A seminar titled “The House: Regionalism in a Global Environment” is being taught this summer by well-known Boston architect, Jeremiah Eck. He poses the question, “Does place really matter anymore?”
My answer is yes, place does matter! A comfortable house in our hot, humid, climate is designed very differently than a comfortable house for other climates. There are many design considerations which are unique to building here in coastal South Carolina. These include resilient design for hurricanes, mitigating and removing moisture from the buildings, capitalizing on views and breezes while protecting the spaces from the hot summer sun. A house that recognizes its place seems to belong.
Southern vernacular architecture recognizes the need to maximize ventilation and shade while protecting the house from high winds and waters. Ventilation strategies include:
- raising the house off the ground
- rotating the house at a 20 degree angle to the prevailing breezes,
- capture the breezes with a separate garage or guest house or with a breezeway traditionally known as a “dogtrot”,
- single width rooms that provide cross ventilation, and
- High ceilings let the hot air rise above the occupants so the room feels cooler.
A house that is long north to south with short east west walls lets less of the hot low angle morning and afternoon sun into the building. Other shading strategies include:
- Large porches on the south façade keep out the hot summer sun,
- large overhangs protect the walls and windows from rain and can block the harsh summer sun,
- limit the number of windows on the west and east sides, and
- using trees to shade roofs that will reduce indoor temperatures
The wind can blow hard and the days can be hot – simplify your life by building beyond the minimal requirements to meet the building code in both structural and energy design. The International Residential Code requires that all windows must at least be fitted with pre-cut wood structural panels. Upgrading to impact glass in the doors and windows lessens the hassle when preparing your house for a hurricane. 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. Other best practices include:
- A large roof overhang to keep the rain off the building,
- 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,
- install 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.
You can follow these time tested principles and have an open modern floor plan that accommodates contemporary living.