If you go to one of the many web sites that sell house plans, you can use filtering software to sort through hundreds of available plans by a variety of criteria: square feet, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, number of stories, or even “number of garage bays.”
On most of these sites, however, you can’t sort by climate zone. Why? Because most house plan companies ignore climate. They’re happy to sell customers in Minnesota the same house plan that they sell customers in Florida.
Although these plan companies may not realize it, climate matters. Among the climate factors that can affect house design are maximum temperature, minimum temperature, insolation, rainfall, snowfall, and average wind speed.
Because these factors vary, a wall assembly that works well in Florida may fail quickly in Minnesota. Mulling this idea recently, I decided to try to list all of the different ways that climate can affect a home. I quickly realized that this is a big topic.
Climate affects almost every aspect of a home
Why are hot-climate houses different from cold-climate houses? Why are desert houses different from rain forest houses?
Site and orientation. In a cold climate, a south-facing slope (the best orientation for winter sunlight) is highly desirable. In a hot climate, however, a south-facing slope may not be the first lot to be snapped up.
Foundation depth. The footings of most foundations are placed below the maximum frost depth. In Florida, a slab on grade makes a perfectly good foundation. In Minnesota, however, most homes have foundations that begin at least 4 or 5 feet below grade.
Shape. In a cold climate with high heating loads, a compact shape makes the most sense. The idea is to minimize the surface-to-volume ratio. For single-family homes, the usual result is the two-story…