Tough Home Building Materials for Coastal Climates

Built to Last
Photo: Jean Allsopp

Salt air, sun, and sea mean harsh treatment for oceanfront homes. Here are the best tough materials, tips, and ideas for rock-solid coastal digs.

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Built to Last

Built to Last
Jean Allsopp

The furniture had just been moved in and every last detail perfected in the fall of 2008 when our Galveston, Texas, Idea House (our annual showhouse, built that year in the Beachtown community) received a visit from an unwelcome guest: Hurricane Ike. Happily, other than its sand-ravaged landscape, the house was virtually untouched. In light of the continued threat of storms all along our coasts, we went back to the architects to ask what smart building practices and storm-resistant materials they used.

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Roofing #1: Metal


Typically applied in long, standing-seam panels, steel roofs are lauded on the coast for their longevity, weather resistance, and energy efficiency. (They reflect the sun's heat, meaning lower temps inside.)

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Roofing #2: Western red cedar


With their dark blonde to chocolate brown hues, Western red cedar shingles possess a natural beauty, making them popular along the New England coast. It's also a durable, impact-resistant material.

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Roofing #3: Clay tile


Colorful clay barrel tiles are a popular choice for Mediterranean-, Italian-, and Spanish-style homes in Florida and Southern California. Both fire and water resistant, the tiles usually require minimal maintenance, such as routine debris removal.

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Roofing #4: Slate


Homeowners are drawn to this natural stone for its unique beauty. It also boasts a long life span in coastal climates and an invulnerability to rot.

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Flooring #1: White oak


There's a reason this hardwood flooring is popular—it's both affordable and highly scratch resistant, and its less porous surface reacts well to stains and paints, so you can customize the look.

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Flooring #2: Concrete


The most durable of flooring materials, concrete works both inside and out and is extremely easy to maintain because it doesn't scratch and requires only a sweep.

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Flooring #3: Reclaimed hardwood


This eco-friendly option, gathered from old barns, buildings, or warehouses, is typically an old-growth wood cut from mature trees, making it a dense and hardy material.

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Flooring #4: Porcelain tile


Popular in warm climates because of its smooth, cool feel under bare feet, this indoor/outdoor material is water resistant and especially durable, thanks to its high density.

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Applying Outdoor Paint


1. Consider acrylic: It's an unavoidable fact: Exterior paint will not last forever. On the coast, where sun and moisture are common, deterioration tends to happen even more quickly. So defy the odds by investing in a high-quality acrylic latex exterior paint. Dirt and salt-air film can easily be removed with routine power washing, and acrylic can hold its color and gloss longer than oil-based formulas, says Benjamin Moore's senior product manager, Jeff Spillane.

2. Clean first: The most important step as you prep is to rid your home's surfaces of salt spray and moisture that can prevent paint from adhering well, Spillane says. For a quick DIY cleanser, try mixing 3 quarts warm water with 1 quart household bleach, and adding 1 cup Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), a heavy-duty cleansing powder available at home improvement stores.

3. Smooth it out: If you're applying paint to an exterior for the first time—or if the existing paint is badly weathered—it's a good idea to apply a primer soon after the clean surface is dry, Spillane says. Primers smooth out the grain of natural wood and seal any imperfections in painted wood. If the existing paint is in good shape, skip the primer and apply two coats of paint for a sleek job.

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