When you work with Sunlight Homes, you are fully engaged in the design process from the first design meeting. We listen to your wants, needs and goals, consider your budget, climate and land, then collaborate with you to create a custom passive solar home design that works beautifully for your individual lifestyle. Along the way we offer ideas, opinions and suggestions, but you will make the final decisions. It’s your home, after all!

Designing What’s Important

Many people have come to us saying they’ve looked at hundreds of stock house plans and haven’t found one that totally works for them. Often there are parts of a plan that work but other parts that don’t, and incorporating passive solar can make orienting the stock plan on a building site quite challenging. Since we specialize in green, passive solar, custom design, and have years of experience creating custom home designs that use the sun to their best advantage, while giving you just the spaces you want and need in a home and nothing more. This way your home can be smaller and more environmentally friendly and you don’t pay for space that isn’t important to you.

It’s been fun to learn what’s important to our many clients over the years. We’ve designed homes with moving partitions and secret rooms for security-conscious people, and homes with special display areas that get no direct sunlight for artwork. We’ve designed special nooks for pianos that have great acoustics and we even designed an alter in a home for neighbors in their rural community to gather. Custom can be as custom as you like!


A good passive solar house design is functional as well as energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing. Rooms flow logically from one to the next and are situated depending on their function and your design needs. Wasted space is eliminated and each room is designed to support the activities that most often take place there. A home designed for a family might separate the master bedroom, the study and the living room from the family room and kids’ bedrooms to minimize noise transfer and to give the adults some privacy. Singles or couples, especially those who are planning to “age in place” might prefer a smaller home on a single level with a universal design approach to address possible, future mobility issues. For some, it’s important to have a home that can be more easily maintained, so we suggest materials and construction methods to help accomplish this. Others need to be able to leave their home for long periods when they travel and want to live without the fear of frozen pipes or other malfunctions. Whatever the scenario, we believe that a home should function effortlessly for the individuals who live there and we make this one of our goals in design.


Aesthetics play an important role in the overall success of a design. We consider the shapes, angles, massing, proportion, positive and negative spaces, and orientation so that the resulting design is aesthetically pleasing. Interesting design elements can make your custom home even more special and unique. In learning about your interests and lifestyle, we often include special features that speak to your individuality. For example, we designed a home for a pilot who had a grass landing strip in front of his rural Oregon home. The resulting design was a home with a low pitched roof and a single, square, second floor room with windows in 4 directions. This was their ‘control tower’ where the wife would sit with a glass of wine waiting for her husband to land. Another couple had display cases and an old cash register from her grandfather’s country store. We repurposed the cases into her kitchen counters and the cash register was the focal point of the kitchen, used for storage and whimsy. When aesthetics are kept in mind during the design process, the unique, custom features become meaningful and beautiful additions to your custom home design. 

Our Design Priorities

Our design process is an exciting, creative, joint effort. While thinking about the floor plan, style, traffic flow, roof lines and structural issues, we are also juggling three major, and often competing, priorities:

Your Design Needs – Your Building Budget – Your Building Site

Any one of these, alone, would be easy to satisfy but designing a home that fits all three takes skill and experience on our part and cooperation and sometimes compromise on yours!


Your Design Needs

Before we begin to work with you on your new custom home design, we need to get to know more about you! Our discovery discussions reveal your interests and your individual lifestyle. We want to learn what is important to you and what isn’t. This helps us as we turn your ideas into a beautiful and functional passive solar house design that really works for you.

Our client web site includes a lot of information you’ll need while designing and building your new home. There are also worksheets that we ask you to complete and submit before the site visit.

Our predesign worksheets cover questions about your design needs and wants. We ask each adult to complete their worksheets individually because there are often differences of opinion and priorities; even between married couples believe it or not! We also have worksheets for children to help us understand what is important to them and to involve them in the process.

Our values worksheets tell us about your interests and individual values, as an individual, couple and family. Past clients have mentioned that completing these worksheets brought up things they’d never thought of before and stimulated discussion and decisions that were important in their home’s design. Your values and interests translate into design priorities and allow us to design your home to your needs. For example, someone who is outgoing, open and uninhibited who has a lot of parties will have a very different design than someone who is private, concerned about security, meditates and likes to garden in the nude. (just kidding about that last one.) Our values worksheets help us understand who you are and we use the information to personalize your new custom home design. When values are considered in design, the result is something really special, as many past clients will attest.

Your Building Budget

In order for your new home project to be successful, it must fit your budget. We’ve all heard the horror stories that resulted from badly managed homebuilding projects where the final cost ended up being way more than the client’s budget.

Long ago we decided to make it our business to design for budget. Today, an important part of our job is to guide our clients around the budget pitfalls and through the compromises that are inevitable when budget drives the project, as it should. When a budget is tight, more diligence and compromise is needed. We have clients on tight budgets occasionally, and we have used some creative thinking as they have used compromise, to get them as much of what they really want as they can afford. It’s much better and less stressful to have a budget that, generally, fits your goals, needs and wants. In any case, we will offer ideas to increase efficiency of space and energy as we go through the design process.

Before you spend much time and energy thinking about building a home, put your attention on determining your budget. Whether your new home ideas are modest or grand, if you’re like most people you’ll probably want more than your budget will allow. It seems to be human nature! If you build a home that is more than you can comfortably pay for, you (and everyone else involved in the project) will suffer the consequences, which are not fun.

This is why we address the budget issue seriously from the beginning. We can help determine if your budget will work for the type of home you want and can offer suggestions on an individual basis. Much of the time, budgets are already in line but when they aren’t you can take this knowledge and adjust your design needs, your budget or even your whole approach to building so your project can ultimately be successful.

We suggest that you sit down with your banker and your financial advisor to determine a budget that will work for you. At this point you don’t need to share that information with us or anyone else. Your budget is for you to know and understand.

There are three variables in your new home project; the size of the home, the quality of the materials and labor, and the budget. If any of these variables are fixed, the other two need to flex in order for the project to come out well. This can be tricky and frustrating if your budget is tight, but the way to design a home that fits your budget is to consider the budget in every decision you make, from the very beginning of the project… right now!

The Cost Estimate Worksheet

Years ago we developed a spreadsheet to help prospective clients get a better handle on the cost of the specific type of home they want to build. We have been refining it ever since and it’s proven to be a valuable estimating tool. We can complete a Cost Estimate Worksheet with you very early in the process, way before you decide if you even want to build a Sunlight home! If you then become a client, we will continue to use the Cost Estimate Worksheet throughout the design process to give you feedback on costs so you can make design and materials decisions that keep your project in budget. You might decide to increase your budget along the way to satisfy your needs and wants, but you will do this with full understanding of the bottom line. Read more about our Cost Estimate Worksheet in the Pricing section of our web site. Then let us know if you’d like to complete a worksheet for your project.

Your Building Site

Green home designs that are created, from the beginning, to fit their land end up looking like they belong there. We work to take advantage of the positive aspects of the building site, while minimizing negatives. Climate and weather have a huge effect on the orientation and design of your home. There are many different climate types and topographies in North America and we’ve designed homes for just about every one of them.

Solar orientation is an important element affecting a passive solar house design, whether the climate is sunny or cloudy. Using the sun to its best advantage is of great importance to us. Considering the prevailing winds in the design can further increase energy efficiency and comfort. On building sites that are not flat, the design should respond to the topography, not the other way around. Finally, views and obstructions visible from the building site need to be considered.

As you can see, there are many important aspects to a well designed passive solar home, and sometimes there are trade-offs. We discuss all of this with you in detail during the design process to help you make the best decisions for your project.


Our Guiding Principals

  • Sunlight homes utilize renewable, clean energy
  • Sunlight homes are energy-efficient, and can even be zero energy homes
  • Sunlight homes are designed using Pattern Language principals to be comfortable, inviting and fun to live in
  • Sunlight homes are aesthetically pleasing (beautiful!) and can be designed in many architectural styles
  • Sunlight homes are effortlessly functional and designed to support the owners’ activities and needs
  • Sunlight homes flow from room to room & indoors to outdoors
  • Sunlight homes are strong, tight and super insulated
  • Sunlight homes have excellent air quality
  • Sunlight homes have little or no wasted space
  • Sunlight homes are designed to fit the budget of their owners
  • Sunlight homes are constantly improving, using new, proven technologies and developing innovative design strategies for green solar home design