Debra Rucker Coleman, Architect
Tips for Selecting a House Plan
Sun Plans is the starting point for creating a low-energy, sun-inspired home. There will be many design and construction professionals involved in the journey to creating a forever home.
Let Sun Plans get you off on the right foot by being the first!
Selecting a home design takes time. Most start with the self-help method of searching Sun Plans on their own. Some are fortunate enough to find one that fits their needs well, but most enjoy the process of customing a design to their lifestyle, budget, and design preferences. The timeless floor plans can have endless exterior appearances, and of course, the interior design preferences are totally up to you! 
When you are ready for assistance, please see Architectural Services.
The small thumbnail photo or image shown on the house plan list may be either of the south side or of another side of the home if that side shows a more interesting angle.
Be open-minded when reviewing the photos which are mostly from homeowners. Colors and materials both inside and out were chosen by the homeowner. YOU can choose the colors and finishes that YOU like, and the exterior style can even be completely different with adaptations.
The photos may also show substantial variations from the original house plan as most people tweak the interior and exterior design during construction.  Some pictures may show drastic changes if the owners purchased CAD Files for design modifications.
Thanks to the Sun Plans' clients for sharing photos - it is not required, but always appreciated.
Greater Floor Plan Detail
While computer screen resizing will increase the image size, it will not increase the resolution. The Study Plan has very large images (11x17 set up) in very high resolution and more drawings than are seen on the website.  In addition, the E-book version of The Sun-Inspired House is continuously updated with all the home designs from Sun Plans (even ones not shown on the web site) in approximately 500 pages of drawings and information. This allows for browsing the same floor plans and elevations on the website in a convenient, off-line, leisurely way with greater resolution and size than possible on the website.
"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.
Need to find the compass direction?  The north arrow should be shown on a survey. Otherwise, look up the location on your favorite map app where north is normally shown facing up. Compass apps can even show magnetic north versus true north which can be very helpful!
South Windows 
Regardless of which compass direction the Entry Faces (see below), the south side has the most windows. This is what makes a home passive solar. (Homes that have 7% or less are considered sun-tempered or solar-tempered and do not need extra thermal mass for interior comfort. 8% can be an ideal compromise for most climates with a little extra glass and some thermal mass. The south glass is easy to adapt with the Custom Energy Specs for each climate and client preference.)
Related to south glass is thermal mass - dense materials that keep the home from overheating in winter mainly, but they also aid summer cooling.  It can be in the floors (easy with slab on grade homes) or the interior walls with brick and stone veneer.  Homes with a higher amount of south glass require more thermal mass. Materials can be polished concrete, tile, brick, or stone.
Reversible East & West Entries
House plans with entries that face east and west can be mirror-reversed along the north-south axis with no passive heating penalty. See the results with the "Flip" button on each floor plan. (For Construction Prints and CAD Files, a Mirror Reverse service is available so that words and numbers no longer read backward.)
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. The front will be designated to face NW, NE, SW or SE.
  • 45-degree angled plans should primarily be selected for lots where other sun-inspired plans will not fit, since ideally the south wall of passive solar homes should be oriented within 15 degrees of true south. The most logical reason for choosing 45-degree plans is for small lots where another orientation is not possible, but some homeowners choose the 45-degree plans if there is a magnificent view to either the southeast or southwest. There is approximately 30% less solar gain in winter with 45-degree plans and about the same percentage of extra solar gain in summer so an air conditioner would work a little harder. The good news is that for cold climates where air conditioning is not needed, many of the 45-degree plans also have atriums and clerestories in the center which maximize passive cooling.
Relocating Entries
It is sometimes possible to move the front door and entry area to another side of the house through Architectural Services by Sun Plans. For example, a south entry may be moved to the east or west.
"% 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.
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 than they did 20 years ago.  (Less than 7% of south glass to heated floor area ratio is called sun-tempered.)
For homes with higher amounts of glass, it's often recommended to cut back on the south glass for some climates when Custom Energy Specs are prepared by Sun Plans. The adaptations advised are normally minor and can be accomplished by the builder as a "field change."  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
The default house plans list sorts the designs from smallest to largest footprint. Choosing the smallest first floor that contains the basic spaces is the primary consideration for minimizing both construction cost and energy costs.
Number of Levels
Primary living spaces are normally located on the first floor including master bedrooms for the majority of Sun Plans. Secondary living areas such as extra bedrooms, game, and exercise spaces can often be located on the south sides of a sunny daylight basement, or a smaller second floor nestled in the steeper part of the roof. 
"S.F. Including Bsmt"
This indicates the total square footage of the possible living area. Although the finished basement area listed is a bit subjective, viewing the total square footage puts perspective on how living areas on a lower floor can help reduce costs.
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 windows will allow light in as well as provide emergency exits for basement bedrooms where the earth is higher. 
Daylight Basements / Garden Levels
South-Facing Basements can be 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 Architectural Services, a daylight basement can be added to a design. The result is often a garden-like level transitions to the outdoors much like a one-story 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 which are normally the least energy-efficient and least comfortable spaces in a home if that space is on the north or the west where overheating can occur. On a lower, 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 are reduced), it is often not possible or desirable due to lot size or homeowner 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 Size
House Width
The width listed is for the front door side of the house and in most cases 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 enclose a second floor. They might be 10% more expensive to build when compared to a "simple" home. They often have a basement.
Homes rated "complex" suggest that they may have complicated framing systems. The roofs may have a central atrium. These homes may be 20% more to build when compared to a "simple" home.
Especially if budget is a big concern, having a builder price the home from a Review Set, regardless of how Sun Plans rates the home, prior to purchasing the Construction Prints or CAD Files is recommended.
Wall Type
Exterior Wall Construction
While a few Sun Plans are designed with thicker walls, SIPs (structural insulated panels), many have 6" exterior walls. SIPs are easily interchangeable with the 6" walls and there are many ways to achieve higher R-values such as adding more exterior insulation or making the walls thicker such as with "field changes" by the builder. The predominant exterior wall type is mentioned in the description for each house plan. Custom Energy Specs will list options for various climates.
ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms)
If a plan has ICF first floor walls, it can be seen in the ICF column. Many Sun Plans with basements have ICF walls, 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 including poured-in-place concrete walls or precast concrete walls.
Exterior Materials
Exterior finishes of the walls and roofs are one of the easiest items of a plan to modify. Changing all or parts of exterior walls to siding, brick, stone, and stucco; and roofs to metal, shingles, or tile is relatively easy and can often be done as a "field change" by builders.
The foundation type for each house plan is mentioned in the text of each design. Concrete slab-on-grade is generally the most cost-effective foundation for hot and cold climates when the house site is relatively flat. Concrete slabs help 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 when air circulates between the two floors. Some house designs have a full or small crawlspace designed to allow for utility access. Foundation changes can be made through Architectural Services.
Orientation and Land
South-Sloping Land
If land slopes to the south (regardless of which side the Entry Faces), some secondary spaces such as extra bedrooms, guest suites, and exercise spaces can be located in the sunny, south-facing daylight basement area to reduce the house footprint. (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 arrow shown on the drawings refers 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 North America. To assist with preliminary house siting, check the declination for the house site by US Zip Code or by Canadian Location. Surveys should show true north in relation to the property boundaries and topography.
Porch Location
Passive solar designs should 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 may have small south porches. Porches on the east, west, and north do not compromise the passive solar gain and can even help with cooling.
Drawings Shown for Each House Plan
Each house plan is shown on the website with the following drawings as applicable:
  • First Floor Plan
  • Second Floor Plan
  • Basement Plan 
  • Front Elevation
  • South Elevation (if not also the front)
  • Side Elevation (if not also the south)
  • Garage (only on some plans and if detached)
The Study Plans have more drawings than the website as all exterior elevations, kitchen elevations, building section (a cut-away showing the inside of the home), and detached garage drawings are also included in the 11x17 Study Plans. The Review Set, Construction Print,s and CAD Files have the above drawings shown in even greater detail with dimensions and notes plus many more drawings such as the kitchen, and schematic electrical and framing. See Drawing Types.
Custom Energy Specs
Each set of Construction Prints and CAD Files comes with Custom Energy Specs  to recommend any adaptations based on the location, climate, and energy priorities of the homeowners.
Please see FAQ for common questions and answers.
Architectural Help with Selecting, Adapting or Creating a Sun Plan
If a design is not found in the house plan list, then consider Architectural Services. The fees for both adapting and creating a new home are surprisingly affordable -- much less than a realtor's fee if you were buying a home of the same size.
We'd love to help!