We started designing our house during the winter of 2006 right after we bought our property. I spent hours a day on the internet learning everything I could about house design. I also checked out almost every house design book in the Montana library system. I also bought some design books from Amazon that were more contemporary.
Our favorite books:
The Not So Big house series by Sarah Susanka
The Barefoot Home: Dressed-Down Design for Casual Living
The Farmhouse: New Inspiration for the Classic American Home
The Owner-Built Home
This book is from 1971. My dad gave me his copy which he probably bought in the 70's. It has a lot of interesting ideas and principles, like where to put windows for the best air flow. The building technology mentioned in the book is old and alternative but it gives you some out of the box ideas. It is selling used on Amazon for $.75 so I think that is a steal for the information in it.
After reading these book we agreed (and so did our budget) that our house should be small and simple. We both grew up in houses that were less then 1600 sq. ft. and we each had siblings to share the house with.
We started with the shape of the house. It is pretty much a rectangle (26 x 36) with a small 1ft pop out for the staircase. This would keep the cost of the foundation down as well as the cost of the house. I read somewhere that each corner you add to your house costs you an extra $7,000. I don't know if that number is true but it makes sense. Also since we live in a heating climate you want a house that is closer to square to give you the most volume to surface area. A long thin house has a lot of exterior walls compared volume. This means you have a lot of heat loss through the walls.
A basement was out of the question because the ground here has huge rocks in it. Hence the name Rocky Mountains. A two story house requires half the roofing and half the foundation as a similar single story house. Since we wanted to use SIP panels which are not the cheapest things we wanted to get the most square footage for the least amount of panels and two stories seemed like it would accomplish that. We also liked the look of having an upstairs that has vaulted ceilings. Our outside walls upstairs start at 4 ft tall and the go to 14 feet at the peak. One of the advantages of building with SIPs is the lack of trusses. Even our bathrooms are vaulted!
Upstairs there are 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Downstairs is a half bath, kitchen, dining room and living room.
After we drew up plans that we liked on grid paper we showed them to an architect who just charged us to redraw them and to polish them up for us. This is much cheaper than hiring an architect to design your house from scratch. He also added the upstairs sky lights and an accent window in the kitchen. Both of these additions were worth his costs. I would recommend finding an architect who will redraw your hand drawn and scaled plans and charge you by the page. Their professional eye could catch something that could cost you a lot of money down the road.
If you would like to draw your house in 3-D to see what it might look like I would recommend using Google sketchup It is free and pretty easy to use.