Debra Rucker Coleman, Architect
Floor 1
1,352 sf
Daylight Basement
1,296 sf
Entry Faces
South Glass
Atrium 3
The Atrium 3 boasts a southern corner sunroom. Two walls of the house face south. Both the southeast and southwest sides receive sun. The central atrium brings light down into the middle of the house so that the kitchen and central study are also bathed in southern light.
First Floor
French doors can close off the sunroom for acoustical privacy and for days when the sunroom may have a greater temperature swing than the rest of the home. The center hearth in the living room can house a wood stove or fireplace which can be two-sided and shared by the sunroom.
Morning sun will stream into the master bedroom in winter. In summer it will receive some rays through the northeast window which also helps with passive ventilation. The laundry is conveniently located near the master bedroom and it has a door to the outside for quickly hanging out clothes.
A variety of outdoor spaces extend the first floor living spaces. The spacious northwest front porch has room for rockers and swings to watch the evening summer sun. The screened porch is open on three sides for maximizing breezes that cool outdoor dining. The southern deck is a great place to catch some winter rays on non-windy winter days. The narrow walkway connecting the deck and back porch maximizes sun in the lower level.
Daylight Basement
The sunny stairs lead to the lower floor with 3 bedrooms, a study, exercise space, TV area and mechanical rooms. This spacious level almost doubles the home's living area. Since so many of the walls are earth-bermed, the rooms will require less additional heating and cooling energy to stay warm in winter and cool in summer than if they were on the second floor or a two-story home. With the numerous windows and walkout patio, it will be hard to tell that the rooms are below grade.
The detached garage can house two cars with a workshop or greenhouse space, or it can be modified for three vehicles. It can easily be attached to the house via the laundry or through the screened porch based on home owner preference.
Construction Info
First floor ceilings are vaulted which adds space and character. Basement ceilings are 9' tall. Stud walls and rafters are easily adapted to insulation requirements of various climates by varying the amount of exterior insulation. Thermal mass is in both the tile floors throughout the home and in the brick or stone wall in the sunroom. Solar panels can be placed facing southeast and/or southwest on the roofs, or on ground-mounted poles.
Modification Ideas
Since these ideas may affect energy performance and structural integrity, they should only be undertaken with professional assistance.
  • Build on a concrete slab for a small, high mass one-story home
  • Let the sunroom be a bedroom by converting the hearth space into a closet and rearranging the master bath to add a door
  • Reverse the home to place the garage on the northwest
  • Slide the screened porch to the southeast in front of the living room or sunroom to give the dining room southwest views
Construction Drawing:
For this plan, the following drawings are included with Construction Prints and CAD Files:
  • Schematic Site Plan
  • Daylight Basement Plan
  • Floor Plans 
  • Exterior Elevations
  • Building Section
  • Typical Wall Detail
  • Schematic Electrical Plans
  • Schematic Framing Plans
  • Garage Plans
Comments and Photos

Sandy and Bill's Atrium 3 design was featured in the article LEED for Homes: Dennison Homes Builds with the Future in Mind in Green Building and Sustainable Strategies Spring 2012.  Below are excerpts from the article by Marylene Vestergorn. Sandy and Bill chose to go beyond the energy recommendations of Sun Plans to include many green building features in their home.  In general, home owners can add infinite layers of details to make each set of Construction Prints match their priorities, finishes and tastes.

They started with the environmentally-friendly building program in Canada - the R2000. They interviewed three qualified local builders including Steve Dennison of Dennison Homes. That week the Canadian Green Building Council emailed her the brand new standard, LEED Canada for Homes. Steve called to say that with very few changes, their house would be a good candidate for LEED certification. He was on the same path and even signed up for courses on how to build to LEED standard. Since he was so enthusiastic it made our decision easy, said Sandy.  This was definitely a learning process, said Steve.

When building any house, you have a million choices to make. But when you're trying to build green, your choices are narrowed with limited information to guide you. It's not just about energy, points out Steve. LEED is also about the house as a home; about the health of its inhabitants. To avoid off-gassing, all the finishes, paints, insulation, MDF - everything has to be low VOC. There are a lot of competing rating systems out there, says Steve. You think you've found the right product and everything seems to check out, but it doesn't meet the LEED recycling content. Building to a LEED standard requires a huge investment in the education process.

Researching for the right vendors and products was a team effort. Sandy was very involved sourcing the partners to pull off this project. It started with acquiring the building design. Sandy found Sun Plans, specialists in passive solar homes, online.  The atrium creates a very dramatic space. Its ceiling is finished with reclaimed pine flooring and we installed a fabulous chandelier. The house has a simple layout. The builder said it's basically a box with three covered porches and wide overhangs  that provide character.

The two-story atrium provides natural light and ventilation that eliminates the need for air conditioning in their mild summer climate.  The kitchen, dining, and living areas are all open to the atrium. The two main walls of the living space face south so the master bedroom, den and living room have windows that get direct sunlight during the day. The kitchen and utility areas (mudroom/laundry room, stairwell and front entrance) are on the north side of the house.

Adhering to the LEED checklist meant considering every detail, including CFL lighting and ENERGY STAR fans and appliances. A local plumbing contractor took care of all the low-flow plumbing fixtures and the heating system, which includes an HRV system with an ECM motor and a high-efficiency Envirosense hot water tank to supply both domestic hot water and in-floor heating system.

Products are either built locally, or are environmentally friendly, but you don't often get both, says Sandy. One exception is the decking. Northern Composite Products use rice hulls, recycled glass and plastic to make decking that is durable, beautiful and environmentally friendly. Sandy opted for an aluminum roof that's recycled and durable.

The success in this project was in the learning. As for LEED certification, Steve's advice is to build as energy efficient and environmentally friendly as you can, but don't chase points by incorporating things that may not be practical for you. He expects the house to meet LEED Gold.

We could have built the home for less, says Sandy, noting higher end finishes for countertops and flooring and two custom built showers upped the ante. I like to think of our house as a practical green home that is just right for us.
Thank you Sandy and Bill for sharing comments and photos!