Outdoor Rooms


Many of us choose to live in the Lowcountry because of the natural beauty of our great trees, salt marshes, and beaches. The health benefits of spending time outdoors has been documented by many studies including a 2015 Stanford University study that found that mental health is improved by being outdoors. So it is not surprising that The American Institute of Architects most recent Home Design Trends survey reported that requests for outdoor living spaces have increased for the 8th consecutive year.

With Fall’s gorgeous weather approaching, it is the perfect time to spruce up or create your outdoor living space. When planning your outdoor living, establish zones or rooms for different activities such as cooking, dining al fresco, relaxing, entertaining, swimming, backyard games and sunset or sunrise viewing. The rooms can be defined by structures including porches, pergolas, and gazeboes; different paving materials; plants; and fences. A sense of discovery and surprise adds interest to the garden.

Essential components for sensory richness are light, sound, smell, colors, movement, textures, and patterns. These can be created using fire, water, plants, shade, paving, and light. Start by anticipating the experience you want to achieve. For example, a fire allows you to linger outside a bit longer on a cool evening. This can be something as simple as a fire pit or chiminea or as elaborate as an outdoor masonry fireplace.

The landscape architect Robert Marvin often included a “sun pocket” in his designs.  A sun pocket is a south facing sitting area with a masonry wall behind the seat. The masonry wall soaks up the sun’s warmth and blocks the cold north wind and creates a warm micro-climate which is a perfect place to sit on a cool afternoon.

Bird baths are an easy way to add water to your landscape. Their benefits are not just for the birds. It is delightful to watch the birds preen when they bathe. Fountains add interest both visually and through sound. Devise an element of surprise by placing the fountain where it is not immediately seen but can be heard. The Japanese Shishi-odoshi or “Scare the Deer” is something we all might want to add to our lowcountry gardens. The bamboo fountain is on an off center pivot. The open end of the bamboo fills with water. When full, it tilts to empty the water and makes a loud thud against a rock when the bamboo returns to its original position. It repeats about every five minutes.

The final components for your outdoor living is the furniture, lighting and accessories. Comfort and durability are key. One reason while fall is a good time for sprucing up your outdoor space is many outdoor furniture companies have their products discounted now.

What Are The Environmental Regulations In Beaufort County?

River Corridor Setback

The environmental regulations in Beaufort county are essential in preserving the natural beauty of our region as it grows. All the communities in Beaufort County have River Corridor Setbacks to protect the rivers from undesired toxic runoff. The setback is a strip of land between the edge of the water and the developed area which requires existing native plants be preserved to filter the runoff. It also serves as habitat for wildlife, enabling them to move along the river’s edges. The river buffer preserves the views from the water by putting the buildings back from the water’s edge. A surveyor can delineate the critical line at the edge of the water.

Some vista pruning is allowed to open to open views to the water. An arborist is a valuable team member to incorporate in the landscape design. They can prune trees to open the views and remove deadwood to keep trees healthy. They will prepare a report that assesses the health of all the trees. Significant trees close to the construction should be monitored and protected during construction with tree protection fencing.

Storm Water Management

In addition to river buffers, Beaufort County requires the management of storm waters to preserve the integrity of our river systems. The requirements are based on the characteristics of your individual site, such as the soil quality and lot coverage. When applying for a building permit, you will need a plan for storm water management in place.

There are several ways to manage storm water runoff, any or a combination of these methods are acceptable:

• Rain Garden - a depression that is landscaped with plants that enjoy a wet habitat.
• Cistern - a tank for storing water that can then be utilized for irrigation or even non-potable water for the house. It is connected to the gutters and downspouts.
• Rain Barrels - a smaller water storage tank that is connected to the gutters and downspouts.
• Dry Well - a rock filled hole under the downspouts. Excess water can slowly fill around the rocks before seeping into the ground water.

What Can I Expect From An Architectural Review Board?

Architectural review board policies and procedures are a common concern among people who wish to build or renovate. The process seems lengthy,the forms can be confusing, and people worry that the board will prevent their project from moving forward. The first step is discuss the process with the administrator.

Homeowners who have hired an architect will find themselves at an advantage in the review board process. Local architects have established relationships with many of the review boards in the area. The architect will help you through the process by completing forms, compiling submissions, and presenting your project to the board. There are two types of review boards. In Beaufort and Port Royal, there are public review boards whose members are appointed by the local governments. These review board are tasked with preserving the integrity of the historic districts. The meeting are open to the public, so they will vote and discuss projects in front of the architects and owners.

Many private communities in Beaufort County have their own review boards. Generally, these boards are populated with other homeowners and have an architect adviser. The boards often meet in private but will allow your architect to present the project and answer questions. Local architects will be familiar with private review boards processes.

Lightning Protection

We recommend lightning protection systems to all of our clients because of our intense storms. Damages can range from loss of electronic equipment, to damaged chimneys to total destruction by fire.

According to the National Weather Service, central and southern South Carolina average 50 to 70 days with thunderstorms each year with approximately 395,962 lightning hits to the ground. South Carolina is ranked 12th in the nation in the number of lightning hits to the ground. The Insurance Information Institute reported in 2013 that South Carolina ranked 8th in the nation in lightning damage with 4,011 claims with insured losses of over twenty-three million dollars.

“The good news is most personal injury and property damage caused by lightning can be prevented.” Says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, CEO and president of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH). For personal safety, heed the adage “When thunder roars – go indoors.”

“Home and business owners needn’t take their chances with lightning,” explains Bud VanSickle, executive director of the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). “A professionally installed lightning protection system which meets U.S. Safety Standards … will prevent lightning damage by providing a safe electrical path into the earth for lightning’s destructive energy.”

Lightning Protection System Components

A system designed to meet National Fire Protection Association 780 Lightning Protection Code has five basic components:

  • Air terminals, or lightning rods which are made of copper or aluminum. They are mounted on the highest points of the roof and chimney to intercept the lightning strike.
  • Cable conductors, made of braided copper or aluminum cable which run from the lightning rods to the ground rods and connects to other parts of the system.
  • Ground rods which are driven at least ten feet into the ground and direct the lightning’s energy away from the building.
  • Bonding points connecting other metals in the building to the cable conductors and ground rods. These connection are important to prevent side flashing.
  • Surge arrestors and suppressors installed at the electrical panel(s) to prevent over-voltages caused by a lightning strike near a power line. Additional surge protectors should be installed at electronic equipment.

While lightning protection systems can be installed at any time, it is best to install it during new construction because it is easy to hide the cable conductors in the walls. The costs vary depending on the size and complexity of the building. VanSickle estimates that the system will cost about one percent of the building’s total construction cost.  The costs can be offset with potential home insurance savings and the peace of mind that your home is safe from lightning.


Flood Zones and FEMA's 50% Rule?

In the lowcountry, flooding is a major concern. New structures are required to be elevated above the base flood elevation if they are in a flood zone. Base flood elevations are reevaluated periodically, so an older home may be below the flood elevation and subject to FEMA's 50% Rule. A surveyor can determine the flood zone the house is located in and provide an elevation certificate to verify that the building is properly elevated.

Flood Zones are as follows:

V-Zone - (Velocity zone) coastal high hazard subject to 100 year flooding and storm surge
A-Zone - 100 year flood plain
B-Zone - 100- 500 year flood plain
C-Zone - Minimal flooding

Be An Informed Home Or Property Buyer.

Special consideration should be given before buying an existing home where the first floor of livable space is below the base flood elevation. Make sure you receive a flood elevation certificate as part of your closing package when you buy in the lowcountry. A surveyor can provide a elevation certificate.

Beaufort County and the municipalities within the county all participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA establishes a base flood elevation above mean sea level which is revised periodically. New buildings must meet the NFIP requirements which include having the first floor above the base flood elevation or higher depending on the flood zone, along with other requirements.

FEMA's 50% Rule

If the cost of improvements or the cost to repair a damaged building exceeds 50% of the market value of the building, the entire building must be brought into compliance with the NFIP requirements. The market value is for the building only not the property, any landscape improvements, or detached accessory buildings. The value can be determined by a licensed appraiser or the county’s property assessment.

The only items that are excluded from the cost of improvements or repair are as follows:

  • Plans and specification
  • Surveys
  • Permit fees
  • Cost to demolish storm damaged buildings
  • Debris removal
  • Landscape improvements
  • Detached structures. If the detached structure is habitable space it is subject to the same rules.

Many existing houses in the county do not meet the NFIP requirements and must adhere to the 50 % rule or raise the building out of the flood plain. Most houses built in accordance with the 2009 or 2012 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) meet the NFIP requirements and are not subject to the 50% rule. Municipalities often adopt a cumulative substantial improvement policy which combines any combination of repairs, reconstruction, rehabilitation, additions, or other improvements to a structure during a finite period of time that is limited to the 50% rule. The cumulative substantial improvement policy for Beaufort County and Bluffton is 10 years; the City of Beaufort is 5 years; and Hilton Head currently does not have a cumulative substantial improvement policy.

Lifting your house seems like a very big undertaking, but it is a wise move if your house is below base flood elevation. In a world with rising sea levels and increased instances of severe weather, flooding is a nightmare that is only getting more prevalent. We recently completed a transformation of a dated beach house on Fripp Island, and have a time-lapse video of the house raising here.

Upgrading your house for hurricane protection

The ASHRAE Guide for Buildings in Hot & Humid Climates recommends to design and construct buildings in hurricane prone areas using the following steps in order of priority: keep the building from blowing away; keep the rain out; elevate the structure above the flood plain; build with materials that tolerate soaking; and design the wall assemblies to easily dry when they become wet.

IBHS Fortified Home

The ASHRAE priorities may not be practical when retrofitting an existing house. Therefore consider using the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s (IBHS) FORTIFIED Home™  Hurricane Standards for upgrading  your house.  The IBHS FORTIFIED Home™ relies on an inspection to certified that your home meets one of three levels bronze, silver, or gold. Potential home insurance savings are available with each level.

Bronze Standard

The bronze standard for the FORTIFIED Home™ is focused on the roof. If the roof has less than five years life left it should be replaced. When replacing the roof, the existing shingles should be removed and the new roof should comply with the following:

  • the roof deck should be a minimum of 7/16” plywood or OSB,
  • attached with 8d shank nails spaced nominally at 6” on center or 4” on center for buildings within 600 feet of the ocean,
  • sealed with a qualified system such as a full layer of self-adhering polymer modified bitumen membrane. If the roof is asphalt shingles the membrane should be covered with 15# building felt,
  • a drip edge must be installed, and
  • the new roof covering must be high-wind rated and installed per manufacturer’s installation instructions.

If the roof does not need to be replaced, it can be structurally reinforced and sealed with closed-cell, polyurethane foam applied to the underside of each roof rafter or truss. Replacing attic insulation with closed-cell polyurethane foam at the underside of the roof deck solves other problems as well. It keeps hot humid air out of the attic, therefore creating a more efficient building envelope and heating and air conditioning system.

Silver Standard

The silver level builds on the bronze by certifying that all doors and windows are pressure and impact rated. If the existing opening do not meet the pressure and impact requirements you can protect the opening with qualified opening protection systems. This can be as simple as pre-cut 5/8” marine grade plywood or advanced as custom made hurricane shutters. The silver level also requires attached porches and carports to be properly connected to prevent uplift.

Gold Standard

The most advanced level, gold, includes stabilizing gable walls and installing connections to prevent uplift. The house will be tied together from the roof rafters to the walls, the walls to the floor, and the floor to the foundation.  Chimneys must also be properly attached to the building.


Another important preventive measure is to keep trees trimmed of dead wood. Dead wood is the first to become detached and a potential missile attacking the house.

What Are The Current Best Building Practices?

Many people relocate to lowcountry from inland communities where there are not hurricanes. So often the first question a new resident asks is "What are the best practices for building in a hurricane prone area?". Buildings need to simultaneously resist wind, rain, and flood. The International Residential Building Code (IRC) made significant revisions after Hurricane Andrew that have been proven to prevent structural damage from wind. In fact, during the 2004 Florida hurricanes, no one died in any structure that was built under the revised code. The code requires that the building is tied together from the roof rafters to the foundation; the building is designed to withstand wind shear; the windows, doors, and skylights are protected from windborne debris; and the exterior finishes are securely fastened to the structure.

Keeping The Rain Out

The success of the structural code changes highlighted the problem of rain entry into the building. Before when a homeowner was missing a roof, he was not concerned with a leaky window. Preventing rain infiltration is now a new focus in home construction. Many property insurance companies will give homeowners a discount for some of these best practices. The key items include: The roof needs an overhang to keep the rain off the building; provide sill pans under all windows and doors; flash all windows, doors and other penetrations; provide a drainage plane behind the exterior finish material to allow the water to escape and the wall to dry; provide a secondary roofing membrane; design closed crawl spaces that are dry and watertight; and drain the rain away from the house through the use of gutters and sloping the ground away from the building.

Keeping Flood Waters Out

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has understood for several decades how to prevent flood damage. The basics are general common sense; elevate the livable space, floor structure and heating and air-conditioning ducts above the 100 year flood plane and the potential storm surge; install hydro-static vents to prevent flood waters from collapsing foundation walls; build with materials that tolerate getting wet; and design the walls to easily dry after they get wet.

The ASHRAE Guide for Buildings in Hot, Humid Climates recommends to design and construct buildings in hurricane prone areas using the following steps in order of priority: keep the building from blowing away; keep the rain out; elevate the structure above the flood plane; building with materials that tolerate soaking; and design the wall assemblies to easily dry with they become wet.

How Can My Home Be More Sustainable?

How can my home be more sustainable? Southern vernacular building techniques are based on sustainable principles which we continue to use today.

Southern Vernacular Lessons

Prior to the advent of air conditioning, an understanding of local environments enabled southerners to build in ways that buffered the harsh climatic realities. As Europeans moved to the southern colonies it typically took them a generation to adapt their native architecture to the climatic conditions of the region. Five lessons they learned are equally important today.

  1. Houses one room thick maximized cross ventilation. The thin plans also provided ample light that prohibited mold growth in dark areas.
  2. The best orientation of this thin plan was east to west to reduce solar gain. The windows were located to catch the prevailing summer breezes.
  3. Large porches or verandas were always located on the southern side and often on the east and west, too. The verandas protected the house from both the sun and the rain, provided circulation, and created a cool place to sit and sleep in the summertime.
  4. High ceilings allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment.
  5. By raising the houses off the ground several things were accomplished; it allowed the first floor to be out of the flood plain in coastal areas; breezes are better on the raised first floor; and air circulating under the house helped reduce the heat gain.

Next Steps

Additional components for a sustainable house include the following:

  1. Use sunscreens and large overhangs to block the summer sun
  2. Detail and build a airtight house
  3. Keep all HVAC ducts and equipment in conditioned or semi-conditioned space
  4. Use high efficiency heating and cooling equipment
  5. Use durable, safe, local materials with post consumer recycled content
  6. Use excellent insulation
  7. Use LED lighting


Certificate Programs

There are several certification programs active in the Lowcountry. They all have third party verification requirements and different programs for different building types. Some require performance -based measurements while others have a prescriptive path to the desired performance level. The non-residential programs are led by the design team of architects and engineers and the residential programs are under the purview of the contractor.

There are five general areas that all the programs measure; Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy Use, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. There are mandatory requirements and a minimum number of earned points in each category. Each program awards different levels of certification based on the number of points earned. For example the LEED programs are LEED Certified, LEED Silver, LEED Gold, and the highest rated LEED Platinum. The areas overlap and green strategies can often result in points in several categories. The decision to have daylight in all interior spaces can gain points in Energy Use (less need for electric lights) and Indoor Environmental Quality (occupants’ well being is better with daylight and a view).

 Sustainable Sites

Sustainable site requirements are focused on minimizing the building impact which includes: locating the project in a developed area, preferably on a pre-developed site within walking distance of essential services; using regionally appropriate landscaping; controlling stormwater runoff both during and after construction; and reducing erosion, light pollution, and construction related pollution. Beaufort County averages almost 50 inches of rainfall a year. This creates an opportunity to retain the water in a cistern for use in landscape irrigation or for non-potable domestic water use.

Water Efficiency

Water Efficiency rewards water conservation both inside and outside. The interior strategies include high efficient appliances, fixtures and fittings. Water-wise landscaping and water harvesting in rain barrels or cisterns for reuse are exterior conservation options.

Energy Efficiency

The single most important category is Energy & Atmosphere, where the overall goal is to reduce energy consumption and encourage the generation of renewal energy. Strategies include: energy use monitoring; efficient design and construction; efficient appliances, HVAC systems and lighting; use of renewable and clean sources of energy generated on-site or off-site; and natural daylight in spaces by windows or skylights. Many homeowners want to go to the next level by creating their own energy with solar panels or wind generators and heating their own hot water with solar hot water heaters. A solar electric system qualifies for both federal and state tax credits and net metering from the power company.


Materials & Resources promote the selection of sustainably grown, harvested, produced and transported products and materials. This category also is concerned with the reduction of waste both from the construction site and the manufacturer’s site as well as reuse and recycling. Attention is given to the travel distance of materials and resources to the construction site and to the manufacturer’s plant. Reuse of an existing building, recycled materials, and locally produced materials are the high point favorites.

Indoor Air Quality

Indoor Environmental Quality strives to improve indoor air quality; access to natural daylight and views; and improving acoustics. The category focuses on reducing indoor pollutants such as VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) in paint and off gassing of irritants found in adhesives, carpets, composite wood products and furniture. Strategies include managing moisture to prevent mold, increasing ventilation rates and mechanical controls to maintain the proper levels of temperature and humidity.

According to the United States Green Building Council, buildings account for approximately 39% of total annual US energy consumption (31% for building operations, 8% for building construction). Building operations (heating, cooling, ventilation, hot water, etc.) account for 38% of total annual US greenhouse gas emissions. And 72% of all the electricity produced at power plants in the US goes to operate buildings. So it is time for us all to learn more about green building and consider getting your project certified. You might even qualify for a tax credit.

double front porch

The Southern Vernacular Traditions

Southern Vernacular Traditions

Prior to the advent of air conditioning, an understanding of local environments enabled southerners to build in ways that buffered the harsh climatic realities. As we design for a more sustainable and resilient future we can learn from the past. Looking back we can see that southern vernacular designs are inherently sustainable and resilient because they reflect their locale in terms of building materials and the response to the climatic conditions of the region before air conditioning allowed us to ignore that it was hot and humid outside.  Southern vernacular houses have commonalities in the siting, form, and materials.


The best orientation is for the long axis to run east to west to reduce solar gain. The windows are located to catch the prevailing summer breezes. Large porches or verandas were are usually located on the southern side and often on the east and west, too. The verandas protected the house from both the sun and the rain, provided circulation, and created a cool place to sit and sleep in the summertime. By raising the house off the ground several things were accomplished; it allowed the first floor to be out of the flood plain in coastal areas; breezes are better on the raised first floor; and air circulating under the house helped reduce the heat gain.

Climate informed the Form

Houses one room thick maximized cross ventilation. The thin plans also provided ample light that prohibited mold growth in dark areas. High ceilings allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment. Kitchens were usually in a separate building behind the house; this kept the heat from the fireplace out of the main house and also protected the main house in the event of a kitchen fire. Privies were located even further away with a tea olive or other sweet smelling bush planted nearby.


were local and durable. Exterior siding and wood shake roofs were made from rot resistant Cypress in the coastal south. Framing and flooring were made from Long Leaf Pine. Bricks were made of local clay and their colors identify the locale. Tabby is a traditional material made of oyster shells and lime.

There are several archetypes that have evolved over the years. One that is extremely common and can be found from Tennessee to Florida is the dogtrot. The dogtrot is also known as "two pens and a passage". One room was typically used for sleeping and the other for cooking. The covered open center passage was the main sitting room in warm weather that was cooled naturally by breezes that intensified in the open passage. The center passage was often used as the dog kennel and thus the name dog trot.

The original dog trots were made of logs with a fireplace on each end. Later dog trots were framed with wood siding.  In his book, The Cotton Kingdom, Frederick Law Olmsted described a dog trot he visited in Louisiana in 1850, "The house was a double log cabin—two log erections, that is, joined by one long roof, leaving an open space between. A gallery, extending across the whole front, serves for a pleasant sitting-room in summer.“

southern vernacular

This photograph is  Jane Frederick’s great-grandmother Essie Curl and her sister Ezzie Pearl Shackelford with their parents in front of their dogtrot home in Fayette, Alabama. Inspired by the inherent sustainability of the dogtrot, Frederick + Frederick Architects explores the traditional forms in contemporary designs.

dogtrot swimming pool

The dogtrot space in this contemporary house is used as a sitting room overlooking the swimming pool and river. The house draws on the vernacular vocabulary of siting east to west with a single room width to maximize cross breezes. The dogtrot separates the master suite from the great room. It can be closed with custom made wooden gates.

bluffton sc dogtrot

This modern interpretation allows the dogtrot space to be opened up during good weather and closed with folding glass doors to be conditioned when it is too cold or hot. There are retractable screens to keep the bugs out.