If a building is lovable, then it needs to be durable enough to carry that lovability long into an uncertain future. Our ancestors once built for the ages, so it certainly can be done. And it must be done, because we can no longer afford to build our world with throw-away buildings.
Use boards, not drywall, to finish a wall because drywall remains a wall only so long as you keep it dry. Read down the page for what you can do if you leave one side of the wall open, like what’s shown here from the Dream Suite.
Light fixtures and other fixtures as well should be aware of their climate. For example, most things aren’t so durable in a coastal environment with its moisture and salty air… so they should take hints from the fixtures on ships, which endure the harshest of salty spray. And they can look really cool as well, like this one in the Dream Suite.
Some places build with roofing far more durable than the ubiquitous asphalt shingle. Some asphalt shingles might have warranties of 25 years or longer, but as we all know, asphalt roofing usually endures only until the next big hail storm. Fortunately, there are places that are more forward-thinking about their roofing. Perhaps the ultimate is the little Florida resort town of Alys Beach, where they cover their roofs with concrete tiles like the ones on this house.
Depending on where you’re building, you might actually be better off without insulation. Tropical and sub-tropical climates where it doesn’t get very cold in the winter are good candidates so long as you’re using reflective roofing to deflect the sun’s heat. What’s wrong with insulation? In a moist environment such as a coastal location, several types of insulation can hold moisture and possibly harbor mold and mildew. And looking at the roof structure like in this unit can be much more interesting than looking at a drywall ceiling, don’t you think?
A hipped roof like these at Mahogany Bay is the strongest shape in a storm because each side of the roof leans back and supports each of its neighbors. Hipped roofs therefore might be called “good-neighbor roofs.” This isn’t normally a factor at some distance inland, but as you approach the coast or travel to the islands, you’ll notice how more and more roofs of the old buildings are hipped. Now you know why.
Leave one side of a wall open, close the other side with simple boards, and build shelves in the wall itself. It’s a really frugal thing to do, because that space would otherwise be wasted. But the big story is the fact that it makes the house more durable by opening up wall cavities to let them breathe, rather than keeping them dark, closed, and filled with mold and mildew like they often are in conventional construction. This house was one of the first places Eric tried this idea.
Open-Frame Porch Floors
Perhaps the concealed cavity most at risk of moisture, mold, mildew, and rotting is the closed floor system between the first and second story of a porch. People don't want to look up into a normal rough-framed floor system because it's not very lovable. But in this house, we framed the porch with solid timber joists and purlins, which is not only visually interesting, but it also opens the floor up to air circulation so that it can dry quickly after a storm.
Patchable & Repairable
“Maintenance-free” exteriors are a myth because when so-called “maintenance-free” products fail, they fail catastrophically so that you have to rip it all off and cart it off to the landfill, then start over. True durability is achieved when you build with things that are patchable and repairable, like this cottage does.
Roofs that pitch between 8/12 and 9/12 are most resistant to high winds because that’s the sweet spot between taller roofs that fail by being pushed over and shallower roofs that fail by getting sucked up off the building. If rooms are built into a roof, however, the walls stiffen it enough that it can be as much as 12/12 and be equally strong. That’s why pitches in this range are so common in traditional architecture in areas subject
Rot-Resistant Local Wood
Most parts of the world have one or more species of wood that is rot-resistant. In the Southeastern US, it’s “swamp cypress,” or “lowland cypress” if you want to sound a little more refined. This unit is built in Belize, where several varieties of beautiful mahogany are grown. Because it’s local, it’s amazingly less expensive than if the same wood were exported to other countries.
Timber & Masonry
Modern construction is often made of several layers of dissimilar materials such as vinyl siding, plastic house wrap, styrofoam sheathing, wood studs, fiberglass insulation, and sheetrock. But if you want to build for the ages, consider using simpler materials. The walls of this house are stuccoed masonry… a combination that has been used for thousands of years. And the columns are simple heavy timbers… no veneers to peel away or delaminate. What you see is what you get, and for a very long time.
There are lovability reasons for designing a wall with a base, but it’s not just a visual issue. When you design a wall with a break a foot or more above the ground like this one, then it allows the wall to be maintained for less cost… hence, it’s likely to be better maintained. This is because the base of the wall takes more abuse than areas further up from all sorts of things from lawnmowers and string trimmers to soccer balls. If the wall has a base, you can refinish it when it’s scuffed, leaving the rest of the wall to be refinished only when it really needs it.