A guest post by Keith Rodgers who is a long time resident of Niseko, hailing from the mountains of British Columbia, telemark skier and Director of Taiga Projects.
Niseko gets snow, a lot of snow. In the world of construction, it is essential to prepare for this harsh environment. Here are five easy rules of thumb for designing a snow property. It’s likely you will snort at the obviousness, but there are plenty of architects who have stuffed up one, or all five, of these key points.
#1 North-facing glass
Glass. People want it, the more the better. Almost all the clients building in Niseko come from warm weather climates, either South-East Asia, or Australia. Living in the tropics, orientation may be less important, but here in the cold it can make a world of difference.
I frequently get requests for floor to ceiling glass, regardless of the building’s orientation. North facing glass becomes a heat suck, increasing your running costs by a considerable margin. It can also create drafts, as cold air runs down the face of the glass wall, and out across the floor. Even “low-e” glass is no substitute for a fully insulated wall.
#2 Uncovered decks
Unless you want an full season, full body work-out, it is best to avoid uncovered decks. Of course, the snow clearing guy from your management company will get thinner, but then so will your wallet.
One easy, low maintenance solution for the summer time is a ground level stone patio.
Or rather, lack of parking. Sure, you want to maximize your footprint, but have you thought seriously about where you will put your car when the empty lot next door is built on? Not that you need a garage – most locals get by fine without them, myself included.
However, you still need to plan carefully where you will put your car, and also where to push the snow. Another funny site I have seen are tiny garages, which are barely large enough to fit a Mini Cooper. Add 30 cm of frozen snow in front of the garage, and good luck fitting in a snowblower! In a case like this, there is a strong argument to be made for road heating.
The ugly child of building, which is often added as an afterthought by architects, builders and clients. Trying to change propane tanks through two meter snow drifts or re-attach the electric wires that enter the house from under the snow-shedding roof can be a real pain.
Plan for these up front to minimize visual impact and avoid management headaches.
What happens when 13 meters of accumulated snow all melts at the same time? For the unlucky, some of it ends up in your basement.
There is a tremendous amount of water moving through the top soil in the main Hirafu village, and when it hits a concrete basement wall, it tends to pool. Be sure that you install a proper drainage pipe, waterproof the foundations, and have good ventilation for basement areas. Some builders will tell you that you can forego the drainage pipe, but for a small additional cost during the build, it is a great way to save an expensive headache later on.
It goes without saying that warm weather architects might miss some of these points. It may surprise you that many Hokkaido builders are nervous when working with Tokyo architects, who don’t understand the snow issues.
My advice is to listen carefully to the local builder on snow issues, because they work in this environment day in, day out. With good planning you can avoid any major issues, and focus instead on the main goal, riding all that awesome pow!