Building a House in Cold Climate Region — Here is What You Need to Know

Building a custom house in a region prone to harsh winters and heavy snowfall differs from building in a warm climate area. The construction practices and materials specification vary significantly between the two climatic conditions. A basic understanding of the construction process can help you avoid a not-up-to-par building with poor insulation, drafty rooms, a roof ice dam, and an enormous energy bill.

 

The opposite is true: the best house design for cold climates with proper insulation, optimum air quality, as well as enhanced moisture barrier systems can ensure a comfortable, healthy, resilient, and energy-efficient home. Below, we discuss the various design strategies necessary for building a custom home in a cold climate region and the best construction materials to consider—both of which are crucial for a home to perform better against harsh elements. 


Things to Consider When Designing a Home in Cold Climate 

build a home in cold climate region


During the creative process of manifesting the best house design for cold climates, a great deal of consideration must be given to the physical landscape of the property. The efforts to create an aesthetically pleasing, functional, and supper-efficient home means considering the following: 

 

An orientation home in the cold climate zone should be position in a way that makes the most of the sun for natural light and warmth throughout the day. For instance, east-facing glazing is the most advisable to harness the sun's morning energy—and west-of-north glazing increases solar gains at noon when the sun is at its peak.

 

You also want to ensure that your new home's landscaping will not obstruct access to solar radiation. The best orientation for a house, combined with other energy-efficient features, can significantly improve comfort and reduce the demand for auxiliary heating. 

The envelope 

The building's envelope refers to the physical separator between the internal and external environment. Energy-efficient home plans for cold climates should allow for an airtight envelope system that prevents heat transfer from the conditioned environment to the outdoors.

 

Failure to control airflow accounts for a substantial amount of energy use and a cold and drafty environment. According to Better Buildings: "envelope technologies account for roughly 30% of the primary energy consumption in residential and commercial buildings."

 

Insulation

Continuous insulation in your home is essential when designing for a chilly climate. It keeps the internal environment warm and contributes to the building's overall performance, durability, and resilience. Intense cold temperatures can also come down hard on pipes running through crawl spaces. So, ensure pipes are well-insulated to protect them from freezing and bursting from excess pressure.

 

Windows and doors 

High-performance windows and doors with good thermal protection help increase resistance to heat loss. The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) evaluates, certifies, and labels windows, doors, and skylights to provide accurate energy performance ratings. This provides a reliable way to determine if the products selected to build for your custom home are appropriate for the climate

 

Interior air quality 

During the cold winter months, balanced ventilation is necessary to pump out stale air and moisture buildup without compromising interior comfort. A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is ideal for drawing fresh air in and recapturing heat from outgoing, humid air while maintaining the home's optimum efficiency.

 

Heating

As discussed above, the best orientation for a house makes the most of the sun to keep the indoors warm during lower temperatures. The simplest reason to also consider radiant heating is that no matter the size of your property, it ensures thermal comfort with lesser energy consumption. In addition, including a fireplace in your energy-efficient home plans for cold climates can help reduce the demand for a heating system. In an article for SFGATE titled "California Building Codes for Fireplaces," Danielle Smyth shares that it's important to get familiar with statutes and regulations for installing a fireplace in the area you're building in to protect your home, family, and neighbors. 

The exterior 

Ice and snow loads are often a serious challenge in cold climates. When designing your home building materials that can withstand harsh elements, a steeply sloped roof that sheds snow quickly and safely, a roof edge with an ice shield membrane. A covered entryway, a wide and flat easy-to-shovel walkway, stair handrails to prevent falls, and a radiant snow-melting system are some considerations to keep top of mind. 


Furnishing 

To maintain optimum thermal comfort, consider how you furnish your interior space. In placing your furniture, for instance, keep radiators free of obstructions to ensure heat dissipates as much as possible. Installation of cabinetry and shelving can do around the wall perimeter as an added layer of insulation. 

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Design Strategies for Cold-Climate Homes 

cold climate home design


If you're considering a cold climate house design, some features will enhance the sustenance of your property. Here are six important things to consider: 


Passively heat your house 

When building on your land in a cold climate area, protecting your home from the chilly weather requires some thought to heat the interior using the energy from the sun passively. An article for New Home Source titled "How to Design a Home for a Cold Climate" shares that passive solar designs capitalize on living area windows positioned within 30 degrees of true south and bedroom windows facing north to maximize the winter sun's energy. 

 

In addition, passive solar house plans for cold climates featuring elements such as ventilation systems to distribute heat, heated driveways to melt away snow, and retractable screen systems to retain daytime sunlight energy are essential for capturing solar gains. 

 

Use airtight construction

In cold climates, airtight home construction will prevent heat loss from the building envelope and cold, dry outdoor air from entering. Invest in airtight window and door systems to avoid drafty rooms. 

 

Have a steep roof

In her article "15 Smart Design Choices for Cold Climates" for Houzz, Laura Gaskill suggests that complicated roof designs can create a potential spot for snow and ice accumulation in nooks and crannies, resulting in a dangerous amount of weight. Look for a simple, steep roof such as a standard gable to avoid accumulation altogether—its design is strong, sturdy, and easily sheds snow.

 

Cover the entrances 

A sheltered entrance prevents excessive cold air from disrupting the safety and comfort of you and your visitors waiting to be let inside. Consider installing a well-designed portico, covered porch, or breezeway to your house structure.

 

Clear paths 

Installing a snow-melting device beneath frequently used sidewalks or the driveway can help address unsafe paths and save significant time and money on snow removal. These radiant heat systems produce enough heat to melt falling snow.

 

Install railings outside 

If your custom home construction includes an exterior stairway, be sure to install a sturdy railing to prevent falls when stairs are icy or wet. 


Best Building Materials for Cold Climates

home building material for cold climate region


 

The best building material for cold climates will make constructing a structure that will withstand extremely low temperatures easier. High-density, sustainable house materials for cold environments provide more insulation and durability. Below are six materials to work with in areas with cold weather:

 

Brick 

Opting for brick as a material of choice for building a custom home works best against harsh climates. Brick has proven to add a classic touch to exterior design and keep the home insulated and warm during the day and at night. This makes it an excellent material choice that retains all the heat indoors. 

 

Stone 

Stone, like brick, is another great building material for cold weather. While stone may be costly, it provides greater durability against every extreme weather condition you can think of. Quarried or rough-cut stone construction holds on to heat longer than polished or honed varieties and is better suited for extremely lower temperatures. 


Concrete 

Concrete is heavier and more expensive than other construction materials but offers increased resistance against extreme conditions, including fire and flood damage. Most importantly, concrete is readily available—and when mixed with aggregate materials, it is less expensive and allows for a wide expression of aesthetics. 

 

Plastic 

Plastics such as polycarbonate and acrylic can easily withstand frigid conditions and are great at insulating heat. Prized for its sturdy and durable composition, polycarbonate can be used in place of traditional glass in a variety of construction products thanks to its high-impact resistance, high tensile strength, as well as excellent thermal insulation, states an article titled "Polycarbonate in Building and Construction" for Building with Chemistry. 

 

Wood 

Besides giving a timeless look to any home design, wood fares well in cold climate areas. However, pay special attention to selecting a wood that is resistant to rot and decay. Some types of timber, such as cedar and redwood, are better suited for framing, walls, flooring, and even shingles. 

 

Season after season, these types of wood species provide incredible durability without worrying about rot and decay—reducing maintenance demands. Best of all, framing with wood is common in cold areas because it is a great insulator. Other wood materials that aren't as strong as cedar and redwood can be given a protective finish for extra resistance against frigid conditions. 

Metal 

Certain metals, such as steel, are your best bet when building a cold-weather house in a hailstone-prone area. Better yet, rust and corrosion-resistant metals with stone coating help insulate the structure while delivering a stylish and contemporary finish.  


Common FAQ About Custom Home Building in Cold Climate 

cold climate home building FAQ


 

What are the features of a cold climate custom home?

When building a house in a cold climate, custom home builders in Los Angeles consider these features to alleviate and eliminate day-to-day challenges: passive heating, a super-sealed envelope, covered entrances, a simple gable roof, and wide, flat walkways—keeping these features top of mind results in a resilient structure and an interior with optimum thermal comfort. 

 

What are the most energy-efficient custom home construction approaches for building Custom homes in cold climates? 

Energy-efficient home builders and homeowners looking for construction approaches for building in cold climates should consider the house's orientation to take advantage of the sun's energy. A Zero Energy Project article also advises ensuring the building envelope is airtight to prevent heat loss from the inside, installing proper insulation, and focusing on high-density construction materials and products that provide thermal mass to store energy. 

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