Location, Location, Location… We all know the real estate mantra because it is such a cliché when buying a home. The phrase also holds true when building a home. A site’s location, or more precisely, its climate, is an integral part of a home’s design. The type of weather a site experiences plays a large role when planning the home.
Designing for the Climate
Site and Orientation: In a colder climate, a south-facing slope — the best orientation for maximizing winter sunlight — is ideal. In a climate with high annual temperatures, a south-facing orientation would overheat the home. Main living areas facing away from the afternoon sun are more energy efficient.
Foundation Depth: The footings of most foundations are below the maximum frost depth. However, in warmer climates like Florida, a grade level slab provides a good foundation. In colder climates, foundations are at least four or five feet below grade.
Roof Overhangs: Roof overhangs provide shade. In very hot climates, many designers specify a hipped roof. A hipped roof with wide roof overhangs will keep the sun off windows on all four sides of the home. In very rainy climates where water and moisture can contribute to siding rot, deep roof overhangs will protect your exterior walls and foundation. In dry climates that are not as hot, roof overhangs are far less important. However, colder climates do need to consider where the snow will dump when it comes off the roof.
Roof Materials: In a hot climate, builders may wish to specify white-colored roofing or a so-called cool roof with high solar reflection and thermal transmittance. In colder climates, dark roofing is often preferred due to its ability to melt snow. While clay and concrete tile roofing are common in southern California, these choices are rare in colder climates where homeowners may battle ice dams using an ax.
Windows: Windows affect the energy use of homes in at least two ways. In colder climates, sun hitting a window warms the home’s interior. Alternately, on cloudy days and cold nights, windows provide a path for heat to escape more quickly than through a wall. Whether your climate is cold or hot, it is important to choose your windows wisely. Good windows cost more for a reason; they are better insulated than lesser quality options. In a hot, sunny climate, window selection is equally important for the same insulation-factor reason. In this case, windows need to reflect the sun and keep heat out.
Insulation: U.S. building codes require homes in cold climates to have more insulation than homes in hot climates. The reason is simple: cold climate homes have higher energy bills therefore justifies a bigger investment in insulation. While most U.S. homes are insulated, there are a few areas of the country — think Hawaii — where a house may get by with a lower R-factor insulation. A benign climate allows architects to consider using thinner walls that wouldn’t pass code (or muster) in Vermont.
Extreme Weather Alert
The Yankee Barn Homes Design Team has created plans for a number of extreme weather conditions. They are currently working on a design specific to the environment in the state of Washington. The home is required to have a roof that will withstand a snow load of up to 252 pounds per square foot and a timber frame that withstands seismic activity. BTW, this is not our first, second, or third home with seismic activity requirements. YBH has designed homes for years that have experienced and withstood seismic activity. A YBH build stands within a mile of the San Andreas Fault.
YBH flood zone projects are too many to list. Likewise, we have built homes able to withstand hurricane force winds up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States.