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Floating Homes in Winter: Can Luxury Aquatic Architecture Survive in All Climates?

Posted by on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Floating home in winter

This may be an extreme, but as floating homes become more popular, they will have to take winter climates into account.
Image from media.carbonated.tv.

In his novel Suttree, Cormac McCarthy’s eponymous character lives on a houseboat on the Tennessee River, just outside of Knoxville. Some of the grimmer scenes come in the winter- a winter which those of us in more northern latitudes would consider mild, but which was still scary, with the cold coming off the pages, and nowhere for the man to really get warm.  Now, granted, this was set in 1951, when houseboats were more rickety, and it is McCarthy, whose books could never be called “happy” to begin with. But it does raise some interesting questions for people interested in floating homes.

We’ve discussed floating homes several times on the blog, from luxurious, classically symmetrical three-story homes to futuristic floating spheres.  And I think that when we think of these homes, we tend to imagine them in warm climates, where you can sit outside on your porch and gaze at the views or watch dolphins play, year-round.

Floating home in the tropics

This is usually what comes to mind when you think of floating homes.
Image from industrytap.com

But that won’t be the case.  There are many reasons why people in northern climates may want to live on water and have homes capable of floating. Climate change and increased risk of flooding are prominent among these. But when they are in the water, they don’t want to risk dangerous ice or other problems that come with winter. After all, if a giant icebreaker can get trapped, what hope does a floating home have?

Now, obviously, there are already houseboats outside of the Caribbean, but they tend not to be lived in year-round. Most marinas close when the weather gets rough, leaving houseboat owners to get a place on land. Floating domicile owners, however, aren’t going to want to buy a real house, a home really, just to have it for part of the year. And they aren’t going to want to be dependent on a marina owner. So what will these floating homes need to take into account if they are in a place where, even without the aid of a punishing polar vortex, the winters can do damage?

Account for ice: Ice is incredibly dangerous. Anyone who has ever stood near a frozen lake at night and listened to the unearthly groan of expanding and settling ice knows its power. The problem is that ice is denser than water and takes up more space, and it has the strength to crush material that can stand up to wind and waves.  Your home needs to be built with material that can resist ice while still being able to float. Perhaps in the future we can turn to amorphous metals?

Water storage: If you’re in the ocean, you’re already going to have this issue- a lot of water, not a lot of it drinkable. It might be possible in the future to turn to desalinization, but that isn’t going to help if the water is completely frozen. While it is easy to envision a house with the technology to melt the ice with enough efficiency to provide an adequate water supply for a household, you also don’t want to rely entirely on a machine. Your home is going to need water storage. This will add considerably to the weight of the house, and finding that balance is going to be a real challenge for architects and engineers in the future.

Floating home

No matter how ecofriendly your floating home is, if it doesn’t have potable water, it is essentially unlivable.
Image from ecofriend.com

Heat: This seems pretty obvious, but heat is going to be a real challenge. Especially if you are in Northern Europe or parts of Canada and the United States, you can go days or weeks without seeing the sun, making solar storage cells incredibly important. The house will have to be able to regulate its energy output to remain comfortable, efficient, and able to provide in a sunless medium-term.

Luxury floating homes, as well as normal ones, are becoming more and more popular. I’m sure while reading this you might joke: well, why not just float to sun-blessed seas come winter time?  Some might, but floating homes aren’t just for the wealthy or rootless dilettantes anymore. Many are a realistic reaction to a rising seas, and the people who buy them still have a sense of place. The floating home of the future will take them into account, and plan for houses that can be in the water safely no matter what the temperature. We’ll end with a quote from Sutree, a defiant growl at the coming cold:

“Hard weather, says the old man. So let it be. Wrap me in the weathers of the earth, I will be hard and hard. My face will wash rain like the stones. ”

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