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Select-A-SunPlan Tips

With so many plans to choose from, selecting a home design can take days or weeks. While most of the categories on the List, Search and Browse pages should be self-explanatory, a few could benefit from elaboration. Hopefully these additional explanations will make searching for a sunny, high-performance house plan easy and enjoyable. Who knows, you may even have some fun!
Custom Energy Specs - Sun Plans adapts each design to the climate and client energy priorities.

Orientation and Land

South Windows
Regardless of which compass direction that the Entry Faces (see below), the south side has the most windows. This is what makes a home passive solar.

South-Sloping Land
If land has not yet been selected, look for parcels that slope to the south regardless of which side the Entry Faces to allow some rooms to be located in the sunny, south-facing daylight basement area. (See further info below about Daylight Basements.)

True North
The long south side with windows should ideally face within 15 degrees of true south, except for 45-degree angled plans discussed elsewhere. The north arrows shown on the drawings refer to true (geographic) north. Declination, or the difference between true north and magnetic north (as shown on a compass), can be as much as 25 degrees off east or west in the Continental United States. To assist with preliminary house siting, check the declination for the house site by US Zip Code or by Canadian Location. A thorough survey would also show true north in relation to the property boundaries and topography.

Porch Location
Passive solar designs have porches on the east, west and north rather than the south, since the porch would shade the south windows from the winter sun. Sun-inspired house plans with entries facing south will have small porches, but often a larger surrounding patio entry area. Porches on the east, west and north do not compromise the passive solar gain and can even help with cooling.

45-Degree Plans
Some plans are designed to sit at a 45-degree angle to the sun with two sides (southeast and southwest) facing south. Tell Me More
"Entry Faces" Explained

Compass Direction
The Entry Faces side refers to the compass direction that the front door faces. That should be the street for small pieces of land and the general direction of the road for larger parcels. For a home to be inviting, the front door should be seen as the visitor approaches. For example, if the driveway comes in from the northwest, look at plans where the entry faces north, west or northwest.

Reversible East & West Entries
House plans with entries that face east and west are interchangeable as it is easy to reverse a plan along the north-south axis with no passive solar penalty. The "Flip Drawing" tool for each house plan drawing makes is easy for you to see the results! (For Construction Prints and CAD Files, an optional Mirror Reverse service is available so that words and numbers no longer read backwards.)

Relocating Entries
It is sometimes possible to move the front door and entry area to another side of the house through Adapt-A-SunPlan. For example, a south entry may be moved to the east or west.

"% South Glass"

South Glass
The % of south glass values are for the combined first and second floors only and are indicative of the amount of winter solar gain. The percentage is the square footage of the first and second floor south glass divided by the square footage of the first and second floor areas. As a rule, homes with smaller footprints and two stories (one can be a daylight basement) have higher percentages of south glass or solar gain.  Since windows are getting better (higher r-values) and homes getting tighter, homes need less south glass and less thermal mass to make the house comfortable and low-energy - that results in lower construction costs as well so don't be discouraged by design with 7-8% south glass.  And for the homes with higher amounts of glass, it's often recommended to cut back on the south glass anyway - when the Custom Energy Specs are prepared, Sun Plans will make a recommendation for the climate in which the house will be constructed.

Solar Gain
It is easy to reduce south glass for hot climates that require less solar gain. Custom Energy Specs that come with orders for Construction Prints and CAD Files will advise of any recommended changes in south glass (or overhang length) required for your location. The adaptations advised are normally minor and can be accomplished by the builder as a "field change."  It is more difficult to add south glass for cold climates so choosing a design with a higher percentage of south glass is therefore more crucial. Sometimes south glass can be increased, but as there can be structural implications, this should not be done without assistance from design professionals.

Square Footage & Number of Floors

Small Footprints
Choosing the smallest first floor that contains the basic spaces needed will result in the smallest footprint. It is the primary consideration for minimizing house and energy costs.

Number of Levels
Primary living spaces are normally located on the first floor. Secondary living areas such as extra bedrooms, game and exercise spaces can often be located in on the south sides of a sunny daylight basement or on a smaller second floor nestled in the steeper part of the roof. 

"S.F. Including Bsmt"
This indicates the total square footage of possible living area. Although the basement area listed is rather subjective, since only the finished area as shown on the plan is included, viewing the total square footage puts perspective on how living areas on a lower floor can help reduce costs while providing extra space.

Number of Bedrooms

Keep an Open Mind
Since the number of bedrooms per floor is somewhat variable because of lofts, offices, etc., keep in mind that adding a closet or enclosing an open corner can turn a space into a bedroom. Likewise, removing walls around a bedroom can open up the space to become a study corner that flows with the main living area. Be creative and think outside the room!

Bedrooms in Daylight Basements
The most energy-efficient location for extra bedrooms is a south-facing basement if the land slopes to the south. Prefab egress window will allow light in as well as provide emergency exits for basement bedrooms where the earth is higher. 

Daylight Basements

South-Facing Basements are Sunny!
Placing extra living areas downstairs can be one of the best cost and energy-saving measures that come inherently with plans that have daylight basements. Through Adapt-A-SunPlan, a daylight basement can be added to a design.

Daylight Basement Bonus Rooms
Consider the pleasant south side of basements for "bonus" rooms instead of the more commonly placed bonus room above the garage. In a basement, bonus rooms are nestled into the earth and beneath the primary living area whereas above the garage, the bonus room is often exposed to the outside temperatures on at least 5 of the 6 surfaces - 4 walls, the roof, and the floor which is normally above an unheated garage!


Attached or Detached
While carports and detached garages are touted as being better from a health standpoint (the chances for harmful chemicals entering the home is reduced), it is often not possible or desirable due to lot size or home owner preferences.

Optional Garages & Carports
The majority of the sun-inspired designs were created to allow the home to be easily constructed without the garage regardless of whether it is attached, detached, or in the basement. For those on a tight budget, this makes it easy to eliminate this less-important space and possibly construct it later. 

House Width

House Width
The width listed is for the front door side of the house and includes the garage, if it is attached.

Site Plan Drawing
To see overall dimensions, width and length, view the site plan included for each house plan. It also shows the driveway possibilities and the important north arrow to aid with orienting the home.

Plan Complexity

Level of Complexity
Each sun-inspired home is rated as simple, average or complex. While this is subjective, it does give some indication of the home cost when comparing two plans with similar square footage for both interior living areas and outside porches. See Construction Costs for additional information.

Plans listed as "simple" are relatively inexpensive to construct. The home often has a simple shape and a truss-framed roof system.

Plans described as "average" often have a few unique design features. The roof may be stick-framed to house a second floor. They might be 10% more expensive to build when compared to a "simple" home.

Homes rated "complex" suggest that they may have complicated framing systems. The walls may be ICF or the roofs may have a central atrium. These homes may be 20% more to build when compared to a "simple" home.

Wall Type

Exterior Wall Construction
While some Sun Plans are already designed with 12" exterior walls, SIPs (structural insulated panels) and a few other exterior wall systems, most have 6" exterior walls. SIPs and 4" walls are easily interchangeable with the 6" walls and there are many ways that to achieve higher R-values with thinner walls. (Custom Energy Specs list options for each of these systems.) The predominant exterior wall type is mentioned in the DETAILS tab for each house plan.
Since ICF walls are thicker than 6" (outside to inside faces of form), it can be difficult for builders to incorporate changing to from 6" wall to ICF walls as a "field change" and the plans may need to be adapted prior to the start of construction along with input from the local ICF subcontractor.
With Adapt-A-SunPlan, the exterior wall thickness and type can easily be changed. In fact, if that is the only change desired, please Contact Us us about obtaining a "Quick Quote" to have those changes made by Sun Plans. And since those who desire to have wall thicknesses increased for higher insulation values are often interested in having roof insulation increased also, be sure to inquire about Sun Plans possibly changing the roof too.  If the house plan description under the DETAIL tab mentions a truss-framed roof, that is very easy to modify for extra insulation.

ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms)
If a plan has ICF first floor walls, it can be seen in the ICF column. (Most SunPlans with daylight basement have ICF walls as the primary foundation wall type, but those are NOT listed on the House Plan List since that is very easy to change and the Custom Energy Specs typically list those options.)

Exterior Materials
Since the exterior finishes of the walls and roofs are one of the easiest items of a plan to change (even adding 4" of brick veneer ), materials are shown on the elevations rather than listed. Changing all or parts of walls to siding, brick, stone and stucco; and roofs to metal, shingles, or tile is a common request with Adapt-A-SunPlan. In browsing photos sent by the home owners, exterior finishes often vary from the original design.


The foundation type for each house plan is mentioned in the detailed description of each design. The majority are concrete slab-on-grade, which is generally the most cost-effective foundation for hot and cold climates. Concrete slabs also are the most energy efficient since the earth helps stabilize interior temperatures. In addition, the concrete slab has high thermal mass which reduces interior temperature fluctuations. All basements have concrete slabs and these can also benefit the first floor, especially for smaller homes. Some house designs have a small crawlspace designed in north spaces to allow for utility access. Foundation changes can be made through Adapt-A-SunPlan.

Local Adaptations
Each sun-inspired design was created for a particular client with unique requests based on their family, location, construction methods, climate and budget. In choosing house plans, home owners will need to be open to making adaptations to their own needs. Listening to a local builder, architect, structural engineer and energy professional with an open mind may result in recommended adaptations or alternatives that can benefit the home owners.

Help with Choosing a House Plan
A larger porch here, a few more windows there and maybe just a little bit larger kitchen, and one of Sun Plans' designs would be everything you and your family ever wanted in a home. But surely what you want can't be so unique that it requires starting from scratch. If after looking over the large array of passive-solar homes, you still can't find exactly what you want, maybe it's time for some help either through a local design professional or Sun Plans.

Select-A-House Plan Consulting
The architect can help choose a sun-inspired house design that is best for your land, lifestyle and climate. She can also answer many other energy-related questions that you may have. Since a more in-depth look is given to the home owner's lifestyle, home owners start the Select-A-SunPlans process the same detailed way that they would the Create-A-SunPlan process, buts with the intent of selecting a design instead of creating one. The designs recommended may one overlooked on the web site or one that is not on the Sun Plans' web site.
This initial part of the Create-A-SunPlan process collects more detailed information. Therefore the house plan(s) recommended by Sun Plans can be more accurately matched to the home owner's more specific needs, priorities, budget, land, and climate. The method of first choosing a floor plan can actually introduce prejudices into the design process too soon. It's best to be as open minded for as long as possible prior to selecting a design. For those who enjoy extensive research prior to making informed decisions for other purchases and services in their life, why not apply the same logic to choosing a house design? See Sun Plans Consulting Services.
Please see FAQ for common questions and answers.