If you’ve just moved to Arizona, you’ve probably wondered why our houses are often built differently from other houses around the country. Even if you’ve lived here for years, you may have the same question from time to time when you visit other areas of the country.
So here are some unique features of Arizona houses along with some suggestions for maintaining your own home:
Very few Arizona homes have basements:
Having a basement is certainly more common in places like Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin than it is in Central and Southern Arizona. That’s often because of the depth of the frost line in Northern places with cold, snowy winters.
In most of Michigan, for example, the frost line depth is 42 inches; that’s where groundwater in the soil could freeze. To build a house, footings and foundations have to be set at a depth where they will not be damaged by potential frost. Pipes and water lines have to be buried below the frost line so they won’t freeze.
Because builders have to dig that deeply to put in pipes and foundations, digging a little more to build a basement is not that much more difficult and expensive. So they build a basement that can add living space to a house and increase its value.
Of course, you can have a home built in Arizona with a basement, but creating that basement can be costly and probably could add about a month or more to the time it took to build a house. The depth required for footings and foundations in the desert is a lot less.
Most homes in Arizona are really “young”:
I’ve met lots of builders over the years from places like Boston, where they’re skilled at remodeling homes that are 150 years old. It’s rare for a home in Arizona to be more than 50 years old, and builders here are probably remodeling homes built in the 1980s and 1990s.
Lots of homes have flat or low-sloped roofs instead of pitched roofs:
Of course, many flat roofs have been installed to fit our Southwestern pueblo-style architecture that has become so famous. These roofs are initially easier to install because they don’t have rafters or trusses as sloped roofs do. Frequently, flat roofs need to be recoated and resealed over and over again to prevent leaks.
Most homes don’t have gutters and downspouts because the home builder did not put them on the house:
In a sense, these builders are taking advantage of our low annual rainfall totals when they build houses without gutters in this way. But although the state can often go for 140 days without any moisture, it can then be hit with a half-inch of water or more in a very short time. Often, that rain run-off from your house is dumped out on heavy clay soil right next to the house. Over the years, that drainage can damage a home’s foundations.
So for all homeowners – whether they have flat or sloped roofs – adding gutters and downspouts to carry water away from a home is a good idea.
Besides taking care of rainfall, homeowners also need to protect our homes against the sun:
Typically, most Arizona homes have a backyard patio covered with a roof. They often have dual-paned windows with special coatings on the glass. Both these features are ways of protecting houses from getting a “sunburn.”
When you live in Arizona, you need to prepare your house for the highest ultra-violet exposure of any state in the country. The sun’s rays and our dry arid climate can prematurely “age” your house if you don’t provide it with regular maintenance; that means painting the exterior to protect the stucco and wood outside at least every eight years. If you wait much longer, our summer sun and monsoon rains will eat your wood trim and stucco alive.
When you paint, be sure to use high-quality, 100 percent acrylic paint on the exterior so as to resist two problems that our climate can create: chalking and color fading. They’re often inevitable, but you can slow them down with the right paint.
Chalking occurs when a white chalky substance appears on the painted surface. Color fading is when pigments degrade due to ultra-violet ray exposure. The more inexpensive the paint, the more quickly the sun will fade your paint. You probably won’t notice fading on the exterior of your home until you do some touch-ups and see how much more colorful the areas of new paint are.
There is a good reason why our houses in Arizona are painted in earth tones, aside from the fact that they blend into the desert. It’s because paint colors produced with natural mineral sources won’t burn out as quickly in the sun. Other colors, like greens and blues, contain synthetic pigments and are more likely to break down in our sunshine.
Our houses are built on top of concrete slabs on grade:
Most new homes are built on top of solid concrete slabs on grade. This is an efficient and low-cost way to build a house. Ingredients for concrete are also plentiful in Arizona.
A lot of people are under the mistaken impression that builders just level a building site for a home and then pour a slab for the house. But soil testing and compaction is done at the site; some sort of footings are provided for that slab so that it can support the exterior walls of the home.
That doesn’t means slabs don’t have problems. One difficulty, of course, is that the pipes for the water system and sewage drainage penetrate the slab and run underneath it. If a leak of some kind should develop, it can require extensive work on the slab.
Next week we’ll talk about the pros and cons of buying a new home versus buying an older, used home.
For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 25 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program, heard locally from 8 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) and -FM (97.1) in Tucson and KGVY-AM (1080) and -FM (100.7) in Green Valley. Call 888-767-4348.