Building with cold temperatures in mind
Winter can be extremely hard on buildings, both inside and out, but using the right materials can keep things cozy while saving money and energy.
When discussing cold weather construction, it is important to clarify what specific climate a project is in. Some areas only experience frigid temperatures for a short part of the year, while others might have snow and ice for more than six months. The intensity and duration of the season will determine how much protection a building needs. Learning more about how the weather works is a great way to prepare for winter weather for those moving from warm climates.
All the materials on this list will work for temperate, seasonal winters or year-round cold weather. Still, builders and homeowners should consider their specific needs to decide what would work best for their location and building size.
Best Roofing Materials
The best roofing material for cold climates is, without a doubt, metal. Metal roofs are highly durable against the elements, with a low chance of leaking. They look great, as well. An image of a shiny tin roof may jump to mind, but metal roofing can be crisp and modern as well as more traditional, classic American or farmhouse.
Metal roofs are great for insulation and tend to be highly lightweight. They’re also typically less expensive than shingles and are often easier to replace since they come in large sheets rather than hundreds of individual pieces. The advantage metal roofing has when it comes to effective and efficient water and snow removal is not to be overlooked. Moisture management is one of the top priorities of a good building envelope, so having a roof that stands up consistently against water will help protect the entire building.
If metal roofing is not an option, asphalt shingles are a good runner-up for winter climates. The more traditional look may better appeal to some people. They are similarly affordable and offer waterproofing and easy installation.
One thing to keep in mind with roofing is shape. Gabled or slanted roofs are the way to go for winter climates because they allow rain, snow and ice to slide off rather than build up. Moisture management is much more difficult with a flat roof, and the material will need to be replaced more frequently. Leaks are also significantly more likely with a flat roof because water simply builds up far more easily than on an angled roof.
Best Wood Materials
Wood is a versatile building material with all kinds of uses on building projects. It can be great for decks, doors, window frames, walls, floors and even shingles. Some woods are better suited for the strains of cold weather than others, though.
The best choice when it comes to wood is cedar. It stands up to water well and has great outdoor durability season after season. It doesn’t tend to chip the way other woods might, reducing maintenance demands between seasons. Cedar is an especially good pick for cold areas because it is a great insulator.
Mahogany can also be a good choice for winter weather, especially for those looking for a nice warm reddish color. It isn’t quite as tough as cedar, so it needs a protective coat or finish to give it some extra resistance against the elements.
Oiled mahogany is a good choice for outdoor applications. Protective coatings, such as powder coating, are a good way to weatherproof materials. Even in terms of aesthetics, standard paint is likely to chip or peel between seasons. Consider a more durable solution or coating method for wood as well as metal and even windows.
Best Flooring Materials
Flooring is a bit more flexible and customizable since it is indoors, but certain materials are more comfortable and better at retaining heat. Carpet is a common choice for flooring in cold climates, partly because it’s one of the best insulators for flooring. It is soft and warm, and its flexible structure means warping from moisture or cold air isn’t a problem.
Rubber pieces are a good choice for areas like the garage or doorways. Carpets can be difficult to clean, so using rubber doormats will save time and trouble. They will contain slush, water, ice, snow and mud in easy-to-clean transition zones so carpeted floors don’t get messy.
Best Wall Materials
Walls come in layers and are the most important factor in cold climates. Generally, they should be structured with a weather-resistant outer wall, insulation containing spray or rigid foam, a moisture or vapor barrier, and the inner wall. There are required bits and pieces, of course, but these are the ones that need the most attention in winter weather.
When choosing an insulation material, the focus should be on sealing out as much as possible, especially moisture. Moisture management is a big deal in cold climates. People prefer a warm, slightly humid temperature indoors, but when that humidity meets coldness from outside in the walls, it can lead to condensation buildup and water damage. Brick and vinyl are good choices for exterior walls. Brick has a nice, classic look and it’s an excellent insulator. Vinyl is a good option for people who like the appearance of wood siding, but with better insulation and a lower price tag.
It is also important to consider the windows when designing and constructing walls. They play an integral role in the building envelope. It is generally better to opt for sealed rather than sliding windows in cold climates. Sliding windows are more likely to allow warm air to leak out and cold air to enter.
Weathering Any Storm
Getting a building ready for icy temperatures doesn’t need to be expensive or tedious. Choosing the right materials is all about insulation and durability. With adequate time and consideration, it’s easy to put together a structure that will stand up to the frostiest of temperatures effortlessly.
Emily Newton is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world.