Friday, February 29, 2008

Exposing the North-South Misconception

One of the known facts about Phoenix real estate (and the entire Valley of the Sun, for that matter) is that a home with north-south exposure is superior to one which faces east-west. This is because the hot summer sun will beat down on your west-facing walls, driving your home's temperature, and your utility bill with it, through the roof. It's been this way for decades, and everybody knows it's true. In fact, it's so true there's even an MLS field specifically to notate whether a home is facing north-south. The problem is... It isn't true at all.

Here are 2 specific reasons why, in most neighborhoods, north-south exposure isn't as important as the experts would have you believe.

1. South vs West: Time vs Intensity

Because we live in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer sun follows a path each day from east to west, along the south side of your home. In other words, your home's south-facing walls will be in the sun the entire day. (and your north walls will be in the shade – hence moss growing on the north side of a tree.) Your west-facing walls will take the brunt of the late afternoon sun, which can be brutal in July and August. But your south-facing walls will be in the sun ALL DAY LONG, from sunrise to sunset. Either way, north-south or east-west, you're going to feel the heat if you don't have any protection from the sun.

2. Changing Neighborhood Design

In Phoenix and the neighboring suburbs (Scottsdale, Tempe, Glendale, Mesa), you'll find plenty of neighborhoods which were built in the mid-1970's and earlier. Back then, the average lot was larger, and homes were typically built length-wise, facing the street. In these neighborhoods, having north-south exposure can make a difference, because the homes have more space in between them. (not always. but as a rule of thumb).

Here is a satellite picture of the Arcadia neighborhood where I grew up. This neighborhood was built out in the late 1960's. Notice the amount of space – more space than houses.


In the 1980's, developers realized how much more profit they could make by increasing the number of homes they built on each acre of land. One of the most noticeable changes was to rotate the homes 90 degrees, so that the homes ran perpendicular to the street. The second major change was to remove the alleyway behind the homes, which acted as a buffer. Newer home-lots typically back directly into the neighbor's lot, with a shared wall to separate them. However, this increased density provides more protection from the sun.

Here is a satellite picture of the Parkridge neighborhood my family recently moved out of. This neighborhood was built out in the late 1990's. Notice the lack of space – more houses than space. (both pictures were provided by Google Earth, at an altitude of 2200 ft.)


So what does this all mean? It means you need to consider each home independently. There might be a north-south home with a west-facing bedroom window which heats up the entire home. Or you might find an east-west home with strategically located trees and patios, and the sun never hits the home's wall.

Bottom Line – protect your home from the worst part of the sun, and it won't matter whether your home faces east-west or north-south. Use shade trees, awnings, window treatments, extra insulation, fresh coats of paint, seal around windows and doors – all the usual tricks, and your home (and your utility bill) will thank you.

Your happy to clear that up Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

[tags] north-south exposure, Arcadia, Parkridge, summer sun, west exposure, Fletcher Heights [/tags]