Beach houses have particular requirements when it comes to the materials which can be used successfully. This is because the materials used in areas away from the coast cannot withstand the harsh conditions of the coast.
Because the coast is synonymous with extreme weather conditions, weather resistance must be considered in selecting each material used in a house on the coast. This refers to foundations, framing, roofing, paint, nails, and literally everything in between.
Certain materials perform better on the coast when compared to other materials. So it is important to understand which materials possess sufficient strength to withstand coastal conditions while still creating an appealing and comfortable home.
Why Do Beach Houses Have Different Material Needs?
Due to the harsh elements on the coast, such as moist air, bright sun, extremely strong winds, and corrosion due to saltwater, beachfront homes have to be built slightly differently from inland homes to withstand the forces of nature while remaining comfortable and safe.
Due to the sandy environments found in coastal areas, certain foundation types are better equipped to withstand these conditions than others. There are numerous types of foundations used in different parts of the country, but not all are suitable for use on the coast.
While in a normal residential area, typical foundation systems are perfectly adequate for most buildings. However, waterfront property has numerous issues, such as heavy winds, bad soil conditions, and floodwaters.
The above harsh conditions can cause difficulties in creating long-lasting foundation systems.
Sandy ground is often subject to erosion. The land beneath the foundations may be gradually removed, causing the building to collapse.
In addition to the structural benefits, using pier or pile foundations afford the possibility of enhanced views for the house and breezes. This is due to the elevated position afforded by this type of foundation system.
Pier and beam foundations are considered to be the best option for a beachfront house. Beachfront areas are synonymous with unstable, sandy soil conditions, and pier and beam foundations are best able to withstand these types of conditions.
Pier foundations provide a robust and safe structure that can easily be adapted to various difficult land situations.
Also known as post and pier foundations, this structure uses square or circular pads of concrete placed at strategic spots around the structure of the building itself. The footing pads are dug deep into the soil and usually set on a stable underground feature such as bedrock.
Once the concrete footing pads are placed, timber columns are attached to the footings. These columns, in turn, are connected through the use of girders. These girders are horizontal timber (or steel) beams that support the structure of the building above.
This type of foundation is ideal for a beachfront area due to its ability to endure shifting grounds and loose soil prevalent in sandy beach areas.
Due to the high prevalence of sand and salt on the coast, selecting the correct floor for your seaside home is important. Some floors can better withstand coastal conditions than others, so it is important to ensure that you select the correct flooring material.
Engineered hardwood floors are often a go-to choice for homeowners on the coast. While extremely popular and attractive, these floors do not compare to genuine hardwood floors, but they may perform better in areas that receive a lot of moisture.
This is especially applicable in bedrooms, bathrooms, and naturally, areas on the coast with a lot of moisture.
Aesthetically, contemporary engineered hardwoods have a far closer resemblance to real hardwood. This is a great benefit when added to the fact that this floor is also often cheaper and easier to install.
On the other hand, concrete floors are probably the most durable of flooring options on the coast. Concrete floors are easy to maintain. However, they can often cost more than other flooring options. Concrete flooring is also relatively cold compared to other flooring options, but this is something easily remedied through rugs.
Reclaimed hardwood is another good flooring option for the coast. It is sustainable, aesthetically pleasing, and extremely hardy. It is usually an old-growth timber cut from mature trees, giving it inherent strength and durability.
However, reclaimed hardwood can be expensive to install, and it can also be expensive to maintain. This type of wood may not perform particularly well in wet areas where warping can occur.
Tiled floors are good for coastal homes due to their density, strength, and ease of cleaning. Tiles are water-resistant, making for an easy-to-clean flooring option, which is also aesthetically pleasing in a coastal home.
The structural framing of your coastal home is one of the most important factors to consider. This is because the correct structural framing will ensure that your home can remain stable and sturdy throughout its lifetime, withstanding any adverse weather conditions it may be forced to endure.
Saltwater corrosion is a serious consideration to make when deciding on a framing material for your coastal home. Salt causes extreme damage to certain building materials, so it is important to use materials that are extremely resistant to corrosion.
Concrete and treated wood is usually your best option in this respect. Thorough treatment wherever elements are exposed is extremely important. For example, the exposed tails of rafters should be pressure treated and primed on all faces to ensure that no surfaces can rot.
Treated timber that is cut from trees native to the area will best be able to withstand the coastal conditions in your region far better than imported timber would be able to. It is also a far more ecologically friendly option.
Marine plywood is another good option in terms of structural framing timber. It is created to withstand complete immersion in saltwater, and therefore will happily tolerate coastal weather conditions.
The glues used to create marine plywood are also extremely weatherproof. They can withstand extreme fluctuations in temperature, making them a great, dependable choice for use on the coast.
Coastal homes have special structural requirements, and concrete is the other material ideally suited for this application. Concrete is extremely strong and durable and tends to become stronger as it ages while it withstands water, an important feature on the coast.
Shear walls are often used in the framing of coastal homes, which are reinforced walls that add to the frame’s strength, further enabling it to withstand any adverse weather conditions.
The siding of your coastal home is an extremely important feature that is constantly subjected to the harsh weather associated with this type of climate. This building feature also determines the aesthetic of the entire building.
Because of this, it is extremely important to ensure that the choice of siding material can tolerate extreme weather while remaining a good design choice from an aesthetic point of view.
Thankfully, a range of contemporary building materials can combine performance and aesthetic appeal to create the most suitable siding for your specific application.
For most exterior coastal applications, it is recommended to use brick, Hardie-planks, or an Azek-type composite material. Other hardy alternatives include concrete, fiber cement, steel cladding, or local native timber.
Concrete is one of the most durable materials available. By nature, it is extremely versatile. It can be transformed into any texture, color, or design and successfully blend in with most other materials to create an extremely aesthetically pleasing building façade.
Brick siding is also extremely durable, and will in most cases, last longer than Hardiplank. Brick can withstand and survive extreme conditions on the coast such as salt, wind, rain, and sun for over a hundred years before it begins to wear down.
In addition to its durability, brick can also provide extremely good thermal performance and sound insulation. While remaining a relatively expensive choice, brick siding can significantly cut down on maintenance costs while simultaneously increasing the resale value of your property.
Local timbers are also used successfully as cladding in coastal areas, and these are easily able to withstand the harsh conditions of the coast. While always a good choice, this type of siding requires more maintenance than contemporary composite alternatives.
Roofing types are numerous, and the roofing choice for a house can often completely determine the success or failure of a building project. Some roofing choices are better suited to the coast due to their durability, ability to withstand moisture and other features of coastal weather, and aesthetic appeal, which allows them to blend seamlessly into a coastal environment.
The wind is a major factor to consider as coastal wind conditions can be extremely problematic for a building’s roof.
Asphalt shingles are an extremely popular roofing choice for homes across the United States, but this roofing type is not necessarily the ideal choice for coastal homes. Better-performing alternatives can resist rot, mildew, wind, and termites to a higher degree than asphalt shingles.
Metal roofing, such as stainless steel and galvanized steel, offers an excellent alternative to roofing your coastal home. Metal roofing is extremely durable, and because it naturally reflects the sun’s heat as opposed to absorbing it, it can create a more temperate environment within the house.
The ability of metal roofing to keep a house cooler is a major advantage in sunny coastal areas that often suffer intense heat gain during warmer months. This has the potential to reduce cooling costs by up to 30%.
Visually, metal roofing may not fit with a typical coastal aesthetic if you intended to create a typical coastal home. This roofing is ideal, however, when used in a contemporary design, and there are many options available for metal roofing that will allow you to find one that best suits the needs of your project.
Western red cedar is another extremely popular choice for coastal roofs due to its aesthetic appeal, historic availability in certain areas of the US, and extreme durability.
However, this roofing is susceptible to mildew, so it is important that it is treated properly to ensure a longer-lasting roof covering.
Clay tiles are a great choice for coastal roofing, as they are long-lasting, durable, and require very little maintenance.
Windows & Doors
The specification of windows and doors in coastal homes is somewhat different from inland areas due to a need to resist extreme winds and the occasional flying debris.
It is highly advisable to use impact-rated glass windows and doors in coastal homes to protect the home, especially in sea-facing areas of the building. This is especially applicable in areas where hurricanes and storms are highly prevalent.
Impact-rated windows are designed to withstand any major pressures from external weather forces, resist flying debris, and keep the building watertight. These are essential features in coastal areas where water can cause extreme damage during storms and hurricanes.
The 2012 IFC Code, which took effect from January 2014, required that all openings use impact-rated glass, have impact-rated shutters over the openings, or have impact-rated panels cut with their hardware pre-installed.
This should all occur before occupancy certificates are issued, and storm shutters are highly recommended in most cases to ensure maximum safety for coastal buildings and their respective users.
Double glazing in a coastal home is another good feature that drastically reduces energy bills due to heating and cooling. These windows minimize heat transfer, keeping homes cool in summer and warm in winter.
Thick glazing also has the ability to prevent UV rays from entering the building and possesses excellent sound-resistant qualities.
It is important for an engineer to determine the optimal glazing thickness and the maximum window sizes for your home, which will meet the necessary wind requirements while allowing the best possible light to enter the building.
When it comes to window frames, powder-coated aluminum is always a good option. This is because it has the ability to resist rust while simultaneously meeting the required wind loads in a home.
Aluminum is an extremely strong material that retains its strength even in a slim profile, and so it is always a worthwhile consideration when choosing a window material.
Closed-cell insulation has been established as the best insulation for a beach house due to its ability to reduce heat flow, as well as its excellent ability to attenuate sound.
Traditional insulation, made primarily of fiberglass, can reduce heat flow by approximately 35%.
Closed-cell insulation is a type of spray foam insulation that is extremely dense, creating an excellent barrier against air, water vapor, and sound, with up to 98% reduction in heat flow.
Open-cell insulation is similar to closed cell insulation; however, it is less dense than closed cell, and its insulation properties tend to reduce over time.
Due to this, closed-cell insulation is the preferred choice for the harsh environments in which beach houses are found.
Due to the harsh conditions found at the coast, one must always consider the structural integrity of the building. Closed-cell insulation, due to its density and rigidity, can improve the structural integrity of your home by essentially “tying” the roof and walls together, thereby increasing the strength of the construction.
Closed-cell insulation is also considered to be a “greener” alternative to insulation such as fiberglass. So this benefit to the environment adds to its strengths as an insulation choice.
Energy codes stipulate a thermal resistance value of R-13 in walls. When used at a minimum thickness of 2 inches, closed-cell insulation possesses a thermal resistance value of R-16.
To create the best possible environment, it is recommended that you do an entire envelope in closed-cell foam insulation. This will protect your home in the best way possible while simultaneously reducing your energy bills by up to 40 percent.
To create a fully insulated envelope, closed-cell insulation is used in the attic, floor, and walls. This will reduce heat flow significantly and prevent any unnecessary damage to your home.
The most important consideration is their durability when it comes to paint products to be used on the coast. Homes on the coast are subject to salty air, resulting in a salty film developing over the house’s exterior.
Sun, sand, and salt will cause your paint to fade and wear more rapidly than would be the case away from the coast, and so it is essential to buy the best quality paint while bearing in mind it will still not last indefinitely.
While oil-based paints were primarily used in the past, new formulas have allowed for the creation of acrylic paints, which can withstand coastal climates while remaining a relatively easy finish to maintain.
New acrylic paints can hold their color and gloss longer than their oil-based counterparts, and accumulated dirt and salt air can easily be removed through routine washing.
The preparation work involved in painting a coastal house is much more intensive than your usual painting job. So it is imperative that this is done correctly and thoroughly to ensure a long-lasting finish.
The first consideration in the preparation work is to remove the salty film that would have accumulated over the paintwork during the preceding years. Without removing this film, the new paint will be unable to stick to the house.
The easiest way to clean this is through a mixture of warm water, bleach, and Trisodium Phosphate sprayed through a powerhouse onto the surface of the walls. A primer should follow this to smooth the surfaces and seal any imperfections. This primer should, however, only be applied once the freshly cleaned surface is sufficiently dry.
Two coats of good quality paint will finish the job and ensure that your home’s external surface is sufficiently protected for years to come.
Nails, Bolts & Strapping
Even the small details such as nails, screws, bolts, and strapping need to be considered for their ability to withstand harsh coastal conditions.
Nails should be hot-dipped galvanized, and stainless steel strapping and through-bolts should be used wherever these are exposed to the outside coastal air. Even when it comes to interior applications, choose materials that will resist corrosion, mold, and mildew.
There are many decking options on the market that are suitable for use in coastal areas. It is always a good idea to make use of green, renewable materials wherever possible. Still, popular choices such as Ipe (an exotic hardwood) are very durable for decking applications on the coast.
An alternative to this expensive imported wood is Garapa, which is as durable and substantially less expensive.
Several man-made alternatives exist, including composite, PVC, Capstock, and ASA wood that withstand coastal conditions while requiring less maintenance.
Azek is another decking alternative available in several colors and board widths, creating a suitable alternative to hardwood decking.
Building your dream home on the coast can be extremely challenging and often involve extra costs and processes that may not be necessary when building your home away from the coast.
The benefits afforded by living on the coast, however, usually outweigh the cons. With the correct knowledge about building processes, design, and material usage, it is possible to create a beautiful coastal home that remains comfortable, safe, and a joy to live in throughout the year.
The correct choices in materials for building a coastal home will ensure that your home will withstand the harsh coastal conditions while allowing you to enjoy the least possible maintenance, thereby lowering your costs in the long term.