect from Softdesk Retail Products is an architecture and landscape designer rolled into one. Its 500 ready-made floor plans are a help to amateur designers, and the layering format makes the job of locating utilities like wiring, cable, alarm and sprinklers easier than in other programs. Rating: 8 out of 10 (Windows diskette $40).
Softdesk also produces Most Popular Home Designs, a database of 200 floor plans with 3-D views on CD-ROM, which work with the programs above and others. Rating: 7 out of 10 (Windows CD-ROM $20).
myHouse from DesignWare is less immediately user-friendly, but offers more flexibility for those who like to assemble everything from scratch. Rating: 7 out of 10 (Windows diskette $60).
A little program called 3D Deck from Books That Work takes a few simple steps to assemble an outdoor living space, unveil a 3-D perspective, and draw up a list of materials and estimated cost. Animated segments explain ideas like movement of the sun and basic carpentry. Rating: 8 out of 10 (Windows CD-ROM $50).
Fix-it guides on CD-ROM are enhanced by powerful search tools and detailed animations. The only drawback: you can’t take your computer up the ladder with you.
Home Repair Encyclopedia from Books That Work is packed with helpful hints, particularly for older houses. Animations demonstrate common repairs such as replacing a broken screen or wiring an electrical outlet. Rating: 8 out of 10 (Windows CD-ROM $30).
Simply House from 4Home Productions presents a “virtual house.” Take a “walk” and click on objects to learn about their structure and repairs. Rating: 7 out of 10 (Windows CD-ROM $40).
Countless gardening possibilities sprout in 3D Landscape from Books That Work. The program is pleasantly simple to run. Design a garden by pointing, clicking and dragging the mouse. Add vegetation and sprinklers that fit your climate, soil and water supply. The program will test the design for shade, “age” it and calculate the cost. Rating: 9 out of 10 (Windows diskette or CD-ROM $50).
Garden Companion from Lifestyle Software Group is less versatile, presenting a series of preplanned gardens that can be modified. List the plants in your garden, and the program will suggest others to complement them. Rating: 7 out of 10 (Windows CD-ROM $40).
Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Gardening from Multicom Publishing combines a plant database with video instruction in the fundamentals, tips and tools of gardening. Rating: 7 out of 10 (Windows or Mac CD-ROM $35).
LandDesigner and LandDesigner Multi-Media for Gardens from Sierra On-Line are not as visually rich; they’re most useful for planning infrastructure such as sprinklers, with blueprints that you build in layers. Rating for both: 6 out of 10 (LandDesigner Windows diskette $40, LandDesigner Multi-Media Windows CD-ROM $45). The same program exists in a stripped-down version as Key Home Gardener from SoftKey. Rating: 6 out of 10 (Windows CD-ROM $30).
Garden Encyclopedia from Books That Work lists characteristics for 1,000 plants. Type in the soil, climate, and type of foliage you want, and the program assembles a list of appropriate flora. It’s a good supplement to any gardening program. Rating: 8 out of 10 (Windows CD-ROM $30).