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Design Your Home for Extreme Winter Weather

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Severe winter storms have brought torrential rain and freak snowstorms across North America recently.

Most houses old and new are ill-equipped to keep families safe and comfortable during this extreme weather. If you're planning a major renovation to improve your safety or comfort through climate-resilient design, you can learn how to design your home for these conditions be reading on or watching the videos mentioned below.

The winter storms bring four main hazards:

  1. lethally cold temperatures,

  2. snow and ice buildup,

  3. flooding, and

  4. power outages.

photograph of alpine wood cabins with snow-covered roofs during a light snowfall roof

Winter storm warnings from California to the Midwest caution residents to stay off the roads, but their homes' heating systems struggle to maintain a comfortable temperature during extremely cold weather. During the 2021 Texas winter storm, hundreds of people died; most of them died from hypothermia, and some died from carbon monoxide poisoning from campstoves or other burner appliances used indoors in an attempt to stay warm.

Most Canadians understand that additional insulation helps keep a home warmer, but air leakage bypasses the insulation and is a big cause of heat loss. Making your home more airtight - not more vapour-tight - will greatly improve the walls' and roof's ability to retain heat in the winter and to keep out hot air during the summer. Please read my article on airtightness "HEALTHY HOME DESIGN: Better Indoor Air Quality Using Better Air Barriers" or watch my YouTube video.

If your home succeeds in maintaining a comfortable temperature indoors, you still need to plan for heavy snow or ice accumulation. Heavy snowfall can lead to leaks, mold, and collapse of the roof structure. Traditional home construction has typically resulted in heavy snow gradually melting and forming "ice dams" which gradually bring water into your roof space. My article "DESIGN FOR CLIMATE CHANGE: Roofs for Cold Weather" and YouTube video below explain how to design a roof that will handle extreme winter weather.

The design techniques I mention here are just a few of the topics I address in the Deep Blue Design phase of my SAPPHR Strategy. If you want an UltraHome that will stand up to extreme weather, cope with natural disasters, and provide a healthy environment indoors and out, you can download my free SAPPHR Strategy reference manual by clicking the button below or by reading a summary of my process by clicking HERE.

Unusually heavy rains and rapidly melting heavy snow are causing widespread, major flooding. Although you can't prevent regional flooding, there are things you can do in your community, on your property, outside your house, and inside your house to avoid losing everything or even losing your life during a major flooding. You can read my four-part article series "DESIGN FOR CLIMATE CHANGE: The Flood Proof House" or watch the four videos starting with the first one below.

Heavy snow or ice storms typically result in many power outages. Some people want to design their homes to be off-grid from the start. You may just want a net zero house to be able to keep the heat and lights on during a power loss; even a Passive House or ultra high-performance home can maintain a comfortable indoor temperature for several days in the middle of winter with no active heating. A home designed for extreme winter weather could be connected to local utilities and converted to an off-grid home later quite easily.

Most people think that this superior performance is more expensive. Unfortunately, it often does come at a premium, BUT IT DOESN'T HAVE TO. I've spent the past five years focusing on cost-effective climate-resilient residential design. Ultra high-performance homes can be designed to cost the same as a standard home to build. Are you curious how that can be? My 2-part article "HEALTHY HOME DESIGN: Top 10 Ways to Reduce the Cost of Building A House" (or the video below) mentions a number of concepts I use.

You'll learn more though if you sign up for my Pre-Design Diagnostic Scan. If you're interested, book a free Diagnostic Session using the link below.

photograph of Daniel Clarke, Architect AIBC

If you're not quite ready to talk to an architect, you can download my free Project Planning Pack and start planning which heating and cooling option would be best for your project.


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