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Desert Design: How We Build Livable Homes in Hot Climates

Exterior of a house in a desert landscape

In hotter climates, using the right materials and design to control the heat is essential. This is key to preventing uncomfortable interior temperatures and increased cooling bills. Here are a few strategies to build livable homes in warm climates.

1. Provide Better Ventilation

Having consistent airflow keeps a house cooler. To create this effect, consider window placement and sizes carefully.

Suppose you have one larger casement on one side and a smaller one on the other. This creates less efficiency because the airflow doesn’t have a straightforward path. Place equal-sized windows on opposite walls to carry air through the home. To help move the cool air along, place a few fans in high-traffic areas.

2. Consider the Direction of the Sun

Observe how the sun’s angles hit the home and at what time of year. This information determines where to place sun-resistant structures. Contractors can install exterior shades or awnings in these areas.

Is the property in a northern location? The sun in midsummer is directly overhead, so it’s easier to avoid. However, the western sun usually comes at a lower angle, penetrating the glass.

Western homeowners should use lighter materials for summer window treatments. Builders should also add a solar panel or two to help the environment and reduce energy bills. Calculate how much energy the homeowner uses to determine the correct size.

3. Create the Stack Effect

This method is where hot air rises through the property and is removed through the roof. The air comes up from the floorboards and into the room that needs to be cooled. The airflow is cyclical, with hot air going up and cool air replacing it.

To create the stack effect, add high-level windows or create internal atriums that are taller than the space.

4. Add Extra Cooling Structures

You can purchase a refrigerated add-on or evaporative cooling. Refrigerated cooling removes hot air with gasses that flow back through the house. The air recirculates, keeping the property at a consistent temperature.

The other option – evaporative cooling – is cheaper and uses water along with electricity. This type of system draws air from the outside and then cools it as it passes through moistened pads. Another option is hydronic cooling, which is part of the structure. This is where water runs through pipes to remove humidity.

 Close-up of a rooftop of a house in a desert landscape

5. Use the Right Building Materials

Build with heavy, thick materials, such as concrete slabs. These act as natural insulators from the heat. These supplies have good thermal conductivity, slow heat transmission, and the ability to store heat. During the summer months, the home can stay cool throughout the day.

Here are a few other good materials to use:

  • Stone
  • Bricks
  • Tiles

6. Add Insulation

To help keep a home cool, insulation is critical. It allows the space to remain at a consistent temperature. Insulation is also good for the environment since the HVAC system doesn’t have to work as hard.

Add insulation to walls, attics, basements, and crawl spaces. The first step is determining the proper R-value, or the resistance to conductive heat flow. Contractors can find this out through an energy assessment using the Home Energy Saver tool.

7. Consider Roofing Material

Choose a reflective material for the roof, such as asphalt shingles or metal. This will allow some heat to bounce back and not enter the home. Clay tiles are another excellent choice because they allow airflow between them.

Here are a few more options to cool your roof:

  • Add greenery
  • Install a cool roof
  • Use solar reflective shingles
  • Paint with lighter colors
  • Install roof vents

8. Take Advantage of Smart Technology

For those hot summer days, a functioning air conditioner is essential. With advanced technology, smart thermostats and air conditioning units are more efficient and convenient. These can help maintain ideal humidity levels. They even learn homeowners’ preferences to adjust automatically.

People can set a schedule in advance, as well. These smart devices are good for the environment and save money on energy bills. People can use these applications right from their phones, meaning homeowners can set a temperature before work and come home to a cool house.

9. Install UV-Deflecting Glass or Film for Windows

The sun’s afternoon rays can quickly heat a home. UV-deflecting glass can solve this problem. This “low-E” – low emissivity – coating reflects infrared and UV light. Yet, it still lets in light from the visible spectrum.

As a result, a homeowner can let in sunlight without heat gain. It can protect their furniture from sun damage as well. If the budget is smaller, use UV-protection film to cover the windows instead.

10. Add Dehumidifiers and Ceiling Fans

These options are cost-effective design strategies. The ceiling fans are an easy way to cool down the home and add visual appeal. Also, it will increase the circulation of cool air. 

The ceiling fan will reduce reliance on air conditioners and waste less energy as a result.

A dehumidifier can help lower humidity levels. High humidity can lead to dust mites, mold, and mildew. It can even be a trigger for those with allergies.

How to Create Homes for Humid Climates

Building and designing a home requires careful planning. Naturally, location is a key factor. When building in hotter climates, use reflective materials and consider ventilation to ensure whoever lives there has the best and most energy-efficient experience possible.


Author: Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated. Her work focuses on interior and architectural design and has been published by Build Magazine, the National Association of REALTORS and other online publications.