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Building a House to Fit Local Climate Conditions

Before the invention of central heat and air conditioning, people generally built houses that were designed to be as comfortable and durable as possible for their specific climate. In hot climates, they built overhangs to shade windows and protect from rain, high ceilings to let the hot air rise above the people, porches to sit out on when it was hot, and big windows to let in breezes. In cold climates, overhangs were smaller to let more sun shine into the house. In dry, desert areas, houses were made of masonry that would absorb heat during the day, releasing it at night.

When we started heating and cooling our homes, all those smart decisions fell by the wayside and we started building any type of house anywhere – southern cottages in the north, southwest adobe-style homes in the south, and on and on. However, appropriate roofing in Phoenix is not synonymous with appropriate roofing in Baltimore. What we are finding is that a house style in the wrong climate can lead to more energy use, and reduced comfort and durability.

For example, in the hot, rainy south, small or no overhangs let too much water hit the walls of the house, which causes premature deterioration and lets in too much sun on hot days. Big overhangs in the north don’t let enough of the sun’s heat on cold days. This illustrates that thinking about where you are when you decide what kind of house to build is an easy way to make a better, greener house that will be cheaper to operate, more comfortable, and last longer – and none if this has to cost you a dime extra. Just make the right decisions early in the process.

Here are some guidelines for climate-friendly roofing and window placement:

If you get a lot of rain where you live, design your house with overhangs and simple roof designs to keep water from backing up into the attic and keep it off the walls.

If you get a lot of snow, a steep roof will allow the snow to slide off quickly instead of building up.

In almost all climates, avoid west-facing windows – they heat up the house at the end of the day and can overheat during even cold weather. I have seen homes that need to turn on the air conditioning in the winter because too much sun comes in.

In cold climates, don’t put too many windows on the north side, especially if you get a lot of wind from that direction – they will lose a lot of heat.

Put a lot of windows on the south side of the house all climates, making sure to shade them with overhangs to keep out the heat during hot months. Put in windows that open easily, with screens if you live in a buggy area. Then open them (and turn off the AC) when the weather is nice. You don’t need to heat or air condition your house every minute of every day. Take advantage of natural heating and cooling, save money, and enjoy the day.

If you build or renovate your house to fit your local climate conditions, you can save energy, save money on maintenance, and be more comfortable year round. Why more people don’t do it is beyond me.

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