old knowledge ignored

May 12, 2009

Back to my hometown of Rossland for a moment.
Of the 1500 or so houses that make up this mountain town, most of the older homes have simple, steep-pitched metal roofs, perfectly suited to shed the 600 or so centimeters of snow we have fall on us during an average winter. The red or green or blue or yellow roofs gives the town a bit of a gingerbread look if you squint your eyes a bit and use your imagination.
But if you stroll around town, you’ll also see that most of the newer houses are constructed with asphalt shingles and complicated roof lines that hold the snow. I’ve seen enough examples of this causing problems that I now watch new houses go up and track them over the different winters. I you ask me, most of them don’t work like a roof should. I’ll often see roof damage caused by the glacial forces of the deep and heavy snowpack. Or at the very least, there are heating cables stapled onto the lower edges of the shingles, an awkward afterthought.
Last winter I visited a small fishing village named La Ventana in Baja California. The local Mexican fisherman all built their haciendas at least 500 meters back from the shore – close to their boats but well back from the ocean itself. But in the last 20 years, the best and priciest real estate (if you’re a gringo) means perching your trophy home on the edge of the 100 foot sand cliffs. Stunning views for sure, but a walk along the beach provides some graphic examples of concrete retaining walls and stairs hanging broken or suspended while the ground they were built upon has been swept away by the weather. More than a few of the houses themselves have a corner of their foundation completely exposed.
I was going to suggest that these building plans and landscape designs represent a certain brand of hubris, but from a pattern thinking perspective I expect it is something far less sinister. In both Rossland and La Ventana, there are decades of knowledge to be seen, and I suspect, generations of knowledge of where and how to build a house, if only people would ask.

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