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Best Practices for

Autodesk Revit Parametric
Components (Families)
Autodesk® Revit® Parametric Components (also
referred to as Families) offer an open, graphical
system for design thinking and form making. A
powerful feature in the Revit suite of products,
families help users manage data and make
changes easily. This white paper examines Best
Practices relating to Autodesk Revit Families.

Revit Parametric Components are called families because one family type can contain
many variations. A family can be anything in Autodesk Revit software, from a table to a
window to a two-dimensional representation of an anchor bolt. Any item that may need to
be represented in a project can be created in a family.

A large number of predefined families are included with Revit. Manufacturers are creating
Autodesk Revit Families that are available from their websites or included on product
disks. Despite the availability of large family libraries, users sometimes need to create
custom components for a project. This can be easily accomplished using the Autodesk
Revit Family Editor; a simple graphical interface that allows users to model any object and
apply the power of parametrics to that object.

Users do not need to know any programming language to create content for Autodesk
Revit. Family creation is made easy through the use of templates, which are provided with
the software to help users get started with families. These templates allow Revit users to
focus on the geometry of the object, as they contain all the programming necessary
“behind the scene”.

Autodesk Revit Families are extremely powerful because they are driven by the Revit
parametric change engine. The parametric change engine enables a change made to a
family to propagate throughout the entire project. Once created, a family’s parameters
remain exposed and can be edited directly within the Revit project. Ultimately, it is the
parameters that drive a family’s geometry. Mathematical formulas can be used in these
parameters to create complicated geometry, or to drive parameters in a user defined
solution (for example, using a formula in a window family that always makes the width of
the window twice its height).

Revit Families also feature nested families - one family residing in another family. For
example, a user might nest a door hardware family into a door family. Nested families add
a level of strength and capacity to the process. Users can create a single family file that
includes dozens of different options.
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

This paper explores the use of families in Autodesk Revit - from the basics of the Family
Editor to advanced topics and considerations when using families - all of which will provide
the reader with a Best Practices approach to creating parametric component families in

Design Considerations
Before creating a family in Revit, users should consider the following questions regarding their intended use of a family:

ƒ What size(s) does this family come in?

Is this a custom piece of furniture that only comes in one configuration, or is this a window that is available in
several preset sizes? Perhaps, this is a bookshelf that can be built in any length from between 2’-0” to 5’-0” wide.
This is an important point to consider before building a family, as it will dictate decisions that need to be made in
the near future.

ƒ How should this family appear in different views?

Is this an object that should be seen from plan view, elevation view, and/or sectional views? Maybe this is a 2D
object that should only be seen in plan or elevation. In any case, the way that this object should appear in views
will determine how to define its visibility.

ƒ Does this family require a host?

Is this family typically attached to another design element - a wall, or maybe a ceiling? Possibly it is a roof mounted
mechanical unit. How this family is hosted (or what it does or does not attach to) will determine which template file
should be used to start the family.

ƒ How much detail should be modeled?

Is this family an electrical wall outlet that will only be seen in interior elevations from a distance, or is it a door family
with raised panels and a sidelight that will be seen in an interior rendering of the project? This determination will
help decide how much detail to provide in the family.

ƒ Where should the origin point be?

Is this a column family that would use the center of the circular base as the insertion point, or is this an accessible
toilet that must always be placed 18 inches off the adjacent wall to meet code? This decision will help users when
they start placing geometry.

Recapping these important first questions to consider before creating a family:

1. What sizes does the family come in?

2. How does this family appear in different views?
3. What hosts might this family be attached to?
4. How detailed should this family be?
5. What is the origin point of this family?

Creating a New Family

Once the basic questions listed above are considered, a user is ready to create a new
family. There are three types of Autodesk Revit families:

ƒ System families,
ƒ In-place families, and
ƒ Standard component families. 2
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

System families are predefined within Autodesk Revit, and comprise the basic building
components such as walls, floors, and roofs. Users can create their own versions of
system families by duplicating an existing version and modifying its properties. Users
cannot create new system families.

In-place families are components that are created specifically for a single project only.
They are created from within the current project, and cannot be used in other concurrent
or future projects. The best time to use an in-place family over a standard component
family is when creating a component unique to a specific project. For instance: a reception
desk in the lobby of a law firm may have a very unique design featuring curving shapes
requested by the client and finishes unique to that lobby. In this situation, an in-place
family should be used because there is little chance that this custom-designed piece will
be repeated in another project.

Standard component families are the most common families in Autodesk Revit, and are
the focus of the remainder of this paper. Standard component families can be placed in
project template files so that they preload with each new project, or they can reside in
libraries to be loaded on demand.

While working in the Family Editor, users can: 1) open an existing family and modify it to
suit their needs, or 2) start a new family using the appropriate template. To start a new
family, choose the File pull down menu and then select New >> Family.

TIP: To save time, users should duplicate and modify a

similar existing family to suit their needs instead of
starting a new family from a template.

Templates for family creation are supplied with Autodesk Revit. The various templates
cover a broad range of possibilities from 2D annotation objects to 3D roof-based spot
lights. Each template has been pre-configured to aid in the construction of a specific
object type.

Figure 1

Autodesk Revit includes

many templates to create
families of parametric
components. 3
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

Some templates have a combination of reference planes and pre-defined parameters to

guide users during creation. Family templates for hosted objects will contain a host to
build from. For example, in roof-based families a portion of a roof will be exposed in the
template for the user to reference as a base. Still other templates have text notes
embedded in them that may define the interior and exterior faces of a wall.

Another item that is found in some family templates are controls. Controls placed in families
allow the user to change the position of the geometry in a family after it’s loaded into the
project. An example of these controls can be seen in a door family, where controls allow the
swing and the hinge-side of the door to be reversed.

Figure 2

The template for a door

family includes controls to
easily reverse the swing
and hinge-side of the

To create a family based on a template, browse the list of templates, and choose the one most
appropriate to the object being built. If the object does not fall into a specific category, the
Generic Model template may be the best choice. After picking the template, the user is ready
to launch the Family Editor.

Family Editor
The Family Editor is built into Revit, and is launched by opening an existing family (those with
an RFA extension) or by starting a new family from within Revit. The Family Editor launches
within the Revit application, and employs the same user interface. The Design Bar on the left
of the drawing window changes to a unique set of tools for family creation, and the Project
Browser updates to show specific views depending on template selection.

Figure 3

The Family Editor user

interface matches the
general Revit user
interface. 4
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

At a minimum, the drawing window will display two crossing Reference Planes - and possibly
some dimensions, text, and notes to the designer. The crossing Reference Planes are
important because they define the origin of the family. It’s a Revit Best Practice to leave these
existing items (preloaded from the family template) alone. Users should not move or delete
these items, as they play an important role in the family. In fact, there are some items (such as
dimensions) in some family templates that cannot be deleted by the user - underscoring the
general principal that if an item is in the template when it's first opened, it should be left there.

Reference Planes
A common mistake among users is to start adding objects and solids at this point. While it’s
almost time to start modeling, there is still some more preparation that will later serve a
significant purpose. After opening the template, the first thing a user should do - before
creating model geometry - is use Reference Planes and Reference Lines to create
construction lines for the geometry that will be added later.

Start in a view that best fits the family being created, such as a plan or elevation. Reference
Planes should be used as datum lines that extend beyond the edges of the visible drawing
area. Drawing a reference plane (often called ref planes) in a plan view will also cause that
same reference plane to be seen in a crossing elevation or section view, because it is literally
a plane that extends in a horizontal and vertical direction simultaneously.

Figure 4

Reference Planes should

be defined before creating

Unlike reference lines, reference planes do not have “defined” endpoints. They consist of two
associated planes: one parallel to the view and one perpendicular. Ref Lines can be used in
rotational control of families, because the endpoint can be constrained. Reference Lines and
Planes can be renamed, so that users can easily refer to them at another time.

Creating Parameters
Reference planes that have been laid out should align with the major axes of the planned
geometry. Users should begin to add dimensions to specify parametric component geometry.
Start by thinking how the object should be controlled. Height, width, and depth are three
dimensions often used in families, and these dimensions and parameters are pre-loaded with
many of the templates. Users may need to add more dimensions to describe other geometry -
for instance; trim, width, and depth are common in a Window family. 5
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

Once the dimensions have been added for the major pieces, users can start adding labels to
dimensions, creating parameters. There are two categories of parameters: instance
parameters and type parameters. Changing an instance parameter affects the parameters of a
single entity (or instance) of an object. Changing a type parameter affects all parameters of the
same type.

If there are several instances of the same family loaded into a project, and each individual
representation of that family needs to be a different length, then use instance parameters. For
example, consider two counter tops in the same project. One instance of the counter top is
placed and its length (an instance parameter) is set to 5’ – 0”. A second counter top is placed
and its length (an instance parameter) is set to 5’ – 5 ¼”, spanning the distance between two
walls. The instance parameters easily allow these two counter tops to be set to different
lengths. Instance parameters have another unique characteristic: dimensions that are
controlled by instance parameters will display shape handles when selected in a Revit project.
Shape handles allow the user to click and stretch the shape of a family to a new position or
size by using the mouse.

Figure 5

Instance parameters
display shape handles
(shown here in blue), a
convenient way to stretch
the shape of a family.

Type parameters control families at a higher level. They control the predefined types of
families used in the project. Use type parameters to load an object repeatedly in a project and
control those repeated objects as if they were one. For example, consider a door family. A
users places a door repeatedly in the model as a 6’-8” tall door, but later decides to change the
height of all the doors to 7’-0”. Changing one type parameter will cause all of these doors to
update their height simultaneously.

To add a parameter, click on a dimension then add a label. Once the dimension is labeled, it
becomes a parameter. In the Options Bar, a drop down list of available parameters will appear.
If the parameter needed is not available, select Add Parameter. When adding a new
parameter, specify whether it's an instance or type parameter. After adding the parameter, the
dimension changes to include the parameter name and the dimensional length.

Figure 6

Add a new parameter

using the Revit Family
editor. 6
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

As parameters are created, they are added to the parameter list in the Family Types dialogue
box (selecting by clicking Family Types in the Design Bar). This Family Types dialogue box
contains several key areas. Most noticeable is the list of defined parameters in the main
window, arranged into logical parameter groups (Construction, Dimensions, and Identity Data
in the example in Figure 7). During creation or editing, users can assign which category is
assigned to a parameter.

Figure 7

Family parameters are

listed in the Family Types
dialog box.

On the right side of the dialog box, users can create new Family Types, or rename or delete
existing Family Types. Revit features Family Types to predefine a set of parameters - making a
particular “type” of object.

Returning to the door family as an example, several door types can be defined in this dialog
box. One type might be a “3068” door (a door that is 30” wide and 6’-8” tall). Another type
might be a “3668” (36” wide and 6’-8” tall). A user could then define a “3070” and a “3670” door
in this dialog box. Family Types allow Revit users to quickly define a multitude of sizes and
combinations of an object, based on just one family and one set of parameters.

The lower group of three buttons in the Family Types dialog box is specifically for parameter
creation; Add, Modify, and Remove. Click the Add button to launch the Parameter Properties
dialog box to add a parameter to this family.

Notice the Parameter Types section of this Parameter Properties dialog box (see Figure 8).
There are two types of parameters available in Revit: family parameters and shared
parameters. A family parameter is specific only to this particular object and its value cannot
appear in a schedule or tag. A shared parameter can be shared across multiple families and
projects. Its value can appear in schedules and tags, and can also be exported out to ODBC.
Family parameters are stored within the family file, whereas shared parameters are saved in
an external text (TXT) file, typically on a network where other users can access the text file to
use the shared parameters. 7
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

Figure 8

Family parameters are

listed in the Family Types
dialog box.

Parameter data for a family parameter is entered in the Parameter Properties dialog box.:

ƒ Name: The parameter's name is completely left to the user. It’s a Revit Best Practice
to keep these names simple, short, and concise whenever possible. When using
formulas (described later in this paper), these parameter names will have to be re-
typed exactly as entered here.

ƒ Discipline: A parameter's discipline can be set to Common or Structural.

ƒ Type: This drop-down list contains several pre-defined categories for the value of the
parameter, such as Text or Number, or Yes/No.

ƒ Group Parameter Under: This area allows users to classify the parameter in a logical
grouping. When the family appears in a project, the parameters are listed in groups of
common elements to make it easier to enter the data by logical groups.

ƒ Instance and Type. Select the radio buttons that best fits the parameter.

Once these decisions regarding a parameter are made, enter the necessary data into the fields
in this dialog box, and click the OK button, which returns the user to the Family Types dialog
box. The user will now see the new parameter listed under the Parameters heading, and
organized into the groups defined in the previous step.

To change the parameter, users can click the Modify button, or remove the parameter from the
family entirely with the Remove button. Continue to add additional parameters by repeating the
steps above to complete the design of the family. 8
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

Testing the Family

Before finishing a family, it’s very important to "flex" or test the model - to check that the
elements created are reacting as expected when parameters change. Users should develop a
habit of flexing the model repeatedly when creating families, especially after adding
parameters. TIP: When flexing
To flex the model, click the Family Types button in the Design Bar. In the Family Types dialog the model, move
box, the various parameters of the object are listed. Pick a parameter, and change the the dialog box to
dimension value associated with it, then click Apply and see how the model changes. The the side of the
intention is to see if the reference planes have moved to a new position as expected. Change screen, to better
the parameters to a range of numbers (clicking Apply each time) to test a range of values from see the family in
which the family would normally operate - to assure the planes are moving to the correct the drawing area.
lengths and dimensions.

Occasionally a user will see an error such as “Constraints not Satisfied.” This usually means
that the parameter is trying to control a part that is already constrained by another parameter.
As more parameters are added to the model, be sure to flex multiple parameters to test them.
For instance, if flexing the width works well, then set a new width, and flex the height. Try
different combinations to assure all is moving as expected.

Once a user is satisfied that reference planes, dimensions, and parameters are all working as
expected, it's finally time to add some real geometry in the form of Solids and Voids.

Adding Geometry
There are several choices for creating geometry in Revit: Extrusions, Blends, Sweeps, and
Revolves. These four geometry types can either be solids or voids. The type of geometry used
depends on what is being modeled. For example, in a door family, the door panel itself could
be an extrusion of a rectangular shape. The door frame could be a sweep - a profile in the
shape of the door frame would be swept along a path defined by the sides and top of the door
opening. The door knob might be a revolve. A void-blend could be used to cut the raised panel
into the surface of the door panel.

The method for adding geometry is similar for all geometry types. The rest of this section will
use extrusions as an example. From the Design Bar in the Family editor, choose Solid, then
Extrusion. Revit will switch to Sketch Mode, and the user will have two options for sketching a
shape. The first option is to draw the shape using tools from the Options Bar such as Line, Arc,
Circle, Polygon, etc. The second option is to use the Pick tool from the Options Bar to pick
reference planes, lines, or other existing geometry. As the user begins to draw or pick,
magenta sketch lines appear. These lines could be drawn over the top of the reference planes,
or more loosely sketched and then moved into alignment with the reference planes. The key is
to make these sketch lines lock to the reference planes.

Using the Pick tool, the user has the option to lock the sketch lines upon placement. Blue
padlock symbols will appear when lines can be locked to other geometry, lines, or reference
planes. To lock and unlock relationships, simply click the lock symbol to toggle it opened
(unlocked) and closed (locked). Sketch lines can be moved using a 'press and drag' technique;
clicking on the line and moving the mouse while holding down the mouse button. When using
this method, notice that sketch lines will automatically snap to reference planes and other
relationships while being moved. Moving a sketch line off and back onto a reference plane will
cause the lock symbol to appear, allowing the user to choose to lock it or not. The Align tool
also allows the user to create constraints using the lock symbols.

After sketching the shape, and locking the sketch to the appropriate reference planes, the
Extrusion properties in the Design Bar are used to define the thickness of the extrusion. This 9
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

number can also be set in the Options Bar. When satisfied, click Finish Sketch and the
geometry will appear. Flex the model again from various views, including 3D, to make sure the
geometry behaves as expected. If it doesn’t, highlight the geometry and stretch it, using the
blue shape handles that appear, to align and constrain to a reference plane.

Formulas are one of the many powerful aspects of Revit Families - used to control families in a
variety of ways. Formulas can use logic such as IF statements (IF the width is 1’-0”, set the
height to 4’-0”) as well as mathematical expressions. They can be used to control Yes/No
parameters, and to control parametric arrays.

Formulas are typed directly into the Family Types dialog box, where all of the parameters for a
family are listed. Simply place a formula into the cell adjacent to the value, beginning with an
equal sign. When entering a formula, abbreviations (such as +, , sin, and so forth) can be

TIP: The following are valid formula abbreviations:

+ Addition
- Subtraction
* Multiplication
/ Division
^ Exponentiation, i.e. x^y = x raised to the power of y
log Logarithm
sqrt Square root, i.e. sqrt(16)
sin Sine
cos Cosine
tan Tangent
asin Arcsine
acos Arccosine
atan Arctangent
exp e raised to an x power
abs Absolute Value

Referring back to the family parameters listed in the Family Types dialog box in Figure 7,
notice that there are parameters for height and width. In the figure, the height = 4’-0” and width
= 3’-0”. To set the width of this family to always be one half the height, click in the Formula
column of the width parameter and enter “=Height/2”. The values are case sensitive, and must
be typed exactly as they are defined. This is why it is important, when naming parameters, to
be concise about the name chosen (as described above in the Creating Parameters section).
Test how formulas work by changing the value of height, and watching the width value change

There are many complex mathematical functions that can be used. Logical functions include
IF, AND, OR, and NOT statements. Formulas can also use greater than/less than signs (< >).
Experimenting with formulas will allow users to create some very powerful Revit Families, such
as a book shelf that automatically adds support brackets as the length of the shelf increases or
a window family where the muntins turn off when the window size decreases beyond a defined
limit. 10
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

Saving a Revit Family

When the Revit Family is ready to be used in a project, save the family with an appropriate
name, and store it in a location that is easy to find. A Best Practices tip is to organize family
content into a system that mimics the Revit Library. This makes it much easier for users to find
what they're looking for.

To load the family into a project, select File >> Load From Library >> Load Family, and then
browse to the saved file and select it. Alternately, for many component types, when the tool is
selected, a Load button becomes active in the Design Bar.

TIP: Create a keyboard shortcut to automatically open the Load Family dialog
box, or click the Load button in the Options Bar for many component types
such as doors and windows when the tool is selected in the Design Bar.

Once loaded into a project, the family can be moved and copied as needed. To edit the family,
simply select the object, and click the Edit Family button in the Options Bar. This will launch
the Family Editor and open the selected family. When finished editing, the family can be
loaded directly back into the project by clicking the Load into Project button in the Design Bar.
Saving the family from the Family Editor using this method will overwrite the file that was
originally the source for the object in the project. Simply modifying and reloading without
saving will update ONLY the project into which the family is loaded.

TIP: There are many resources available if users need assistance or are have
problems with Autodesk Revit families. First, file a Support Request through
the Help Menu in Revit. This puts users directly in touch with the Autodesk
Revit team for assistance. The Revit Forums at are also an
invaluable resource. Membership is free and there are thousands of people
from around the world logged in 24 hours a day - ready and willing to help. 11
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

Final Review

Steps to create a family in Autodesk Revit:

1. Select the appropriate family template.

2. Lay out reference planes to aid in drawing component geometry.
3. Add dimensions to specify parametric component geometry.
4. Add labels to dimensions to create type or instance parameters.
5. Flex the new model to verify correct component behavior.
6. Add geometry in Solids and Voids, locked to reference planes.
7. Specify 2D and 3D geometry display characteristics with sub-category and entity visibility settings.
8. Define family type variations by specifying different parameters.
9. Save the newly-defined family, then load it into a new project and see how it performs.

Autodesk Revit Families and the Family Editor are extremely powerful. One of the best
ways to become familiar with the Family Editor is to open an existing family - investigate
how it was built and what parameters or formulas were used. Start by watching the effect
of changing parameters. After becoming comfortable with existing families, try making a
new family. Users will soon come to realize and appreciate the full power of the parametric
technology inherent in Autodesk Revit. 12
Best Practices for Autodesk Revit Parametric Components (Families)

About Autodesk Revit

The Autodesk® Revit® platform is Autodesk’s purpose-built solution for building information
® ® ® ®
modeling. Applications such as Autodesk Revit Building, Autodesk Revit Structure,
® ®
and Autodesk Revit Systems built on the Revit platform are complete, discipline-specific
building design and documentation systems supporting all phases of design and
construction documentation. From conceptual studies through the most detailed
construction drawings and schedules, applications built on Revit help provide immediate
competitive advantage, better coordination and quality, and can contribute to higher
profitability for architects and the rest of the building team.

At the heart of the Revit platform is the Revit parametric change engine, which
automatically coordinates changes made anywhere — in model views or drawing sheets,
schedules, sections, plans… you name it.

For more information about building information modeling please visit us at For more information about Autodesk Revit and the
discipline-specific applications built on Revit please visit us at

Autodesk and Revit are registered trademarks or trademarks of Autodesk, Inc., in the USA and other countries.
AUGI is a registered trademark of Autodesk, Inc., licensed exclusively to the Autodesk User Group
International. All other brand names, product names, or trademarks belong to their respective holders. Autodesk
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© 2006 Autodesk, Inc. All rights reserved. 13