Buying a Home: Climate and Location Considerations
Whether you are a first-time home buyer or looking to move into a more sustainable forever home, there are many things to consider before buying. Unfortunately, as you search, it's easy to become bogged down by all the little decisions in choosing or designing a sustainable home. Questions like "where do I place my solar panels" and "would having a crawl space work for your location" have their place in when planning. But before you start diving into the details of how to make your home more efficient, healthy, and lower impact, let's examine some overarching property questions you can ask yourself before you buy.
Before You Buy
So what are some things to consider before buying your first home or property? For help with this, I like to turn to the permaculture Scale of Permanence.
What is The Scale of Permanence?
The Scale of Permanence is a tool that was developed in the 1950s by P.A. Yeomans as a part of his farmland water and soil fertility management strategy called "keyline design." It acted as the backbone of the design process, which allowed him and other landowners to observe a site from its most permanent features to its more adjustable ones.
Though initially designed for the farm, this scale can be beneficial at a homeowner's level, especially for those venturing into homesteading or looking to produce most of their meals at home.
Over time, permaculture designers Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier have expanded on the original design for this scale to incorporate the complexity of social systems into the list. As a result, the modified scale is rated from the most permanent (climate) to the easiest to change (aesthetics and experience).
- Invisible Structures (Social and Economic Factors)
- Access and Circulation
- Vegetation and Wildlife
- Buildings and Infrastructure
- Zones of Use
- Aesthetics and Experience
This article will discuss the first three factors: climate, landform, and water. We will also take time to discuss microclimates and how they differ from the macro-climate.
How Does Climate Affect A Home Purchase?
Climate is placed at the forefront because it is a fixed feature, requiring vast amounts of energy to shift or alter. If you recently moved to a new latitude or are just beginning the adventure into sustainability, here are a few things to consider about your environment.
Growing a Garden
First, if you're moving with the hopes of growing a grander garden, then ask yourself, "what is your location's plant hardiness zone?" Knowing your hardiness zone will determine what plants you can grow on your property.
This information includes understanding things like first and last frost dates. Understanding how many frost-free days you have allows you to decide what plants will have enough time to produce crops. The worst thing is when you think you have enough time for your favorite tomatoes, only to get one harvest before the frost. If you're looking to produce a sizeable yield, enough to provide for yourself or your household, understanding your growing season will be fundamental.
Ecoregions and Local Weather
Next, look at your site's ecoregion as well! For example, do you live in a desert? Is it tropical or temperate? Understanding your terrestrial ecoregion gives you a very general understanding of a property and what you can expect in terms of weather, plants, and animals. This knowledge guides you in the direction of native species you can use to build biodiversity.
Understanding rainfall rates can guide your on-site planting and design strategies before even stepping foot on the soil. Will it benefit you to collect as much water as possible from your desert climate? Or do you need to find ways to remove the water carefully to mitigate excessive runoff and erosion? Understanding the typical weather patterns gives you an idea of what systems will work best, like solar panels over wind turbines.
As part of the weather, suppose your site is prone to extreme weather-related events like blizzards, droughts, tornadoes, or forest fires. In that case, it is always best to know well ahead of time to prepare and ensure the home is built with these risks in mind.
Climate Change Risks
Finally, it's essential to think about how your property will be affected by the climate crisis. It may be best to do a little research into how a site could change over the next fifty years (or longer if you plan to pass this property on to family). Questions like, "Is this property located in an area affected by flooding, sea-level rise, or wildfires" are essential to ask before you settle down. It's best to build today for the world tomorrow.
How Does Landscape Impact Home Purchase Decisions?
The landscape of your property follows climate on the scale of permeance. The reason for this is that the landscape, though challenging, can ultimately be shaped. Unfortunately, this process requires vast amounts of energy to be expended through large tractors and machines moving the earth. But before you buy a piece of property with the purpose of terraforming, observe your landscape and see what features you can utilize!
Have you explored how elevation affects the home? Higher elevations function similarly to moving to higher latitudes. For example, every 1,000-meter increase in elevation, temperatures fall an average of 6°C. This difference has the potential to change the types of plants and insects you may encounter. For example, look at how elevation makes a difference in the ecoregions of Arizona. Over a three-hour drive, you can leave Phoenix's desert heat and cactuses and find the pines and snow of Flagstaff.
The slope of your landscape is essential for many reasons, with the primary being how fast water will flow from it. While soaking in water is necessary, too much water leads to erosion, which can wash away beneficial topsoil and destabilize parts of a property's soil structure. But, a sloped property isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. It may require you to create swales to catch the water until trees and shrubs can grow large enough to stabilize the hillside. If you aim to produce a large garden on challenging slopes, consider minor terraforming with the creation of terraces or even hugelkulturs.
The solar aspect refers to the property's placement in relation to the sun, or "sun sector." For example, a south-facing position is ideal in the northern hemisphere. It receives the most light throughout the day and acts as a feature fundamental in creating a passive solar house. By understanding your "sun sector" location, you can map out a garden or solar panels before you decide to invest the money.
Finally, knowing the geology of your land is ideal, as it gives you a glimpse back in time at how the landscape evolved. These can affect how you design your home or build your garden. For example, suppose you chose to purchase a once glaciated property. In that case, it could mean more difficulty removing rocks before you can grow. Still, it can also be an opportunity to design unique raised beds that make your property stand out from the neighbors.
Always remember, unexpected features uncovered through any of these steps aren't necessarily detrimental. Instead, by understanding them, we have the opportunity to respond to these issues and design some genuinely creative and sustainable strategies.
How Does Water Supply Affect A Home Purchase?
Water supply, both existing and potential sources, is fundamental to a property, whether for a home water system or crop irrigation. Knowing what water systems are present on your property ahead of time may make or break a purchase, especially in arid climates.
Begin by examining existing sources of water on the property at a large scale. Are there any ponds, springs, streams, or lakes on your property? Knowing what's higher up the watershed from those water sources and downstream from you may spur design changes. For example, an existing septic drain field (also known as a leach field or tile bed) is not the place for your food crops, but revegetating the zone with native species could be an alternative.
Located city or suburban area? Consider examining the flows of water that enter and exit your property, whether it be the rain from the roof or stormwater flowing down the street gutter towards a storm drain. By understanding water flow across your property, you can direct overflow to do a section of your watering for you.
Existing water supplies don't just count what is above the ground but what is below as well. How deep is the water table at your location? Is your property a candidate for a well, or is one already in place? A high water table may mean that you'll need to install a sump pump and french drain system to avoid basement flooding.
If you are looking at locations with infrastructure already established, look at things like culverts, wells, water lines, and water storage tanks. Be sure to inspect the infrastructure beforehand to ensure you are not inheriting a problem that will cost you more in the long run! Check for things like rust or cracks that may be a sign of dwindling integrity.
What Role Does Microclimate Play In Buying A Home?
Sun and Shade
Microclimate plays a significant role in the overall development of a property. For example, if the only place you can grow food is in a spot that receives partial light, it will require extra work to either provide that site with more light or create a new site for food production. In addition, knowing the sun and shade of a property beforehand allows you to plot out where to plant niche-specific varieties, like a favorite shade lover or a thirsty willow.
Examine the property for areas where wind may cause issues or provide added benefits. For example, sites with strong winds or regular hurricane risk can require hurricane windows or hurricane ties for the roof. They will also need additional protection when starting tender plants. And locations with too little wind can become unbearably hot in the summer months.
Adjusting Your Microclimate
When it comes to microclimates if your site doesn't meet what you were hoping for initially, consider selecting plants that can slowly change it over time. For example, planting trees for a food forest will eventually provide shade to the ground, cool it, and protect the soil from harsh light.
In addition, homeowners can use microclimates for more aesthetic features. For example, consider planting fragrant floral bushes upwind from your home to add fragrance to the summer breeze as it flows over your property.
Frost is a part of nature and can catch the ill-prepared gardener at the beginning and end of the season. Depending on your location, frost comes at different times of the year, with northern climates often seeing the first frost sooner and the last frost later. But it may surprise you that there are different types of frost, and certain ones can result from microclimates. For example, advection frost can flow on cold air down a mountain or hill, pooling in patches below. If you live in mountainous areas, trees and shrubs can diminish airflow, thus creating a cooling pool over these cleared pockets. As a result, unexpecting gardeners may come out the following day to find delicate crops damaged by frost.
Microclimates can form across a property for numerous reasons. Microtopography, variations in the land with dimensions less than 50 feet, can provide habitat to various plant species depending on their placement. To use an example, consider the herb spiral. This gardening method can be added to any home and uses elevation and aspect to layer different herbs in their preferred niche.
Of this list, microclimates are the easiest to work with, which is why they typically fall later in the Scale of Permeance. However, it is great to start looking at them from the beginning to better guide your design. In the following article, we will be looking at invisible structures, access and circulation, buildings and infrastructure, and zones of use.Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2022-01-19T03:13:17+0000