Debra Rucker Coleman, Architect
Tips for Selecting a House Plan
Selecting a home design takes time. Most people start with the self-help method of searching Sun Plans on their own prior to requesting Architectural Services. These tips can help. 
The thumbnail 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 home owners. Colors and materials both inside and out were chosen by the home owner. YOU can choose the colors and finishes that YOU like. The photos may also show substantial variations from the original house plan as most people tweak the interior and exterior design a little during construction.  Some pictures may show drastic changes if the owners purchased CAD Files for design modification. With imagination, it is possible to envision the materials, colors and finishes that you like.  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 the all the home designs from Sun Plans 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 web site. It is  possible to zoom in to see even greater detail.
"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 should always be facing up.
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 preferences.)
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 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. Most of the designs will show a cross-hatched floor pattern for 12x12 tile for recommended as  a starting point for thermal mass location, but one of the common adaptations is to modify the thermal mass and south glass to a home owner's individual preferences especially when wood floors are a must in some rooms.
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 solar 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 backwards.)
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 home owners 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, or for home owners who have a high degree of tolerance for occasional hot periods, 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"
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 than they did 20 years ago.  That results in lower construction costs as well so don't be discouraged by designs with 7-8% south glass.  (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 house 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 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 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
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 Architectural Services, 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 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.
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. Especially if budget is a big concern, having a builder price the home from a Review Set 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 DETAILS tab for each house plan. Custom Energy Specs 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 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 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 can 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 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 web site with the following drawings as applicable:
The Study Plans have more drawings than the web site 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 Prints and CAD Files have the all of the above drawings shown in even greater detail plus many more drawings. 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 home owners.
Please see FAQ for common questions and answers.
Architectural Help with Selecting, Adapting or Creating a Sun Plan
If a design is not found from 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!