Finalizing Our Passive Solar House Design: Minor Tweaks and Major Planning Tips


Final Passive Solar House Plans

The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.

A few weeks ago, we picked up the preliminary house plans that we had drawn by John Roe at McCray Lumber near us in Topeka, Kan. We highly recommend paying the additional fee for a set of preliminary plans. Based on the estimate our contractor, Jeff Wooster, came up with by looking at the preliminaries, and based on some of the design features we wanted to adjust for aesthetic or functional reasons, we would have been in a tight spot should the first drawings have been our finals. After we discussed the changes we wanted and the changes Jeff recommended, we finalized our passive solar design plans (see evidence above) and are now awaiting a revised lumber list so we can put it out for bids.

We’ve outlined a few of the points we made sure to pay attention to below, because we think they are worth considering as you design your own future home. We’ve spared you the finer details about how many square feet our deck will be, or how many feet high our kitchen island will be. (You’re welcome.)

Lifetime planning. We plan to live in the house for the rest of our lives, so we chose to adjust the width of each doorway to be large enough for a wheelchair or walker, and made the master bath a step-in shower instead of the original shower-tub combo we'd first chosen. As young newlyweds, we felt odd talking about these (hopefully) far-off “maybe’s,” but ultimately, it just seems practical to plan for our whole future. We are building our dream home and farmstead, after all!

Movement planning. We had to shuffle items around in the kitchen and our bedroom quite a bit. We really sat and thought about how we move in our current house, and what would make our use of space more efficient. So, the kitchen now has a tighter “flow” from the refrigerator to the sink to the work space to the stove and oven. We’ll have a good amount of room for people to mill around without being in the way, which is perfect for how we entertain: lots of cooking, snacking and chatting around the kitchen. Movement planning is the main reason we built in a “drop zone” (or mud room) right inside the garage, complete with benches, hooks and small cubbies; why we set up our closet and bathroom off of our bedroom the way we did; and why there are built-in bookshelves in the living room. As you narrow down plans you like, spend plenty of time paying attention to how you move in your current home, how you wish you could move in your current home, and visualizing the spaces you’re looking at as 2D plans in a 3D version. Seems obvious, but it’s a small (free!) planning tool that makes good sense.

3/24/2015 3:23:42 PM

John: This is the biggest file I can post, but you can look at the older posts I've done and find the plans we based our plans on to get more ideas. The link: Architect: We have done a lot of research on these topics. Our house is sited and the windows are situated so the solar gain comes through the south-facing windows in winter but has good overhang protection in summer, and while we haven't worked with a certified passive solar architect, we have followed several books and the basic principles from several past Mother Earth News articles. Thanks for checking in.

3/20/2015 7:54:52 AM

This looks great. Is there anyway to post a more defined floor plan? I'd love to see the detail

3/19/2015 2:37:35 PM

If this is a "passive solar" house design: What is the mean winter temperature? What passive solar system are you using? Which direction on the plans is north? What is the ratio of southern glass to floor area? What is the area, location, and type of thermal mass? What sun angle are the southern sun shades designed to block? If you have not determined these things and others, this is not a passive solar design and should not be called such.

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