Debra Rucker Coleman, Architect
Floor 1
2,328 sf
Entry Faces
South Glass
Northern Lights
The Northern Lights home was inspired by the Sun Plans' home featured in Fine Homebuilding and other energy publications. The low energy consumption and comfortable interior have been proven. Both the passive solar and excellent attention to the energy efficient details (caulking and insulation) along with the properly designed mechanical system contributes to the comfort and low fuel consumption. The front is designed to face north, but the equally attractive east side would also make a wonderfully inviting home.
First Floor
A large front porch faces north and wraps around the east side of the home (west if reversed.) The interior is a surprise with vaulted ceilings and an abundance of light. The kitchen has a large window facing east with room for plants in the window sill. The sun room corner on the southeast is cozy with space for a small table and two comfortable chairs. The bedrooms on the south will be full of sun during winter days. The north bedroom with softer light would make an ideal study or art studio. The central laundry opens to the screened porch for outside clothes drying or just a cool place to relax. If the garage was attached to the front of the house at the north edge of the porch, the screened area would channel breezes.
The optional garage can be attached to the NE corner of the front of the home or detached and accessed through the screened porch or a breezeway on any side of the home that is convenient.
Construction Info
The great room, dining, and kitchen are open with high sloped ceilings under scissor trusses. The advantage of the flat ceilings in the west half of the home is they are the platform for the large attic above that even has permanent stairs leading up to it. The floors in the south-facing rooms are designed to have thermal mass floors such as brick pavers, ceramic tile, or stone over the concrete slab.
Modification Ideas
Since these ideas may affect energy performance and structural integrity, they should only be undertaken with professional assistance.
  • If the front dining was turned into a study, the sunroom area is also large enough to house a large dining table
  • Vaulted trusses could also be added in the bedrooms too for a more spacious feeling to the otherwise 8' ceilings
  • Work with your local building professionals to design a crawl space or basement to carry thermal mass floors if concrete slabs are problematic with your soils
  • Enclose the screened porch for a sewing room or use it as a cool summer sleeping porch
Construction Drawings
For this plan, the following are included with Construction Prints and CAD Files:
  • Slab On Grade Foundation
  • Floor Plan
  •  Exterior Elevations
  • Building Section
  • Kitchen Elevations
  • Typical Wall Detail
  • Schematic Electrical
  • Schematic Roof Framing 
  • Garage Plans
Comments and Photos
The first Northern Lights featured in Fine Homebuilding was built by Rex Terrell. Sun Plans was able to visit the home and take photos as well.
Gordon and Janice's home in a moderate climate has been dependably capturing the sun's free heat and keeping it in during winter, since 1990. Rex Terrell, retired, is a builder who paid attention to details. Incorporating passive solar ideas was just one example of paying attention to what the clients wanted in their home. Gordon has meticulously recorded the energy consumption of their 2170 s.f. one-story home. There is even a separate electrical meter for the heating and cooling system designed by Energy Innovations who also oversaw the insulation, caulking, mechanical design and installation. He was so confident of the home's ability to conserve energy that he guaranteed their energy bills for the first three years.
Although current recommendations are for unvented crawlspaces, theirs was vented with the insulation between the floor joists. This insulation helps hold the sun's warmth in the 4" concrete thermal mass floor topping near the south windows. Walls were stud-framed with an excellent quality of insulation installation job and exterior rigid insulation on the exterior minimizes thermal breaks at each stud. The roof is framed with manufactured roof trusses, some of which are sloped on the bottom chord for a slightly vaulted effect. They are insulated with blown cellulose in the flat sections and fiberglass batts in the sloped areas. The entire roof is vented. 
Because the glass area of the south windows equals 10% of the floor area, the house needed additional thermal mass to maintain interior comfort. The south windows have a much higher solar heat gain coefficient to let in more sun than the north, east and west windows. The thermal mass is in brick pavers over 4 inches of concrete in the southern rooms. Brick walls close to the south windows also help store heat. Electric heat pumps are often frowned upon as being insufficient to provide comfortable heat, but Energy Innovations knows how to properly size and design them to move large volumes of air slowly and quietly. He feels that the quality of installation is more important than unit quality. In summer when the humidity is high, he recommends leaving the windows closed. Janice and Gordon only open theirs when humidity is low for several weeks in both spring and summer. The rest of the year they are either heating or cooling to some degree to maintain temperatures 68 degrees F in winter and 76 degrees F in summer. They use ceiling fans in the sunroom and living room.
The electric bills for the entire house have been consistently very low compared to average homes in their area. The whole house is powered by electricity and their hot water rate is half price due to off-peak use in the summer. Gordon, Janice, and their visitors like the open design, year-round comfort, and energy savings. They have not found any spaces to be too bright. Their favorite spaces are the living room and the east side porch, which they sometimes wish were deeper than 6 feet.
Another home owner of the Northern Lights sent some comments:
"...I wanted to let you know that, older plan or not, the house is functioning beautifully. I only need supplemental heat on chilly overcast days or nights that get into the lower 30s. My electric bills are stupendously low. I use double cell blinds from to moderate the heat on sunny days and hold in the heat at night. With our mild winter so far the house cycles between 65 in the early a.m. and 75 in the afternoon. I have left the floors plain concrete. I love the patterns from the finishing and, with carefully placed area rugs and work mats in the kitchen they are perfectly comfortable. One unexpected benefit of this house is that is holds large numbers of people comfortably. I have had several parties with 20-40 people. The space just seems to expand to make room for everyone. The long porch with rocking chairs, a porch swing and a screened porch have been great, both when people are over and when I am alone with the dogs. Thanks again for your wonderful work and your help when I was building. I do not understand why everyone does not build this way."  - Debbie M.