Designing a Sustainable Home in Extreme Temperatures

Picture this: you’re driving up an unpaved roadway to the future site of your new home. The Arizona sun is blazing above you and lighting up every cactus and crevice in the valley below you. From downtown Phoenix, to the farthest-reaching mountain range, your view spans for miles. You come up to the home and see your architect and designer hard at work. And when you step out of your car to meet with them, you’re blasted with the 115-degree heat. 

That heat is an annual occurrence in the greater Phoenix area and it lasts for months at a time. It means higher energy bills, higher indoor temperatures, and less time spent outside. It’s not always something homeowners consider before they build their beautiful new home either. 

But for trusted Phoenix architects, such as Urban Design Associates, this is just par for the course. Their experienced and award-winning architects have a large arsenal of design tricks to ensure your house is as cool and energy-efficient as possible in the summer as you need it, including the outdoor spaces!

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How To Design A Sustainable Home In Extreme Temperatures

The first thing to consider in sustainable home design is the orientation of the home. In Arizona, this is especially important as the desert sun causes rapid changes in temperature and extreme highs in the summer. It’s common for temperatures to range from 95 at night to 110+ in the day during the mid-Summer months. 

In the winter, the weather can be anywhere from a chilly 30 to a sunny 65. Because of this, many Arizona homeowners find their energy bills and energy efficiency fluctuate drastically between seasons. To reduce your home’s carbon footprint, one of the first things Urban Design Associates looks at is how your home is orientated — in other words, which way it’s facing to minimize solar heat gain

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, therefore a home facing east or west, and has a majority of its windows on the east and west walls, will have a greater solar heat gain than those that don’t. In actuality, this heat gain can be 5 times greater than homes that are north-south facing.

Urban Design Associates works to design the home in a north/south orientation, while still maximizing the views. This requires creative thinking and innovative technological solutions that will help increase the sustainability of your home. 

Overall House Design

The orientation of your home is an important energy-efficient measure, as is the overall shape of it. The more surface area the building envelope has — how large or small the home is or what shape it is in — directly correlates with how much heat is gained or lost. 

Think of it this way: the more exposed area there is, the more it will cost to heat up or cool it down based on solar gain. A space-efficient design with open planning can help save energy, thus making the home more sustainable. 

Specific room placements are important to consider as well. The kitchen and laundry room typically produce the most heat/use the most energy due to the larger appliances. Placing them on the west side of the house will lead to a buildup of heat in the afternoon, while north or south side placements will lead to natural light without the additional solar gain. 

Outdoor spaces play a role here too. While it may seem impossible to enjoy your deck or yard in the Arizona summer, it is possible with a well thought out design. The ideal outdoor space will be shaded with sustainable materials and will be located on the north or south side of the home. The north placement will be warmer in the summer, while locations more on the south will be warmer in the winter. Add a water feature to create some evaporative cooling and you will enjoy your outdoor living space all year round. 

Roof and Wall Materials

While the materials, construction, and technology used are important steps to creating a sustainable home, we’re going to focus on the design-specific elements instead of building materials. For more information on key factors to designing an eco-house, check out our blog on the topic

When it comes to walls, the outer walls should be thicker than the interior ones. This is because thicker outer walls act as an insulating barrier and help moderate thermal comfort within your home. In other words, the thicker your outer walls, the more heat will be kept in or out of your home. 

For the roof, traditional skylights should be kept out of the design altogether. They’re difficult to shade and create a direct line of sunlight (heat) into your home. Light tubes, which are insulted reflected tubes, are the exception to this and can bring in cool sunlight all day long. 

Your roof and exterior cladding should be designed to reflect sunlight, not absorb it. This means avoiding long stretches of walls on the west side of your home, use light colors, and insulating materials. 

There are many more things to consider, so trust an expert with the design of your sustainable home. Contact Urban Design Associates today.