5 Hot Tips to Remember When Planning Your Desert Prefab

By Wright / Published by Dwell
Recommended by
Building a successful home in the desert means being conscious of the region's elements and understanding both the challenges and opportunities. Luckily, prefab homes are inherently well-suited for the harsh desert climate.

The allure of prefab is based on three main components: it's efficient, economical, and ecologically-minded. The homes can be erected in record time with minimal intrusion on the landscape. Additionally, the components are generally light and precise, allowing for a foundation that's flexible to the rocky soils of the region. Fabricated with long-lasting materials and finishes that ensure longevity and low maintenance, prefab homes provide a comfortable living space even under severe weather conditions. 

While exploring these prefabs that are perfect for the desert—thanks to thoughtful planning and a smart layout—read on to learn five best-practice measures to consider when designing your desert oasis. 

The Blue Sky Homes LLC prefab home in Yucca Valley, California sits lightly above its site on light gauge steel columns. The ease of fabrication and modular building elements allowed this home to be built in only eight weeks. 

The Blue Sky Homes LLC prefab home in Yucca Valley, California sits lightly above its site on light gauge steel columns. The ease of fabrication and modular building elements allowed this home to be built in only eight weeks. 

Photo: Misha Gravenor

The biggest challenges imposed by the climate are water scarcity, extreme temperature swings, and a rocky geology. 

Deep porches and limited openings shelter the West side of this modular home from the harsh elements of the California desert.

Deep porches and limited openings shelter the West side of this modular home from the harsh elements of the California desert.

Photo by Daniel Hennessy
  1. To begin, proper site placement should be a top priority. 

The goal is to place your home where it can receive maximum solar radiation during the winter season and minimum radiation during the summer season. Communal rooms should be located on the outer faces to act as a thermal barrier to keep the bedrooms cool. Longer walls should face north and south, so that the building receives minimum solar exposure.

The elements of this home are laid out to create a courtyard oasis with deep porches fronting an inviting pool. Not only a great place for a quick dip, but the pool water assists with evaporation, creating a cooling effect that gets drawn inside when the large sliding glass panels are open. 

The elements of this home are laid out to create a courtyard oasis with deep porches fronting an inviting pool. Not only a great place for a quick dip, but the pool water assists with evaporation, creating a cooling effect that gets drawn inside when the large sliding glass panels are open. 

Photo by Daniel Hennessy

2. Design your home so that most windows face north or south. 

Because they're harder to shade, east- and west-facing windows contribute much more to overheating than north- or south-facing windows—so east- and west-facing windows should be minimized. Windows can be recessed into thick walls, protected by deep eaves or canopies, and every effort should be made to shade all windows.

There are many examples of prefab homes designed in partnership with other smaller components, such as this covered outdoor room serving as a summer kitchen and dining room.  Separating the heat created by cooking from the main home creates less need for cooling.

There are many examples of prefab homes designed in partnership with other smaller components, such as this covered outdoor room serving as a summer kitchen and dining room.  Separating the heat created by cooking from the main home creates less need for cooling.

Photo: Matthew Williams

3. The thickness of wall plays an important role in moderating the thermal comfort within your home. 

Thicker outer walls are preferred, as it behaves as an insulating barrier. On the floors, dense materials with thermal mass like tile, concrete, or masonry have the ability to absorb, then slowly release heat during the cooler hours.

This prefab home in Joshua Tree, California by Blu Homes also implements the courtyard layout, allowing plenty of covered outdoor living space.

This prefab home in Joshua Tree, California by Blu Homes also implements the courtyard layout, allowing plenty of covered outdoor living space.

Image courtesy of Blu Homes

4. The finish you choose for the exterior plays an important role as well. Choosing light colors or reflective surfaces limits heat absorption and helps keep the interior of your home cool.

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s design for this family home reinforces the repetition of the rafters set within a deep eave. The long volume of the roof is broken up by a ribbon of translucent panels.   

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s design for this family home reinforces the repetition of the rafters set within a deep eave. The long volume of the roof is broken up by a ribbon of translucent panels.   

Photo by Nic Lehoux

5. The dynamic temperature swings that are common in desert climates offers an opportunity to design indoor/outdoor covered spaces that are usable for much of the year. 

A layout surrounding a courtyard provides cross ventilation and natural cooling. Incorporating water features go a long way in assisting with evaporation and cooling. Additionally, planting large shady trees—that are native to the region—near exterior walls provides a shaded, cooling canopy.

Maintenance-free materials, such as precast concrete pavers for exterior decks and river-rock-covered flat roofs are requisite for desert homes. The severity of the elements challenges the viability of the most long-wearing surfaces.

Maintenance-free materials, such as precast concrete pavers for exterior decks and river-rock-covered flat roofs are requisite for desert homes. The severity of the elements challenges the viability of the most long-wearing surfaces.

Photo: Jill Paider
The "iT House" near Joshua Tree National Park features solar panels to catch the sun's energy, wide expanses of open doors and windows to provide cross-ventilation, and strategic overhangs offering shade against the desert's endless heat.

The "iT House" near Joshua Tree National Park features solar panels to catch the sun's energy, wide expanses of open doors and windows to provide cross-ventilation, and strategic overhangs offering shade against the desert's endless heat.

Photo: Gregg Segal
A view from the interior of the "iT House" , the home is more a watchtower for the desert scenery. The large expanses of operable sliding glass doors offer plenty of cross-ventilation and the cool concrete floors  provide ample thermal mass. 

A view from the interior of the "iT House" , the home is more a watchtower for the desert scenery. The large expanses of operable sliding glass doors offer plenty of cross-ventilation and the cool concrete floors provide ample thermal mass. 

Photo by Gregg Segal


This Texas modular, dubbed the Marfa Weehouse, provides sweeping views from its sheltered deck. Conceptualized as the first in a three dwelling compounds, this home shelters a bedroom, bathroom, and a utility shed.  Although only 400 square feet, the expansive steel pergola doubles the visual volume of this wee home.

This Texas modular, dubbed the Marfa Weehouse, provides sweeping views from its sheltered deck. Conceptualized as the first in a three dwelling compounds, this home shelters a bedroom, bathroom, and a utility shed.  Although only 400 square feet, the expansive steel pergola doubles the visual volume of this wee home.

Photo courtesy Alchemy Architects

Wright

@yellowwooddesign

designer, architect, writer and the lone guest at yellowwooddesign.com

Comments
Everybody loves feedback. Be the first to add a comment.
The author will be notified whenever new comments are added.