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Building homes for extreme cold weather

  • Ideas & Inspiration
Dec 12, 2023
Elegant living room design – Beautiful Homes

Architects and interior designers share fundamental ideas to winter-proofing homes for extreme conditions in India

As we grapple with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, the demand for resilient and sustainable architecture has become more apparent than ever, particularly in regions of the country heading towards extreme winter weather. With the construction season coming to a halt, some of India’s most picturesque mountain towns are preparing for the influx of end-of-year tourists. We look beyond the fabulous interiors of holiday homes and boutique resorts to bring you a comprehensive guide, exploring the principles and practices involved in building homes that can not only withstand but also thrive in harsh and challenging cold conditions.

 

From site selection and structural integrity to energy-efficient design and material choices, we’ve interviewed five industry experts for their expertise in architecture and interior design for unforgiving environments.

 

There’s Ravi Kaimal of Delhi-based Kaimal Chatterjee and Associates, whose practice has been shaped not only by his childhood spent observing is father’s infrastructure projects in Nepal but also through his own experiences trekking extensively in the Himalayas, Ladakh and Nepal. Arun Shekar of Humming Tree studio, in a twist of fate, shares insights from the firm’s first project so far away from their homebase in Kerala—a striking mountain home and guesthouse for a retired army major in Manali. Monish Siripurapu of Ant Studio in Noida talks lessons from constructing a multi-level terraced holiday home in Uttarakhand. Mumbai-based interior designer Shabnam Gupta, celebrated for her work in Manali for actor Kangana Ranaut, offers her expertise in balancing aesthetics and functionality while Sandeep Bogadhi, who works exclusively in Ladakh, sheds light on sustainable practices tailored for the region’s demanding weather and terrain:

1. Optimising Orientation for Sunlight and Passive Heating

An essential consideration in cold climates is maximizing a building’s exposure to sunlight. Orientation plays a pivotal role in Sandeep’s practice and he says all his buildings face the South, tilting about 12 degrees towards the West for maximum exposure to the afternoon sun. Mud walls act as thermal banks, absorbing and slowly releasing this heat. The roof, also a crucial component, is also designed to insulate and trap heat efficiently, considering the region’s extreme weather that shifts dramatically from day to night.

Simple pine bedroom design – Beautiful Homes

The Creek by Sandeep Bogadhi features a traditional roof with pine rafters.

Monish emphasizes three crucial elements in his practice: design, materials, and passive heating strategies. He believes South-facing orientation, efficient insulation on the northern side and the use of Trombe walls for heat retention are a must.

 

For Ravi, analysing sunlight patterns, seasonal climatic changes as well natural features such as the soil and underground water channels are crucial steps for site selection in the mountains. Shabnam stresses on the importance of strategically placed windows and doors to trap and retain sunlight, which contribute to both energy efficiency and making the most of the beautiful mountain views. According to Ravi, it’s also crucial to prevent the heat from escaping out and the cold leaking in by investing in high-quality, snug-fitting, PVR or aluminium windows and doors over wooden fittings that are prone to expansion and contraction as the seasons change.

Stylish exterior design – Beautiful Homes

Designed by Arun Shekhar and Mohammed Afnan of Humming Tree studio, Warehouse is a mountain home and guesthouse in Manali.

Stone clad wall design – Beautiful Homes

Shabnam believes that stone-clad walls offer exceptional insulation and contributes to design.

2. Embracing Local Wisdom

According to all the experts we interviewed, one of the foundational principles in constructing homes for extreme and cold climates is to embrace the wisdom of local materials and building practices. Arun says incorporating traditional heating methods like tandoors prove to be both cost and energy efficient. While the Humming Tree studio relied on prefab solutions for the building’s foundation, they made use of locally sourced materials such as stone and pine wood for walls and flooring to reduce the project’s overall carbon footprint. Shabnam says in places like Manali, the local vernacular of stone-clad walls offers exceptional insulation and contributes to striking design. 

Simple house design – Beautiful Homes

The Creek by Sandeep Bogadhi is tailored for Ladakh’s demanding weather and terrain.

For Sandeep, raw materials are the essence of his projects and he adheres to a minimalist approach, often using only three to four materials. Earth (stabilised and rammed) serves as the base, stone complements it aesthetically, and wood. The unavailability of conventional building materials in the remote locales of Ladakh also results in some ingenious solutions. For instance, in a public toilet and rest stop project for Royal Enfield, he’s installed a solar-powered apricot blower below the building to provide heat through the unforgiving winter.

3. Considering Unique Roofing Solutions

The roof, a crucial element in winter home design, is usually designed with a slope. It’s essential to create careful drainage pathways without any obstruction and to waterproof rooftops in areas that receive snowfall. Ravi says half the battle is won if one can ensure that snow doesn’t collect and has enough room to melt and flow off smoothly. According to him, sandwich panels with PU Foam are great for insulation. Monish says wooden rafters with adequate waterproofing also offer great insulation and add to the overall aesthetic of a holiday homes. On the other hand, Sandeep relies on completely local materials like timber, willow twigs, and layers of insulation made with mud and straw, to insulate the roof.
 

4. Preparing for Emergencies

Ravi proposes solutions for water self-sufficiency, debunking the myth of water scarcity in hilly regions. Effective rainwater harvesting systems, as seen in projects like the firm’s Dhar House in Uttarakhand—that’s inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater—can store up to one lakh litres of water. At another project in Nainital, Ravi’s client Achla Sawhney was able to get through two weeks of power cuts thanks to solar water heaters and just a handful solar powdered lights and plug points. 

Charming house design – Beautiful Homes

Ravi Kaimal’s Jani House ‘Glen Haven’ in Nainital is equipped with solar water heaters and solar powered lights.

Arun stresses on the careful consideration while positioning gates, installing snow guards, and landscaping with indigenous plants to prevent soil erosion in case of very heavy snowfall. The architect also addresses safety concerns, advocating for staircase designs which are open on three sides and compliance with every region’s bylaws. Ant Studio also incorporates practical design elements such as airlocks and double entrances for energy conservation and emphasises on accessibility, with ramps for swift evacuation.

 

Building homes for cold climates is a multifaceted process that involves a thorough understanding of the environment, thoughtful design and a commitment to sustainability. By blending traditional wisdom with modern innovations, these architects and designers have built homes that are not only resilient but also warm and cosy through the year.

Cosy bedroom design – Beautiful Homes
Humming Tree studio made use of locally sourced materials to reduce the project’s overall carbon footprint.
Wooden balcony door – Beautiful Homes
Humming Tree studio has used indigenous plants around the project to prevent soil erosion in case of very heavy snowfall.
Simple bedroom design – Beautiful Homes
Arun believes incorporating traditional heating methods like tandoors prove to be both cost and energy efficient.
Elegant living room design – Beautiful Homes
Shabnam Gupta’s work in Manali for actor Kangana Ranaut.
White door design – Beautiful Homes
Shabnam stresses on the importance of strategically placed windows and doors to trap and retain sunlight.
Cosy outdoor design – Beautiful Homes
Shabnam contribute towards energy efficiency and makes the most of beautiful mountain views.
Charming house design – Beautiful Homes
Ravi Kaimal’s Jani House ‘Glen Haven’ in Nainital is equipped with solar water heaters and solar powered lights.

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