Here in the Colorado High Country, it’s been a long, cold winter. It’s mid May and it snowed the last two days. Which is why today, with the sun out and temperatures rising, I’m reminded of just how important the sun is. And it’s not just about passive heating, I’m talking about how sun warms the soul and illuminates the mind. I can’t tell you just how important the relationship between house and sun can be. Whenever we first consult with a client on the design of their home, the first two things I think about are access and solar orientation. And when orientating the house, I always favor the sun over the view when a compromise is necessary.

There are some general rules when it comes to solar orientation. There are times when the sun beating down on us brings welcome relief from the cold. And when that beating leaves us gasping and heat exhausted. In temperate (two or more season climates) ideally the axis of a home is parallel to the sun’s arc. Windows and roof overhangs combine to provide both sun and shade. For instance, in the summer when the sun is high and the days are warmest, roof overhangs should shade the house and particularly the windows when the sun is at it’s zenith. In the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, those same overhangs allow the sun to reach the walls and windows of the house. The term for this is passive solar design, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s just common sense.

Obviously, the best lots allow for the ideal orientation. Choose a lot with views that include solar exposure. Otherwise, the view and exposure will compete, and you’ll need to make a choice between sun and scenery. It’s always best to choose a lot that won’t require such a difficult compromise. Choose the view over the sun, and you’re likely to be staring at window coverings all winter as you struggle to keep your house warm.

Over the past decade we’ve seen the cost of construction rise steadily until two years ago, when sub contractor labor rates flattened and then began to decline. From a pricing standpoint, this is certainly the best time to build a mountain house in years. What kind of savings are we looking at?  My estimate based on current quotes from subcontractors would be 12-15% although the amount could be higher depending on materials and construction methods employed. In real terms, that’s enough savings to pay to furnish the home, and add a solar array for sustainable energy independence. Bottom line. If you’re thinking of building your dream home, despite what all the economic pessimists might have to say, this industry expert believes the time to begin design is NOW!

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