Can I give a contractor your plans to build?

While highly detailed, the plans must be customized by a local architect to your specific needs and building site and to local regulations and climate conditions. They are marked “not for construction” and must be completed, verified and sealed by a licensed architect or engineer before your house can be built.

What do your plans include?

They include floor plans, foundation plans, reflected ceiling plans, electrical plans, exterior elevations, critical interior elevations, kitchen elevations, building and wall sections, details and door and window drawings and descriptions. Specifications are not included, but primary materials are clearly described in drawing notes. Plans are scaled to print at 11x17.

How do your 3D models work?

Our 3D models are in SketchUp format and let you spatially experience and experiment with our designs in a way drawings cannot. SketchUp is a popular modeling program, which is designed to be easily learned. A free version may be downloaded at It must first be installed to open, view or modify our 3D models. Basic knowledge of SketchUp's viewing commands will allow exploration of a model. Elements within our models may be re-used in modeling new designs in Sketch-Up of your own creation. Manipulation of our 3D models does not require a license. Construction of a house corresponding to or based on one of our designs, however, does require you to purchase a set of plans, which is subject to a license, as described below. The renderings on this website are views of the models in SketchUp format.

Which of your download options is right for me?

The download options serve different purposes but complement each other. Although the four download types may be used independently, we recommend considering purchase of any plans in AutoCAD format only as an upgrade from the same plans in PDF format, for reasons explained below.

Purchasing a house design's brochure will make it convenient for you to study and discuss the design with others. It does not license you to build the featured house, for which you must buy plans in PDF or AutoCAD format. The content is the same as you see on our website, reformatted into a printable brochure.  A brochure may help you understand and navigate the featured house design in any of its other download formats.

Purchasing our 3D models will allow you to spatially experience and experiment with our designs in a way drawings cannot, through the freeware SketchUp program. (See "How do your 3D models work?" above.) This purchase does not license you to build the featured house, which requires further purchases. Like a free brochure, a 3D model may aid in understanding and navigating the featured design in its separately purchased plans, which are more technical in nature.

Purchasing plans in PDF format will allow you to print, copy and distribute paper drawings showing how the featured design might be built. (See "What do your plans include?" above.) This purchase licenses you to build one house corresponding to or based on the design purchased, as described in the Terms of Use. It may also help you decide whether you want to purchase the same plans in AutoCAD format.

Purchasing a set of plans in AutoCAD format will allow you to easily modify the plans using AutoCAD, a separately purchased, widely used computer-aided design program. You may share the downloaded file of these plans with an architect for this purpose. This purchase option is for those serious enough about building a house to engage an architect. We also recommend that this purchase be made only after buying and reviewing the plans featuring the same house design in PDF format, which has identical content but is in fixed form rather than in AutoCAD's modifiable electronic form. Whether you purchase plans solely in AutoCAD format or in both PDF and AutoCAD formats, you are licensed to build only one house corresponding to or based on the design featured in those plans, as described in the Terms of Use.     

Can I have you modify one of your designs?

Small House Lab provides products, not services. You must engage a local licensed architect to complete, or modify and complete, our plans.

Where do I find a local architect?

Search architectural periodicals for published houses that impress you by architects in your area. Don’t hesitate to contact a big-name firm. If the firm’s principal isn’t interested in taking on your project, he or she may recommend a talented colleague or former employee looking to grow a practice.

Contact a university architecture school if there’s one in your area. Practicing architects who also teach are often conscientious and creative.

Ask the best building contractor you can find to recommend an architect. It takes a technically capable architect to earn the respect of a contractor.

Ask for a recommendation from your local chapter of the American Institute of Architects at

How many houses can I build from one set of plans?

Your purchase of plans in either PDF or AutoCAD format, or in both formats, licenses you to build one house corresponding to or based on the design featured in those plans, as described in the Terms of Use. Multiple purchases of plans for the same house design do not license you to build multiple houses. Contact us to discuss special rates if you want to build multiple houses corresponding to or based on a single design. Neither purchasing a brochure nor a computer model in SketchUp format licenses you to build a house based on the featured design.  

How much would your houses cost to build?

It’s impossible to say, given regional variations in construction costs, fluctuations in material costs and the impact of unique site conditions. However, our plans are detailed enough that a reliable local contractor may use them as a guideline for providing a reasonable estimate for building on a specific site, the accuracy of which will rest solely on the contractor.

How wheelchair accessible are your houses?

Our house designs provide wheelchair accessible entrances, circulation, maneuvering spaces at doors and accessible bathrooms with turning spaces. Kitchens are on accessible paths but are not configured for wheelchair users. It is expected that kitchens will be customized to meet specific user abilities, preferences and right- or left-handedness.

Are your houses sustainable?

Our houses are designed with sustainable features including compactness; energy efficient radiant floor heating and rainscreen cladding; durable, low-maintenance materials; and wheelchair accommodation allowing residents to age in place.

Why don't your houses have basements or garages?

The International Residential Code requires basements to have an emergency escape window with an opening height of at least two feet. Floor construction above this raises the ground floor level well over two feet above grade, complicating access and the natural flow of interior to exterior living space. Basements also accumulate non-vital possessions, while an attached garage becomes the main entrance to a house and can appear disproportionately large relative to the dwelling component of a small house.

We recognize that some people and some zoning ordinances require basements and attached garages. House designs SHL 3.1 and 3.2 are adaptable to include them. Other such designs may follow.

Do your houses meet my local code and zoning regulations?

The houses are designed to meet requirements of the International Residential Code, which has been adopted throughout most of the United States. The plans must be reviewed and modified by a local licensed architect to meet local construction and energy codes and zoning requirements. Some zoning requirements may be readily checked against the descriptions of our houses on our website and in our brochures.

Do your plans include structural engineering?

Our plans provide generic good-practice descriptions of foundations and framing. A local licensed architect or structural engineer must perform structural calculations based on the building site’s soil conditions and local wind, snow and seismic loads, etc., then review and complete the plans and take full responsibility for the structural design by sealing and signing the finished documents.

Do your plans include mechanical systems?

Our designs are based on radiant floor heating and split-system ductless air conditioning, systems which have minimal space and coordination requirements. These systems must be detailed for local climate conditions by qualified professionals. Utility closets are provided for mechanical equipment. Our plans include electrical layouts.

How does your purchase process work?

Upon agreeing to the Terms of Use and checking out, you'll receive an email confirmation and receipt with a link allowing you to download your purchased product. For more, see What's Included.

What's your return policy?

Refunds or exchanges are not given. It is highly recommended that you buy and review plans in PDF format before purchasing them in AutoCAD format.

Do you provide a warranty for houses based on your designs?

We do not provide any warranty for houses corresponding to or based on our designs. Consult our Terms of Use for limitations on our warranties.