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Getting started: Climate considerations?

by SaM JohnsoN last modified Mar 25, 2005 07:21 AM
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Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by SaM JohnsoN at February 08. 2005

We bought our land about 3 years ago and have spent the time using the land and camping in our 31 foot travel trailer. We never had a camper before and the design and storage features it had led us toward wanting to have the same level of effciency and space utilization those values in our new home plans. We looked at the ubiquitous log homes in the region and though we liked the look, many seemed dark and ponderous.

I began reading about panelized and prefab housing and dicovered that many of those designs had the same qulities we valued in our camper. That led me to Dwell magazine and ultimately this website.

Delaware County NY is a cold region and wind and snow are regular features of winter there. How have modern designs accounted for insulation and heating issues associated with very cold regions of the country? What kinds of adjustments are required? Any help out there?
Photo is SW view from our building site


Re: Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at February 08. 2005

We have just been talking about the energy code in this thread [url=]here[/url]

The bottom line is you can do modern in any climate. A glass box may not fly but if parts of the house are insulated to a higher degree to compensate then you can get a large amount of windows in a cold climate house.

Re: Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by Adam Tibbs at March 09. 2005

Hey Sam. Just saw that there's a whole regional section to these forums.

I've got some property in Andes, and have lived through those crazy winters, and am in the process of designing a modernist house that can handle the cold.

My current thinking is to basically have the house be comprised of two houses -- or at the very least have a portion of the house be more or less shut down in the winter. We have many fewer guests up during the winter and need much less space. In simple terms, our house will be on two levels plus a basement. The lower level will be much more open to the environment -- loads of glass and doors that can completely open up, but that provide a big source of heat loss. Come winter, we'll just shut down the water to that area, drain the pipes, and not worry about it.

The upper level will be much more protected, though still plenty of glass to take advantage of the sun.

Re: Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at March 09. 2005


Sounds like a recipe for the [url href=]Porch House![/url]:grin:


Re: Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by SaM JohnsoN at March 10. 2005

Great minds move in the same direction. I actually was interested in the Porch House and the Platte House for the very reason that they seemed to offer more usable space for the summer months and with proper heating zones could be isolated in part for the winter.

Either design could be adapted to provide summer outdoor sleeping space that could be used for storage or retired when the weather gets cold. I still have this basic concept at the heart of my design scenario.

Greg L. have you seen any specific designs other than the two above that lend themselves well to this summer space, winter space dichotomy?

I'm trying to arrange a perc test for our building site this spring and will proceed from there to try to nail something down this year.


Re: Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at March 10. 2005

I have seen any number of high end modern houses in design journals that included a sleeping porch, as well as screened in porch areas for seasonal use. But I don't know of any that treated them as the expandable house idea that you are posing and that I proposed in the Porch House. For me it really comes in to play with a weekend use, the kind of use where you anticipate guests during the season where the porch space would be in use, the season where you would likely prefer to be outdoors anyway. So the expandable space helps you accommodate more people, but it also enables you to move your life outdoors so to speak - to let you live for the season in closer proximity to the outdoors, while offsetting some of the inconveniences of say a camping experience.

Re: Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by SaM JohnsoN at March 14. 2005

Ok so I really like the Porch House but my wife has some issues with it. I certainly like the way the green board and batten blends with the wooded surroundings. I like the flexible space the sleeping porches afford as well as the idea of heating a smaller space for the winter. The Plat haouse has sleepable deck space as well and looks more energy efficient becuase it isn't elevated. How much ofan issue is the open underspace for insulation and heat retention?

Can the porch house design accomodate a lower level outdoor fireplace barbeque instead of a range in its kitchen? Is it unreasonable to assume the footprint could be expanded to get a study or third bedroom intoo the design?

On the surface it seems that a longer version of the Plat house might make more sense in the Catskills than the Porch House. What do you think?

Re: Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at March 14. 2005


Hi Sam,

No doubt the unconditioned space below the second floor of the Porch House does create more surface area that must be insulated. But remember this is little difference from an un-conditioned crawl space which is very common. So energy performance is comparable to a house on a crawlspace. Comfort is more of an issue. Unheated crawlspaces can result in a cold winter floor - radiant floor heat is the best way to overcome that.

As far as a barbque in the summer kitchen, I really don't know the answer. You are talking about open flames to much greater degree than a gas range. Now granted this is common in a restaurant with a commercial grade hood with a built in fire suppression system. But I am not sure if you should do it in that screened porch without that kind of exhaust hood. I'd say you should get some help from a commercial kitchen expert before you try something like that.

Expanding the Porch House is definitely possible. I have discussed it with several people but that modification has not been ordered yet.

The Plat House is also a great cabin design. It is on a crawlspace, however I detail the house for a conditioned crawlspace so it will not have a cold floor issue if built as such. Its on one level too, and has more potential as a retirement home. But the Plat House does not have the same degree of outdoor life and the sort of expandability that the Porch House offers. They are different from one another and do different things better than the other.


Hey, can I join? :)

Posted by Mathew DePasquale at March 15. 2005

I'm in Rome - not quite the Catskills, but close enough, right?

One thing I am struggling with is a flat roof design for my home. I would really like a flat roof, but because of the nasty snow loads we get, I always being told not to do it. However, the majority of commercial buildings in my area have flat roofs.

So, I wonder if this is a matter of metal/concrete/brick construction being strong enough to handle the weight, or if it's a matter of cost with a rubber roof? Why shouldn't a home in my area be built with a flat roof?

While we're on the topic ...

Posted by Mark Beuger at March 15. 2005

I struggle with similar issues here in North-Western PA. Flat roof vs sloping roof, and heat-retention vs. windows. I can not seem to get clear answers, people seem to want to steer us towards the more traditional looking home, which is exactly what my wife and I do NOT want.

Re: Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at March 15. 2005

Mat - wood or steel has nothing to do with it. Wood can be sized to handle the load. The situation you don't want is a roof so close to flat that the deflection under snowload causes it to reverse its slope.

This has been hashed out on the messageboards many times before. The answer is any flat roof is not absolutely flat - it is always pitched to drain. So all you need to do it make sure you have enough slope on it so that it will still have a definite slope even when loaded.

Mbeuger - who exactly is trying to lead you away from a modern home? If they are scaring you with technical tales about flat roofs or other things, just vet them here and I'll see you get a straight answer.

Re: Getting started: Climate considerations?

Posted by SaM JohnsoN at March 25. 2005

I think the burden of convention is a big factor in moving toward more modern design. The comfort zone of many contractors, builders and others is defined by convention. Defying convention alters many of the equations that determine profit margins and construction costs, as a result they are less predictable and less preferred. Part of the challenge is finding those that are willing to risk defying convention. It is not a snap. :zz:

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