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Sun-Inspired Design makes sense!  When creating a new home design, Debbie suggests a small footprint to minimize foundation and roof costs, right-sized rooms that don’t waste space and right-placed porches that selectively block sun while creating outdoor living spaces.

Windows should be right-placed to capture views, allow in winter sun, minimize summer sun and balance interior lighting and natural breezes.

Custom Energy Specs written for your climate and your energy priorities (whether they be code minimum or net-zero) along with right-sized HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) should vary with the climate.

Allowances for present or future additions of active solar (hot water or photovoltaic panels) and the creation of exterior designs suitable for the climate and personal tastes (whether it be craftsman, southwestern, contemporary or traditional) should be addressed.

Sunny_Dreams_eastThe concept of passive survivability should be considered to prepare the home for natural or man-made disasters – making the interior as comfortable as possible without depending on the need for fuel, electricity or water from other sources. It’s a type of back-to-basics independence for high performance homes that addresses the comfort standards and expectations of today. It’s nature-inspired livability.


Below we share comments from those living in or building a sun-inspired home. 

Ryan's_Retreat_sw 2Bruce in New York, in Ryan’s Retreat shared with us:

“The passive solar design was definitely the right decision and we see those advantages more and more with each season we go through.  We love how light the house is and how warm it stays (especially when the sun has been out during the cold days).  I often tell people that my favorite thing about the living room is that it feels like you are on an outdoor porch, but you are inside.”

Adirondack_Atrium_Fredell 2Matt Fredell, builder with Innovative Structures in the Denver area, sent a photo link to his Facebook page with photos that include a huge banner proclaiming:

“Let the sun heat your home!”

Matt is building a spec home variation of the Adirondack Atrium.

 Equinox_Homestead_OR 2Todd from Oregon told us about his Equinox Homestead:

“We have a Tulikivi masonry heater, which we love.  The light in the house is fantastic, and when you get a nice sunny day in January the house heats up really nicely- don’t need to build a fire on sunny days.

French_Cowgirl_up to towerConni from Montana sent us their newsletter full of photos illustrating their passion for the outdoors.  Their French Cowgirl home in Montana has a ships ladder that leads up to a viewing tower from where they can watch their prairie. She mentioned:

“We are still very much in love with the house and often incredulous with how well it “works.”

Southern_Cypress_TXGloria and Bill in Texas told us about their Southern Cypress.

“The house is unbelievable.  So comfortable.  We had the hottest summer with temperatures in the low 100’s for most of August.  Our electric bill was $90.00.  This winter has been pretty chilly for this part of the country and we mostly heat with a wood burning stove.  Our electric bill is less than $50.00.  We absolutely love the house and are still amazed at how well it holds temperature.”  

Mountain_View_2_MTBill sent us a photo of the south view of his Mountain View 2 vacation home where the plan name is very suited to the site in Montana with grand mountain views surrounding.  Even when they are away for extended periods and the power goes out, the interiors stay well above freezing.

Nature's_Corner_TNHere is one of many construction photos received from Sandy and Marilyn as they build their Nature’s Corner home in Tennessee. This corner photo of their living rooms illustrates how we placed windows to capture their magnificent views of nature! (They started out requesting changes to one of our designs, but after extensive consulting, they realized that a custom-designed home would have less compromises.

We’ve also spoken with their builder, home energy rater, and HVAC subcontractor throughout construction. The next Sun Plans e-newsletter plans to feature News and Comments from Home Energy Raters and HVAC professionals that assist in creating a sun-inspired home. So stay tuned….

HomePower 2Jim Riggins, home owner AND home energy rater in Colorado had an article published: Heading for Net-Zero published in Home Power after he adapted the plan from our Northern Sun CAD files.  Home owners often impress us with their dedication to research and pricing of various insulation options, but Jim has excelled at this. If you too are heading for net-zero energy, please read his article and consider subscribing to Home Power. In the Custom Energy Specs that Sun Plans we for him, we listed several options for his high R-value home when he told us of his goal to build with the concept of the Passive House. He priced the numerous options along with some of his own!

Then only weeks later, Green Building Advisor’s Energy Nerd, Martin Holladay, posted Superinsulated House Specs on his blog and in it he also talked about Jim’s house! (Did you know that Green Building Advisor is our favorite green building website?)

We can already hear the requests asking to post these (and more) photos to our web site.  We wish we had many more photos and much more time to post them, but this is our busiest season and designing takes top priority.  Also, our home owners are very busy especially right after they move in and most choose not to send photos until they are comfortable with the finishing touches – and that can take years! In designing new homes, we typically utilize 3D design to allow the home owner to better visualize the home inside and out.

PD3 3

Mother Earth News recently interviewed our architect, Debra Coleman, and wrote an article detailing what designing a passive solar home is all about.

Read the article

The following newly added house plans reflect common trends in both initial construction cost savings and long term energy cost savings as clients ask us to customize homes for them in which they can comfortably spend the rest of their lives. Building down instead of up, increasing exterior wall thickness, tucking the garage into the basement and including all of the main spaces that our client’s family will use daily on one level – or right-sizing the home for their needs. They also feature right-sized porches with a craftsman style exterior, but the sky is the limit when adapting one for you. These plans all happen to be north-facing.

Conservation Showhome

First Floor 1544 s.f.

Daylight Basement (Finished) 1236 s.f.

Basement (Unfinished) 284 s.f.

Porches 387 s.f.

Detached Carport 384 s.f.

Width 68′, Depth 39′

10% South Glass


Nature’s Corner

First Floor 1960 s.f.

Daylight Basement  Finished 1027 s.f.

Porches 498 s.f.

Basement Garage/Shop 905 s.f.

Width 64’, Depth 46’

8% South Glass


Aurora Lights

First Floor 2448 s.f.

Porches 480 s.f.

Finished Daylight Basement 1278 s.f.

Basement Garage / Workshop 960 s.f.

Width 80’, Depth 48’

10% South Glass


Apple Energy


First Floor 2496 s.f.

Porches 288 s.f.

Garage 960 s.f.

Attic/Bonus 816 s.f.

Width 80’, Depth 76’

9% South Glass

Sun Plans Sunset Bungalow

Sun Plans Sunset Bungalow -reversed

This charming 3-bedroom, 2-bath bungalow makes the most of passive solar energy by smart placement of the home on available land, use of south-facing windows, and heat-absorbing, colored concrete floors.

The small, custom designed windows and other colorful craftsman touches by Rachael Bighley illustrate that this builder also goes above and beyond the minimum in the delightful finishing details.

This home saves energy by requiring less artificial light during the day and less heating and air conditioning all year long. Forty percent of the Sunset Bungalow’s heat is estimated to be supplied by the sun. This home was ENERGY STAR certified by a H.E.R.S.(home energy rated services) Rater.

Sun Plans Sunset Bungalow sun railing

Owners included a sun railing in the Sun Plans' Sunset Bungalow home.

Features by Sun Plans and Mark Bighley Construction:
· 10 percent glass on the long, south wall
· Bright sky tubes that lighten interior spaces
· Selective north, east, and west windows to add balanced light and increase passive cooling
· Below-slab insulation underneath concrete slab on grade construction
· Colored, polished concrete floors to absorb sun’s heat
· South windows .59 SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient) –using 59% of available sun’s heat
· North, East, West windows .33 SHGC (higher reflectivity keeps out unwanted sun)
· Sprayed foam insulation in ceiling and walls
· Blower door tested low air infiltration
· Energy Recovery Ventilator
· 3 ton 14 SEER Air conditioner
· 94 AFUE fuel-fired air distribution
· Programmable Thermostat
· Energy Star appliances, lights, fans
· Pre-plumbed for active solar

While saving energy was the goal, this home became “green” in other ways as well:
· Carport instead of garage to minimize dangerous air pollutants from vehicles, paint, or gasoline
· No VOCs: paints, sealants and solvents that contained no volatile organic compounds
· Metal roof designed to collect rainwater for use
· Vegetation cleared from the land was recycled for use in the final landscaping
· Ground cover, native grasses and flower seeds minimized the need for irrigation

Click here to see more images of this beautiful home:

Mark Bighley built the featured passive solar home above (Sunset Bungalow-Reversed) and his wife, Rachel, created the unique, Sun Cast custom windows.

Mark Bighley Construction

Mark Bighley Construction, an Energy Star builder

They took a personal, hands-on approach to create a high performance home. Going out on a limb to build this home, Bighley was justified when the Sunset Bungalow sold just two weeks after it was placed on the market.

The combination of a sun-inspired design from Sun Plans along with Energy Star Certification, high-performance construction, green product selection, and artistic finishes are something to consider when building an energy-efficient home.

3D Design

Sun Plans are available in 3D!

This is the best time of year to start a custom design with Sun Plans Inc.! Spring is our busiest time of year and may mean a long lead time.

Most of our custom clients are choosing our 3D services to help them better visualize their future home. Some who are requesting changes to pre-designed plans are also choosing 3D.

See our 3D page, a link only available for our e-mail subscribers. Please note that some designs may not yet be available on our Web site since they may be designs in progress.

6-21-09-ss-1The Summer Solstice is here! And so are the long hours of daylight, the deep green trees, and the brilliant flowers. Cool rivers and ponds are beckoning and so are our porches and decks that allow us to enjoy these views.

In the design stage, we have clients asking for the same attention to detail for the outdoor spaces as they do the indoor. After all, many have carefully selected their land for the magic that the natural elements possess.

Since the sun is rising far in the northeast and setting far in the northwest, porches on the east and west can be especially delightful right now. But even north porches or decks capture a few sunbeams this time of year.

These same porches can also shade the east and west house walls and windows. This reduces solar gain from the intense east and west sun this time of year. Even the north windows of the home receive a few sun rays beaming in during the earliest and latest part of the days. Personally, I love these surprise sun rays streaming into the house that remind me of the sun’s movement. It’s also one reason why we do not recommend a porch across the entire north side of a home.

The south windows of a home will receive surprising little direct sun since the great ball of fire is so high in the sky at noon. (To be specific its is almost 47 degrees higher than it was on Dec 21.) Actually,with a properly designed south overhang above south-facing windows, there should be no sun entering the house from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. But as the sun begins to drop back down in the sky (or actually as the northern hemisphere of the earth begins to tilt away from the sun), the south windows will begin to receive a little more sun daily. Designing for the middle of summer can be one of the biggest challenges in passive solar design and why even with our sales of pre-designed or stock plans, we look carefully at the location in which the house will be built and sometimes make recommendations to modify the design for maximum comfort year-round.

3-20-09-se-5We are excited to announce the addition of three new plans to our web site: the Dakota Cottage, the French Cowgirl, and Ryan’s Retreat.

Thank you Rod & Charlotte, Conni and Craig, and Bruce, LeeAnn & Ryan for allowing us to create these custom homes for you.  (Congratulations to Bruce and LeeAnn who were married in the house while it was under construction. We assume this meant they were enjoying the building process!)

On our house plan list page, we rate the complexity of each house to build. While this is certainly subjective, as a rule you can increase construction costs about 5-10% from simple to average, and then again 5-10% from average to complex. So while some people still love the more complex plans with atriums and other unique features, in today’s economy we find clients asking more for the simpler to construct plans, or at least looking at the homes with a smaller footprint if they want many unique features also.

The three new plans all come with the “simple” rating of construction.

The 3D image is of the French Cowgirl. We now offer several levels of 3D services for all of our Custom Design as well as Custom Changes. Clients who have trouble visualizing love these services that start as low as $300 for a simple exterior. Over the next few months, look for some new 3D products to be added to our shopping cart.

Visit our house plan list page to see all of our designs.

The Dakota Cottage is north-facing with 1762 s.f. living plus a sunroom studio. With a full basement, its a very economical two story home. Why build up when south-sloping land allows you to build down?!* It’s a much more economical way to gain square footage and the energy consumption will be much less too.

Building down rather than up is the most popular cost-saving strategy that we can recommend.

See more about the Dakota Cottage

The French Cowgirl was designed for a family who spends more time outdoors than in. This west-facing home with 1176 s.f. on each floor plus a fun viewing tower is one of our most compact homes so far.

Before this custom home, our clients would have had to consider a similar plan of ours with about 200 s.f. more on each floor. That would have cost about $30,000 more to build. Instead they paid us around $8,000 to custom design a home. The goal of our Custom Design service is to make our fees save you money during construction as well as in the long run with lower energy bills.

See more about the French Cowgirl

Ryan’s Retreat accommodates aging in place and existing wheelchair needs in a home with a creative ramp through a delightful sunroom. With 1800 s.f. on the first floor, a 264 s.f. sunroom, and 563 s.f. upstairs nestled between the attic trusses, this is a lot of home in a simple, craftsman shape.

Although they gave up some passive solar gain by eliminating the second floor south dormer, they are saving enough money with roof simplification to help justify adding the PV panels to the large, unobstructed roof on the south. (But even without a lot of unobstrutive roof area to power an entire house, many clients are placing the PV panels near the ground or on poles where it can be easier to knock off the snow!)

See more about Ryan’s Retreat

Solstice 3 (we only have enough time to post one new plan during our busy season, so we chose the Solstice 3!)

The Solstice 3 has 2056 s.f. on the main floor, 964 s.f. on the second, and a full basement. It has the frequently requested north entry and works well with driveway approaches from the northwest to northeast. We designed it for an active family of four. The walls and floors are designed to be constructed with insulated concrete forms which bundle strength, thermal mass, and insulation into one system. It was recently published in BUILDERnews magazine. The back, south side is shown here in the new 3D we are using for custom design.

Solstice 3

See more about the Solstice 3

July 2018
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