You can huff and you can puff, but you won't blow MY house down
August 3, 2014 1:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to build a ~1200 square foot house in west central Florida. It seems like modular construction (specifically Palm Harbor Homes) is a good option. They claim that due to the home having to be transported from the factory to the site, it has to be built better / to a higher standard than site-built construction, which is especially beneficial in a hurricane-prone area. Do you have any experience or opinion about modular construction? Particularly experience with Palm Harbor, but experience with other modular builders also welcome.

Additionally, if you've built a new house recently by any method, what advice do you have? Things you're glad you did or wish you had done? Any newer technologies in terms of insulation, roofing material, foundation, etc etc that are not conventional and either worked out well or you wish now you hadn't done?

Finally, if you have an opinion on the idea of building a two-story home in a hot, humid climate I'd like to hear it. I'm really drawn towards two-story homes but realize that with the heat it may just not be practical. There are options for dual-zone A/C to help keep the upstairs cooler, but in one final act of snowflakiness... I hate using A/C and would like to keep my house open as often as possible. If you live largely without A/C in a two-story home in a hot climate, how do you do passive cooling? Attic/whole house fans? What should I be thinking about in terms of home design to keep the upstairs cool? Or is it just an idiotic idea, and I should focus on a one-story?
posted by storminator7 to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Wind catcher

Prevous Ask about air shafts.

One story homes in the deep south typically use deep porches on multiple sides to provide shade so you can open windows and have cross ventilation. Old style Victorian houses do something with their stairwells that looks a bit like Iranian wind catchers. The link above does not make that connection clear. I have seen it elsewhere but I am not finding it at the moment. There are a lot of other things you can look at. It is possible to keep a home comfortable without AC if you design it properly to start with. You might start by searching for the term "passive solar design." There is quite a lot of info available on how to make a home comfortable without running the AC constantly.
posted by Michele in California at 2:55 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived in New Orleans and knew several people who got modular homes after Hurricane Katrina. My boss's modular place was quite nice.

That said, Michele in California does make a good point about home styles in the South being influenced by the need to cool down in the heat. You didn't mention what style of home you're looking at, but think about the climate.

Then again, I don't know anyone in the South who doesn't use their air conditioning for much of the year. It's just too damn hot.
posted by radioamy at 4:06 PM on August 3, 2014

You will most definitely want AC for the summer at least. Not really negotiable.

I prefer one-story homes here in Florida - it just feels more tropical to me. There are plenty of folks that are happy with their two-story homes, but they probably use their AC much more than you'd want to.

I would also recommend you build a screened lanai with a roof. Having permanent outdoor shade and a place to escape the bugs makes living here much easier.
posted by gnutron at 5:29 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

How exciting for you! I looked at the website for modular homes that you listed, and they have a "blueprints" page that asks initially how much square footage you want - there wasn't a 1,200 square foot option, but there was a 1,500 square foot. Thought I'd mention it - I'm sure you're aware or know if they tailor blueprints for customers.

This article may help regarding air flow and cooling your home (it's from Mother Earth news and a bit lengthy). There's another article at the same site about natural ventilation that mentions an air tower, somewhat similar to the wind catcher that Michele in California mentions above.

Here's Understanding Air Flow in Homes for Energy Efficiency.

A pdf on cooling your home with fans and ventilation.

I'm sorry - you can probably google this stuff yourself - but I got excited by your question and looked it up myself. Good luck with your modular house and I hope you get many answers from more informed MeFites! :)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:05 PM on August 3, 2014

Build in the A/C, at least the vents, if you want to ever sell the house. I hate A/C, and love your approach, but, still. We used to keep a sprinkler on the not-very-steep- roof of our modular house in Ohio on hot days and it helped. White or very pale roof, light house color, good blinds or shutters to keep out sun on the southern side, maybe even smaller, fewer windows on that side. Unobstructed air flow, ceiling fans, a seriously powerful attic fan, good insulation. Ceramic tile on floors is cool underfoot. Can you orient the house to best receive prevailing breezes? If I were building a house, and I'd love to, I'd orient it for solar panels on the roof, and feel better about running a dehumidifier. Landscaping with lots of larger plants to shield the house from the sun can also help, especially over the long term, as the plants grow.

I would discount any claims by the manufacturer and look for reviews, talk to someone who does home energy audits, as well as a building inspector, the town code enforcement officer. Maybe a specialist in construction and hurricanes. My parents put up a modular 2nd house; the construction was only fair, but it was 40+ years ago. House is still there.

My house was rehabbed/ converted from a summer house, and the layout is awful, so play with scale plans and furniture to make sure it will work for you. I like having a clothesline in the same room as the furnace & water heater. I like having the washer and dryer in the bathroom, can close the curtain to hide laundry stuff if I need to. There are home planner sites with software, or use Sketchup. There's no such thing as too much storage. Don't get talked into more house than you want; big houses are more expensive to heat and cool, etc. I wish my small house had more storage, but otherwise, 1,000 sq. ft. is plenty.
posted by theora55 at 5:09 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want to build a house in hurricane-prone areas, it should be built of poured-concrete construction on-site. The other options are toys.

I'd recommend a light roof color, thick walls, high ceilings, overhangs (so sun doesn't come in the windows while you have them open), a whole-house fan (if you don't use A/C), and optimize your layout for cross-ventilation: large/double doors, large windows, no narrow hallways.
posted by flimflam at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You should also look at info on how Round houses withstand hurricanes better.

More info
posted by Michele in California at 11:36 AM on August 4, 2014

I know you said central Florida, but there have been several articles lately about the increasing severe flooding in Florida caused by rising oceans and climate change. This also increases sinkholes and causes problems for water and sewer systems, even inland. Depending on what kind of mortgage/investment you are making, it might be something to consider.
posted by emjaybee at 10:09 PM on August 4, 2014

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