Building For a Changing Climate
Whether you believe in global climate change or just "coincidence", the changing weather patterns in many parts of the world are undeniable. We are seeing longer droughts, heavier rains, stronger winds, and more temperature extremes.
Though a pretty design with fancy finishes can make a house feel homey and fabulous, all the finishes won't help to keep your house comfy, safe and sound in a changing climate. Many communities have responded to local weather impacts over the years with tougher building codes (e.g., Florida after 1992's Hurricane Andrew, etc.), but it's ultimately the homeowner's responsibility to consider the following when building a custom home:
Quality Construction and Waterproofing
There's no substitute for hiring reputable, qualified builders and contractors when building your custom home. The knowledge and experience they bring to building a quality roof, foundation, drainage, etc. are worth the price. When presented with options for construction materials, we encourage homeowners not to compromise quality for cost. Of course, you should follow local building codes for your climate and geologic specifications, but go a step beyond. Have inspections done on things you can't see underneath all the pretty finishes in your home. This will go a long way to ensure a safe, well-insulated, water-tight, quiet home.
Many homeowners only want to spend money on things that others see. When building a house, don't compromise safety for cost saving. One example is a sump pump. When it's pouring rain outside for 3 days straight (despite the weather man's forecast), it is not the time to re-evaluate whether you should have installed sump pumps in your home.
Sump pumps are often installed in the lowest part of a house below the floor to defend against a flood or accumulating ground water. As is code in some areas, a sump pump also removes collected condensation from your air conditioner and water from areaway drains. As a homeowner, you should test your sump pump periodically before a big flood to ensure it is working properly:
Find the outside pipe that drains from the pump. Examine the inside the pipe and remove any debris.
Locate the sump pump in your home. Locate the two electrical cords from the sump pump to the electrical outlet. The pump cord plugs into the back of the float cord plug. Remove the plugs from the outlet and pull the plugs apart, then plug the pump cord only back into the outlet. You should hear the pump running. Once you’ve verified it’s working properly, unplug the pump and plug the cords back in the wall with the float first, and the pump cord plugged into the back of the float pump.
Periodically remove the lid from the sump crock. Slowly pour about 5 gallons of water into the crock. The sump pump switch should turn on and begin to pump water from the crock. Wait until the water pumps from the crock to ensure the pump turns itself off.
Call a professional if the sump pump fails either test.
I've seen many homes over the years. It breaks my heart to see spectacular multi-million dollar homes with bargain-basement windows. Don't skimp on your windows, folks! Good windows will vastly improve the look of your home as well as your home's value and energy efficiency, reduce fading of floors and furnishings from the sun (with UV protection), and cut down on road and wind noise! Depending on where you live, windows serve a critical line of defense in strong winds, as we see stronger winds in more and more parts of the world. In South Florida, for example, where they're used to periodic hurricane-force winds, impact-resistant windows are mandated by building codes to provide strong protection from flying debris while increasing safety and security. You may not need all that where you live, but it's important to consider the baseline and perhaps go a step above what is "required". You'll be happy you did.
I said it before in my "The Jungle" blog post, landscaping considerations are critical to the beauty, safety, and value of your home. Trees can provide shade, and visual beauty to your property while attracting some desirable (and undesirable) wildlife near your home. However, if you have trees close to your new home, consider the tree species, health, size, and strength. Consult an Arborist if you're uncertain. It's better than waking up during a windstorm to find a weak diseased tree at the foot of your bed next to Fido.
The best time to install a back-up generator to power your home is during construction. Plan ahead and have a professional recommend the best model and size for your home. Generators could essentially power your entire home using natural gas (or propane) in the event of a power outage. This is especially important if your house uses well water (especially for fire sprinklers), has a sump pump, or generally needs electricity to run your other comfort, safety and security systems.
Whole House Surge Protection
In a thunderstorm (or otherwise), electrical surges could wreak havoc on your home's delicate electronics and computerized systems, causing irreparable damage. If you take apart an LED light, for example, you'll find a little circuit board there. Washers, dryers, appliances also have circuit boards today, so there’s a lot more to be protected in the home from power surges—including the home’s lighting.
It's not just from thunderstorms — generators and motors like those in air conditioning units and appliances introduce small surges into a home’s electrical lines. It's a good idea to invest in a whole-house electrical surge protection system that will protect your systems and electronic investments.
If/when all else fails and you find yourself knee-deep in rain water in your basement, it's good to know you have flood insurance. Regular homeowner's insurance policies typically don't cover flood water damage. Policies acquired through the National Flood Insurance Program top out at $350,000 for your home and contents. Some homeowners feel they may need supplemental coverage if the home and possessions total more than that, but while people tend to associate floods with a total loss, the average flood claim for U.S. homeowners is about $30,000, according to the National Flood Insurance Program.
If you live in a designated flood plain, your mortgage company will probably require you to buy flood insurance. However, you can still purchase it even if you don't live within a flood zone for a little added peace of mind.
As you know, building a home is a big investment. Plan to do your research on more than just granite or appliance selections. Build your home to enjoy it for years -- come what may.