West Chester, PA, is a small suburb of Philadelphia renowned for stately colonial homes and its youthful college-town atmosphere. However, what it’s also known for its tempestuous weather, which can wreak havoc on even the most well-built home.
Chester County is unique in that it straddles the line between the humid continental and humid subtropical climate due to being situated on the eastern side of the Appalachian mountains, though it leans more toward humid continental. This particular mix is characterized by large seasonal temperature fluctuations and high humidity, making both weatherproofing and appropriate material selection incredibly important. Today, we’ll review the most pertinent considerations for construction options in eastern PA.
The type of foundation one chooses is often dependent on climate; warmer climates are well served by slab foundations, while basement foundations are preferred in colder climates like West Chester. This is because foundations must be built below the frost line, which is the lowest level that the ground freezes in winter. Building below the frost line prevents major cracks in the foundation that lead to costly repairs.
While this area of Pennsylvania can be classified as humid subtropical, it is best to build for the humid continental aspect, as the cold winters are what is of greatest concern. Select a poured concrete foundation rather than a cinderblock foundation, as though it is costlier, it will also ensure stability for the long term.
To avoid mold due to the humid summers, basements should always be fully waterproofed, preferably with several layers of seal coating so as to preserve their architectural stability.
Due to the cold winters and warm summers, it’s vital to choose a material with a high insulation rating that can withstand harsh weather. Fiber cement siding, like James Hardie siding, is an excellent choice, as it is extremely durable and long-lasting. This is especially important in PA, where wildfires have increased significantly in recent years. Brick is also a good option, as it provides good insulation during cold winters.
Stucco is popular in West Chester, but it has significant issues in the Middle Atlantic climate. Frequent rainstorms and high humidity lead to water infiltration that can result in water damage to the interior. Homes that have failing stucco will require stucco remediation, and most homeowners choose to replace the old material with fiber cement or vinyl siding.
Regarding roofing, asphalt shingles are preferred in Pennsylvania as opposed to more exotic options such as metal or clay tiles, as they are better able to handle high snow loads without deteriorating.
With such large temperature changes throughout the year, residents of West Chester may feel chilly one month and then burn up the next. Therefore, thermoregulation is a key factor in designing a comfortable yet stylish property, meaning you require well-insulated windows that can also allow for a cool breeze during the summer.
Choose the highest Energy Star rating possible so as to help reduce heat loss, but select windows that have large openings to capture as much air as possible. A front bay window with two sliding panels on the side will offer good light and great cooling properties while also keeping the home warm and dry in the winter.
Both winters and summers in West Chester can be incredibly soggy: heavy snowfall in the winter, along with frequent showers in the summer, lead to a lot of mud. Even the neatest people may still find their pets or children trailing dirt into the home, so it’s best to choose materials that won’t be damaged by the occasional muddy shoe.
High-traffic areas should be clad in tile or laminate, as these are the easiest to clean and can withstand a great deal of wear and tear. In addition to the obvious, such as the kitchen and bathroom, consider installing tile or laminate in front entryways; many choose to use only these hard surfaces on the first floor, reserving carpet for upper floors.
It’s critical that architects and general contractors build for the climate, as this will ensure longevity and safety for clients. Sometimes, this means steering clients away from certain options or suggesting substitutes that will work better, such as choosing shingles that mimic the look of clay tiles or encouraging fiber cement instead of stucco.
Given the unique atmosphere of West Chester, PA, which straddles two separate climates, those in the building industry will need to adjust their choices. For example, it’s best to build a foundation based on a lower frost line, while larger windows will offer greater ventilation in summer. It can be a delicate dance, but careful consideration will ensure satisfied homeowners and great reviews.