Google SketchUp - An Amazing Home Improvement Tool

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Google SketchUp is a brilliant tool that DIYers of any skill level should be able to take advantage of.

Our Review

With work on our living room well under way, it was time to get serious about some of our design decisions.  Specifically, the fireplace is pretty much a complete do-over and while we have good examples to work off of due to Jeannie's research and via similar houses on our block, I was still having a hard time visualizing what it should look like.

This was the perfect opportunity for us to try out Google SketchUp--a tool by a company Google acquired last year and then made free for anyone to use.  SketchUp is known for effectively balancing power with simplicity and while we hadn't had a reason to use it ourselves we'd read good things from professionals and amatures alike. 

In just 45 minutes I'd quickly mocked up the living room, two adjoining rooms, and the fireplace. 

Here's a close up of the fireplace detail (still a work in progress--I'll be experimenting with interior design now that I've got the basics in place).

As much as I'm pleased with my own drawings, a quick search of the online "3D Warehouse" of SketchUp objects quickly puts me to shame.  The Warehouse makes it incredibly easy to share designs among users, and people have uploaded some amazing drawings: a detailed fireplace (check out the stockings!), a full master bedroom (with a beautiful fireplace), and even an entire neighborhood (albeit with remarkably similar homes). 

Not surprisingly, manufacturers like Whirlpool are even publishing their own products as objects in the Warehouse.  Google provides a small listing of these objects here.  Hopefully this grows over time, as it could be very helpful to users looking to quickly incorporate consumer products into designs.

Luckily Google appears to apply the same smarts to the object search that they do to their regular search service which is important as the Warehouse fills with designs. The good stuff needs to rise to the top somehow.

From my perspective, the range of quality in these designs reflects the true strength of SketchUp--its flexibility.  For my own purposes, a quick mock-up of our entire living room was adequate.  I drew most of the room quickly, dropped a few pre-drawn objects in like a Craftsman front door, and then spent most of my time focused on our fireplace (the main thing I wanted to visualize).  While I could have gone into much more detail for the whole room, I didn't need that.  The beauty of SketchUp was that I only spent time on the things that mattered to me.  That's a big improvement over other design and layout programs I've used that force you to work with entire rooms. 

Given that I've only used SketchUp for a few hours, I'm hesitant to provide any suggestions.  It's likely that the things I observe as missing are just features I haven't found yet.  That said, I guess these can be taken as things that aren't immediately obvious to me, a new user:

  • Editing dimensions of existing objects.  It's a little difficult to figure out how to change the size of something after you've made it.
  • Changing perspective.  Moving around within a drawing--especially a full room--is a bit more difficult than other programs I've used.  I've yet to find the 'fly through' mode that I'm used to and the combination of separate spin, magnify and slide controls are a bit tedious.  I found those under the 'View' menu.  Those features are not as intuitive as I've experienced with other programs but not bad overall.

So, there you have it.  SketchUp is hands down the best program I've used to mock up projects yet and now that I've tried it out it I'm sure I'll be coming back...including more work on the fireplace detail.

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off topic... but did you look at other houses on your block in regards to the kitchen icebox/stove/iron/pantry mystery?

i found your blog a few weeks ago when finding info on radiator humidifiers... its SO dry in my wrigleyville apartment! then i stayed to read because you're local AND interesting!

I downloaded this after seeing a post on it on the houseblogs site. I haven't had much time to play around on it yet, but from the short amount of time that I did spend on it, it seemed really really easy. After seeing this post, I'm really excited about getting our entire house into the program. I wish they would have come out with something like this a couple of years ago (for free of course!). Thanks for sharing!

I'm feeling so dumb now because I downloaded this, stunk up the tutorial and still haven't figured it out. It frustrated me, and I haven't devoted the time to trying it again.

It may be that the features you intuitively expect are available only in the SketchUp Pro 5 $495 version. Thanks for the review.

I am a big fan of SketchUp. Although I have been working on a version of my own house renovation for the past few months - but get sidetracked by other projects.

This is a really cool tool by Google, finally the ability to do have create a 3D image for design without knowing CAD programs.


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