Engineering blog
07 Jun 2023

Building Design for Extreme Cold: The Architecture of Climate Change

When we think of climate change, we tend to think only of warmer weather. However, architecture for climate change needs to factor in extreme cold spells as well. An example would be the infamous Texas cold wave in 2021, wherein a staggering 210 people died, mostly from hypothermia, since power had been cut.

Global warming can cause harsh winter weather in general, too. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which can cause increased snowfall when temperatures dip below freezing.

How can extreme weather architecture help mitigate the effects of climate change? Combined with BIM services, especially Revit modeling and BIM clash detection, it can potentially mean the difference between life and death.

But BIM doesn’t just equip buildings with tools to help survive extreme cold – it is also revolutionizing sustainable development.

With that said, let’s dive into architecture for climate change – extreme cold edition.

Extreme Weather Architecture for Low Temperatures

There’s a reason that glacial regions are some of the least populated places on Earth.

Colder regions, or regions with extremely cold winters, can be challenging to live in. Hence, the architecture needs to not only ensure no loss of internal heat, but also consider means of heat generation, including the use of sunlight. Furthermore, building shapes need to consider snow loads to avoid concentration and resist damage or collapse.

Builders need to understand how air, moisture and heat travel within exterior walls, whether it is for residential design, government building design, commercial building design, medical office building design, or anything else. They should also have knowledge of glazing products, passive energy concepts, insulation ratings, and energy-efficient HVAC systems.

The Importance of Passive Design Strategies

Passive design strategies are design approaches that emphasize utilizing the natural environment to provide or enhance lighting, heating, ventilation and cooling in a building. Essentially, they work with the local climate and site conditions to help maintain a comfortable temperature indoors.

This is in contrast to active design strategies, which rely on mechanical processes and systems.

Some passive design strategies for architecture for climate change include:

  • Building orientation: A comfortable temperature requires optimal sun absorption. That’s why the building project needs to be oriented in a way that takes advantage of sunlight. Generally, in cold climates, buildings that are elongated along the east-west axis have additional sun absorption on the south side during winter.

  • Air sealing: Architecture for climate change should include air sealing, which prevents warm air from escaping and cold air from entering. This is a cost-effective way to help in thermal control, vapor control, air flow control, and bulk moisture control.

  • Heat gain: Extreme cold can be tackled by maximizing heat gain on the south side of the building during the day. Think glazed windows, masonry walls that absorb sunlight, and sunspaces.

  • Thermal mass: In areas with a high demand for heating, high thermal mass can bolster passive heating. Common materials with high thermal mass include tiles, bricks and concrete. They can store heat during the day and radiate it out as the temperature becomes lower from afternoon till evening. Builders can also erect a Trombe wall in front of a south-facing window to absorb solar radiation during the day and re-release it into the living space at night.

Important Elements in Architecture for Climate Change

There are various key components when building for extreme cold. Here are some important ones:

  • Slab or basement waterproofing & drainage

  • Continuous vapor retarder/air barrier inside

  • Weather barrier outside

  • Appliances, lighting, & HVAC systems with mechanical ventilation

  • Thermal insulation over building foundation & envelope

  • Condensation-resistant windows

  • User-friendly controls (dehumidistat, thermostat & ventilation)

Let’s get into a bit more detail.

Insulation is Paramount

There are various types and levels of insulation with their own benefits and insulation quality (R-value), from blown-in cellulose to closed-cell spray polyurethane foam.

  • Always remember pipe insulation – you don’t want the pipes to freeze.

  • There are special framing techniques, such as double wall wood framing, raised hip insulation and 2×6 construction.

  • Builders also use insulated concrete forms, insulated precast wall panels and structural insulated panels.

Air-Tight Building Envelope

Consider how the exterior wall system or building envelope will prevent condensation, provide high insulation values, reduce heat transmittance and stop thermal bridging.

  • In low temperatures, interior moisture flows outside through vapor diffusion and air leakage. Effective caulking details, housewrap, and moisture barriers are essential.

  • The building design should air seal exterior walls, eliminate penetrations, and prevent moisture condensation.

  • Gaps around doors, windows and electrical boxes should be sealed, the roof cavity should be drained and water tight, and joints should be taped. Furthermore, the foundation system should ensure moisture stays away from the building.

Good Ventilation

To remove vapor from exterior walls and roof cladding, proper ventilation is crucial. Here are a few considerations for the building:

  • An air-to-air heat exchanger.

  • Roof and wall assemblies draining to the exterior.

  • Insulated bottom of the roof overhang.

Plan Ahead for Snow

Builders need to account for snow loads in building design.

  • Simple, steeply sloped roofs such as standard gable work well. Slate and wood shingle roofs do not shed snow as easily.

  • Roof edges should have an ice shield membrane.

  • Opt for roof designs with limited skylight or dormer openings, and that position chimneys and vents near the roof peak or ridge.

  • Covered entryways are ideal.

  • Use flat, wide walkways for easy shoveling of snow, and include staircase railings to prevent falls and injuries due to ice or slush.

  • Ask yourself whether exterior walkways will be positioned away from roof overhangs.

  • Consider a snow melting and de-icing system.

Windows Quality

  • Windows should be at least double paned.

  • They should have adequate weather stripping and be low-e (low-emissivity).


Global warming will affect weather patterns in more ways than one.

Even as sea levels rise and high temperatures smash records, regions suffer from unseasonal snowstorms, blizzards, and cold. Architecture for climate change will include not only infrastructure for floods and excessive heat, but for deadly snow and ice.

At BluEnt, we understand the need for both prior planning and emergency work. That’s why we provide building information modeling services with a fast turnaround time. Our BIM solutions cover scan to BIM, Revit modeling, and BIM clash detection. We serve architects, general contractors, engineers, and subtraders. Browse our portfolio to see how we’ve helped businesses like yours.

When it comes to architecture for climate change, quality and safety are paramount. Contact us now for our BIM solutions!



Your Citation

CAD Evangelist. "Building Design for Extreme Cold: The Architecture of Climate Change" CAD Evangelist, Jun. 07, 2023,

CAD Evangelist. (2023, June 07). Building Design for Extreme Cold: The Architecture of Climate Change. Retrieved from

CAD Evangelist. "Building Design for Extreme Cold: The Architecture of Climate Change" CAD Evangelist (accessed June 07, 2023 ).

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