Explore sustainable design and building practices by designing and building a scale model of a small home.

Constraints and Criteria

All activities are completed individually

  • House must be 1000 square feet or less
  • Super large windows on the South side of house for passive solar effect
    • Living space has the windows
    • Floor must be thermal mass (like cement)
  • Rooms with water as close together as possible
  • Hallways should be non-existent or take up very little space
  • Use of walls in living spaces is highly discouraged


Design / Draft a passive solar home that is 500 to 1000 square feet

Step 1: Homework   

  • Go home and count EVERY single thing in your house. (At least try for 10 minutes). See Google Classroom Assignment

Step 2: Home Facts 

Each person does this individually

Do a search and find some ‘facts’ about the American home industry. Find at least 3 and list them on a Google Docs page using bullet points.  Include the web address for each fact.   Some example facts to look up might include: “What’s the average size home now.” “What was the average size home in 1940? 1960?” See more ideas for facts here. Aim for at least 3 to 147 facts

  • Please put items in a bulleted or numbered list for easy reading
  • Please include a web address for each fact.  Do NOT use the google search page as the link.  Go to the actual page.
  • To turn this in, go to your Google Classroom and look for the assignment under ‘Classwork.’

Step 3: Questioning and Gaining PerspectiveDrivingArchitectureSM

  • Start a Google Doc and name it your class #, followed by your last name and ended with ‘essential questions’ (Example:  8B2 Smith essential questions)
  • Start creating a list of essential ‘questions’ that will not only help guide you throughout this project, but act as a focal point for work.  It’s intended that when new questions come up in your mind you will add them to this list.
  • Please put items in a bulleted or numbered list for easy reading
    • Example: “How is square footage calculated?” or “How many bedrooms can fit into a 1000 sq ft home?” “Where’s the best location for a washer/dryer?” “Why do the windows belong on the South side of a house in the northern hemisphere?”
  • You should constantly add to this list as the project progresses.  Start with about 3 questions and try to end up with at least 25 to 748.  This will be graded 3 times throughout the project


Step 4: Example Floor Plans 

What is a floorplan?  Click here for info

Look at all the following floor plans below that have passive solar principles and designed by real architects. In your composition book (or paper), quickly sketch the floor plan of each of the plans listed below, labeling all rooms and their dimensions, if they have them. Note! You are copying someone else’s design, not creating your own at this point.  You are studying how rooms are organized and why. 

Be neat, but quick. Put the title, “Example Plan” in large letters at the top each page. Study the plan carefully. (3 total)  In 2 to 5 sentences, written right next to your sketches in your composition book, summarize any observations you have about how ‘space’ is organized and used in an efficient way. (15 pts per sketch / 1 period)

Goal? To study/observe how architects use space. These homes are super efficient with their use of space. Notice the dimensions of the rooms. Observe the lack of walls and hallways. See where bathrooms are placed and where washer and dryers are located. Note the number of and the placement of closets.

What should your sketches look like?  Click here for some sketches from past students

Pearlson: River Road Project NEST: Florence Street Lanefab: Two Birds
Click here
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Click here

Step 5: Practice Sketch Showing ‘Flow’Arch-exampleFlow4

  • For each of the three floor plans you sketched above, draw in ‘flow’ lines (different color, if you can) for the movements listed below. So….when you’re done, you should have 5 separate lines on each of the two floor plan sketches.
    1. Going from the kitchen to the living room
    2. Going from the main bedroom to the bathroom
    3. Going from the bathroom to where laundry is done
    4. Going from a ‘closet’ where a vacuum cleaner would be kept
      to vacuum the living room
    5. Coming in from the outside, putting away your coat and boots into a closet and going into the kitchen to make some mac and cheese
  • (Click here for examples)

IMG summer and winter sun angle
Image from Design Coalition

Step 6: Passive Solar Design

Study the information on the four links below.  Use the worksheet you get from your google classroom assignment to record your answers.

  1. Passive House Explained in 90 Seconds
  2. What is a zero energy building?
  3. Passive Solar Design Principles
  4. Orientation and Shading
  5. See images of various Passive Solar Home designs
  6. YouTube:  New Zealand Passive Solar Home
  7. Charting the sun’s motion in relation to your home 

Click the image to the right to go to an image gallery of passive solar homes.  Pay attention to size and placement of windows.

Step 7: Floor Plan Design Basics and Guidelines

Look over the following ‘tips’ for design before sketching your own design

Step 8: Design Your Own-Bubbles, Sketches & Flow


A:  Bubble Sketches

First, review the Constraints and Criteria (from the top of this page) for the project. Sketch at least (minimum) 3 unique rough bubble sketches representing the ‘space’ of the house.  Bubble sketches help you quickly compare/contrast various ideas and configurations, organize ‘space’ and get feedback from others.  Please number each bubble sketch to aid discussion. You should also put in the same flow lines from step 5 above.  Don’t forget the key.  Here are some examples. 

B: Detailed Floor Plan

From the feedback you obtain from others, pick your best bubble sketch and sketch a more detailed floor plan.  It should be creative and unique floor.  Your passive solar 400 to 1000 sq ft home should include the following

  • General dimensions of each room (Length and Width).
  • Show math calculating general square footage, listing and adding up all the rooms.
  • Must use traditional symbols for windows and doors.
  • Include compass headings with South on the bottom
    Example Student Detailed Floor Plans

    of the page

  • Include ‘flow’ lines and its key.  Include any other flow lines you think are important.
  • Include:  2 doors to outside; window and closets in bedrooms; Washer/Dryer; closet for living room / entrance (for coats)
  • Keep rooms with water close together
  • LARGE South facing windows

For some past student examples, click on the image to the right.

Step 9: Floorplanner (150 pts)

From your own sketched design, you’ll now create a 3D version using a website called Floorplanner. Make sure you’ve gotten the ‘OK’ from the teacher

  • Here is the rubric on how I’m grading this assignment:   Expectations / Checklist . Best to first read this checklist BEFORE starting!
  • Log into Floorplanner
    • Your usernames is your mywlake gmail.
    • Your password is your normal password minus the numbers, followed by your 3 letter period designator.
      • For example, if your was Smile123!  your password for Floorplanner would be Smile6MF for those in the6th period Monday through Friday
    • Do NOT sign up for an account.  Accounts have been made for you.
      • If you can’t get logged in tell the teacher immediately.
      • Your file will NOT be graded unless you use the correct login info
  • Your floorplanner file name should be your class period designator followed by your LAST NAME.  For example:   6MFSmith
  • Start with watching a short video on how to use floorplanner
  • Get feedback from the teacher or other students at your table as often as you wish.
  • Turning in
    • The google classroom assignment just has you turn in a worksheet with your name, period, and notes.  This is just to inform the teacher you’re done.

Step 10: Building the Scale Model (100 pts)

This is a group activity.  Once this has been started, any personal floorplans not finished become homework and all effort goes into building the model.     Click here for directions

Step 11: Presentation and Self Evaluation

  • Start with your goal and how/why it aligns with the goal of the project
  • Include: key essential questions, example site of where you got background information, show depth of your body of knowledge, show sketches and drafting file and scale model prototype.
  • This presentation is a simulation. Pretend you are trying to ‘sell’ your idea/design to another company, group, etc. (Like Shark Tank)
  • All group members should participate equally
  • Please don’t read off the webpage – read from the heart/soul

Miscellaneous Links

Yann Arthus-Bertrand: A wide-angle view of fragile Earth Look at our worldly possessionsLook at our worldly possessions
6 Tiny Living Principles Everyone Should Try The Tiny Home Moveme
Less is more – the Tiny Home Movement Why You’ll be happier in a small home
8 Good Reasons to Choose a Smaller Home The psychology of the tiny home movement
8 Reasons to Downsize your life