It is easy to get caught up in all of the new building materials and technologies that are available and lose sight of the important fundamentals such as properly siting a house. There are few things that will make more difference in terms of energy use than this. The predominant paradigm in what some refer to as custom home building is for a family to choose a set of house plans from a catalog or compute screen with no regard for how that plan will integrate to a lot, which has topography and vegetation. And builders, who should know better, most frequently place speculative housing stock with no consideration of these variables.
Managing the Elements
When siting a house there are many variables to consider. Four of them will put you well on your way to making a wsie decision.
There is nothing that affects the energy efficiency of a home more than the sun. In cool climates the goal is to harness as much of the suns warmth as possible. In the hot humid climate of the Brazos Valley we are looking to minimize that impact through most of the year. One of the most important considerations is the cardinal orientation of the house. In general it is best to orient a house so that its long axis runs east and west. This provides the best shading from the eves on the long southern exposure. Orientation of the house will help provide direction for window placement as well. Existing and future plants can also play a role in protecting a home from the sun as well as inviting it in during the winter months.
The single largest contributor to insurance claims is water. Obviously it is important to place a home out of a flood prone area, but that alone is not enough to avoid water problems. The way the water flows across a lot must be taken into consideration to provide protection for the structure and to maximize the potential of this critical element. It is also important to consider possible future development because this can dramatically impact the flow of water onto and off of a lot.
Air is another important factor to consider when siting a house. Is there a wind block available to provide protection from the north winter winds? In College Station and Bryan our prevailing breezes are from the south east do we have trees that will help direct that breeze to where we can make the best use of it? Are there air borne pollutants that we need to take into consideration?
A frequently overlooked but important consideration when considering a location for a home is infrastructure. How far will water have to be piped? Is it even available? How about electricity and sewer? If your goal is to reduce your environmental foot print, it is a good idea to be near a mass transit line and amenities that can be walked or biked to.
There are many other site related variables that can and should be taken into consideration when designing a home.