Usonian homes in winter and snow.

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Usonian homes in winter and snow.

Post by goffmachine »

Hello again everyone :) ,

I was wondering.
Which Usonian homes have been built in areas that have snowy winters?

Do any of those houses have the flat roofs?

Has there been any trouble with usonians in the winter regarding the snow or leaking roofs or ice?

Which Wright designed home was best designed for winters?

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Post by peterm »

As a guess, I would estimate that at least 90% of the Usonian houses are located in places with cold and snowy winters. Maybe it would be easier to answer the question: Which Usonian homes were built in areas with mild climates with little or no snow in winter?

Pluses of Usonians in cold and snowy weather:

Wide roof overhangs keep the snow and wind away from the foundation, doors and windows.

Radiant heated floors keep the houses cozy and warm.

Large masonry fireplaces radiate and store heat.

Large expanses of masonry throughout house help to absorb and store heat.

Glass walls typically face south for passive solar gain.

Dark colored concrete floors absorb and store heat from the sun.

Flat and low pitch roofs hold snow for insulation.

Lower ceilings keep heat from rising too far above our heads. In traditional Scandinavian Nordic houses, the ceilings would be even too low for Wright!


In the earlier Usonian houses that have wood board and batten exterior walls, the walls might be too thin to insulate well and hold the heat.

Insulation in ceilings is minimal by today's standards.

Snow build up on flat and low pitched roofs can create roof leaks, and the weight of the snow is considerable...

Our house, (The Lamberson House in Oskaloosa, Iowa) is remarkably comfortable in the winter. We have only one set of french doors in the entire house, the majority of the glass faces south and east, there are only brick exterior walls, plus the concepts which I mentioned above. I believe all of this combines to help the house stay warm in winter. Having said this, I have not been in other Usonians during the winter, so I have little to compare it to.

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Post by goffmachine »

Thank you for the detailed reply.
You pointed out some details I had never thought about so far.
Just great.
I saw images of your home and they look great!
here is another question. What about cross ventilation in a usonian home? Are windows friendly?
And again I wonder the opinions of the chatters which Wright house was best designed for winter. As for summer... I think thats an easy one... Taliesin West. Dont you agree? :)

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Post by peterm »

Planned but never built, the Cooperative Homesteads were to have been earth-bermed. I can't imagine anything much more efficient in a cold winter climate than these designs: ... std_04.jpg ... using.html

Jacobs 2, a realized project, was earth bermed:

Jeff Myers
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Location: Tulsa

Post by Jeff Myers »

if only I could get around I would give you the report on what Westhope(Richard Lloyd Jones House) looks like, glad it is still standing too, well so far that I know.
If so well after all the roof collapses around Tulsa, flat roofs plus 14 to 20 inches of snow adding 3 more inches yesterday well I am surprised.

I believe not only does the Price Tower look good in snow but I can believe the Harold Price Jr. Residence would look good in snow,agree?
It is a hassle to get around Tulsa so staying inside and not risking taking photos, just staying inside.
My house, though not Usonian, looks good in the snow. If you are curious about my house style it is has the French Mansard Roof, Pinkish Brick and French Country Details.
But either way you slice it I think Usonians show way more Beauty in the Snow hands down
Jeff T

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Post by peterm »

As for your second question concerning summer and cross ventilation, again I can only speak about the Lamberson House. The cross ventilation, especially in the living area is amazing. Breezes cool the space quite well.

Here is a quote from regarding casement windows which Wright used almost exclusively:

"Typically cranked open from the bottom, casement windows open outward much like a door. This has a few advantages over other window styles. Breezes, thanks to the angled opening mechanism of casement windows, are either kept at bay or directed in. When installing these windows, whether or not you want to funnel the breeze inside should be taken into account, so that you can orient the window properly.
Another advantage of casement windows is their ability to open completely, much like an awning window. This can be great for letting the nice weather in, but, unlike awning windows, the opportunity for precipitation to sneak in is ample. For sheer ability to open, no other window style surpasses casement and awning windows. When it comes to security and airtight seal, these windows offer protection that is rivaled only by fixed windows."

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Post by egads »

Taliesin West was not designed to be occupied in the summer. It was a winter outpost. Summer in Phoenix is oppressive. Winter there is like summer most other places. To live in the valley in summer requires constant A/C, even at Taliesin West.

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Usonians in the snow

Post by Unbrook »

I have often wondered about radiant heat in the winter. The system at the Weltzheimer house failed some time ago and currently is heated by radiators added in the 60's and electric space heaters. But the inside Board and Batten walls do not feel frigid to the touch in the winter, so the wood has some insulating value. I have wondered if the radiant heating system would have provided comfortable heat dispite the excepted belief that everything needs to insulated to the Nth degree. It would have been a continuous heat throughout the entire building. Any feedback from owners with working systems?

I wonder how warm the Pope Leighey house is during the winter months, as they have had the "luxury" of being able to reconstruct the system two times?

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

McCartney, Reisley and Sol Friedman all said their radiant floor system worked wonderfully well. When Friedman's failed, and they had to install radiators, the owners' cat stopped sleeping on the floor in winter.

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Post by gwdan »

Check out the photo page at

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Post by peterm »

Our radiant heat works fine, though our boiler is a bit quirky and noisy.

I am hooked. No dust, no smell; the thermostat says that it is 65, and it feels perfectly fine to walk in your bare feet. Forced air does not compare...

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Post by DRN »

The Sweeton house radiant heat system works fine (excuse me while I knock on some wood). We have the thermostat set at 64 in the bedrooms and 66 in the living area and we are very comfortable, though I would not sit right up against the single glazed windows for any length of time without a sweater. While the pumps are running, the floor surface temperature maxes out at about 80-85 with 120 degree water in the pipes. During the coldest weather, the boiler seems to run 4 to 5 times in a 24 hour period, and rarely during the day when the sun is out. There are times when the pumps run without the boiler itself running. The only draw back is the time it takes 36 tons of concrete slab to warm up or cool down at the begining or end of a season...thus we wait until the weather is going to stay cold before we fire up the boiler in the fall.

The flat roof of the kitchen has leaked in its history, but only once during my watch. Two of the four 2"x4" scuppers are vulnerable to icing shut which causes the trapped roof water to find a gap in the flashing near the scuppers. The scuppers are easily deiced with a hammer and long screwdriver as a chisel.

The flashings of the sloped roof to the masonry have been problematic all built they are not stepped and extend only about 3" or 4" above the roof surface. Based on 1950's and 1960's era pictures, it appears the original flashing was stepped and extended up 4" to 6"...what posessed an owner in the '80's or 90's to install the current low profile flashing is beyond me. The sloped roof drains toward the masonry mass at a couple of locations and the crickets are not substantial enough to divert the water to a place to drain away, so the flashing and a caulk joint are holding ponded water at times. This year's project is to replace the flashing and crickets with details better suited to conditions.

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Post by WiscoUsonIan »

Add me to the list of radiant floor heating believers! It's great and very warming even set at 65 like others have stated. Our boiler seems to run more than 5-6 times a day but it's not running all that much. The sun hitting the floors during the day helps greatly.

I'm not too worried about leaks, thanks to a new roof, but the snow load is what bothers me. I think i'm a little paranoid about it, I mean the house has to have gone through some serious winters in the past...I do go clear the drains though.

Our windows seem to do a great job, and offer great winter views wile keeping nice an cozy indoors.

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