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Siheyuan/Quadrangle walls and potential microclimate?

 
Seth Fes
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Building for my home starts spring 2017.  My wife and I are starting to plan out for tree's and our garden.  We have a 99x330 ft lot in the rural community we live in.  We are building a 9ft perimeter wall around the property and organizing the buildings in a style similar to a siheuan/quadrangle.  With that type of height for the wall, should we be concerned about a potential microclimate?  Has anyone worked with anything similar and know of any benefits/detriments to having that type of perimeter set up? We live in a 6a to 5b hardiness zone. 
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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There should be lots of different microclimates created around the edge of the enclosure. The south facing wall will be hot and sunny; especially if there is a little roof projecting from the wall, tender trees and other plants can be espaliered against it, possibly surviving in a climate where they would either die or fail to fruit otherwise. European monasteries used this technique to ripen apples and pears in a cool, cloudy climate. A north facing wall would be cool and possibly moister, maybe a good place to put lettuce in the summer, or rabbits.

But a lot depends on exactly where you are, the wall material and color, your goals, and what directions your walls face. In other words, the classic permie answer, "it depends!" Zones only give so much information. Amount of sun, summer and winter high temperatures, frost dates, wind patterns, and so much more to take into account.

Any walls can cut down on winds, but they can also create turbulence over the top, which can be more damaging then the original wind when the airflow drops back to the ground. In such a small area, this may not occur. And it would depend on prevailing wind speeds and direction.

Finally, walls, especially stone walls, look cool!
 
Seth Fes
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Thank you very much.  That is a great amount of help to start.  We are in southern Idaho about 13 miles north of the Utah border.  We have an optimal placement for the home being a passive solar design.  I went over the sun exposure via google maps for a few years, and except for exceptionally cloudy days we get about 6-7 hours of sunlight during the darkest part of the winter.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Though I wasnt sure, I did have an idea of what Siheyuan/Quadrangle might be, so I looked it up.  The images I found confirmed my thoughts. 

For those who are not familiar, in this type of construction, most of the fence is created by the house and outbuildings, creating a central courtyard.

There is certainly a great deal of microclimate potential, both in the fencing, and in extending buildings into the yard.

Most noticeable will be those that Gilbert mentioned.  With a 9 foot fence, as you mentioned, and if that fence were solid, then you would be creating a large amount of shade in a relatively small space.

This might not be an issue, but even your solar house might be effected by the fence at low angle light times, like Late December, but without a really accurate sketchup with the sun angles included, it will be hard to tell.

Depending on your climate, the shade might not be a huge issue on growing food, if the sun comes in when you want sun, and the shade is there when you want shade. 

It will be a bit of a design tetris to figure out where to put what so that you are maximizing your micro climates. 

One benefit of this set up is that one can fairly easily channel rain water flow to a central-ish pond.  The reason I say ish is because you might want to put sun loving plants, like corn and tomatoes in the very center where they get the most sun.   
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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So I'm going to guess that you have a sunny, dryish climate with large temperature swings from day to night, and erratic springs and falls? Kind of like my climate in Denver?

If so, a South facing wall may actually damage trees against it. It could wake them up so early in the spring that they get caught in early cold spells, even if the wall fends of some of the later frosts.

A West facing wall could be better, giving the trees a slow warm up in the morning while still providing a warm microclimate.

A white wall would be better for this they a dark one. It would also possibly mitigate the shade issues.

Depending on the shape and orientation of the courtyard, Roberto is quite right about the shade issues. If it is a thin rectangle running in any direction, the shade problems will be huge. A square would be better. If the North facing wall could be made lower then the other walls, this would help.

The west wall could be made more functional for plants by putting on a short roof projecting from the top of the wall; this would aid in protecting against late frosts, and give some summer shade. Cold frames or green houses against this wall could also help mitigate the problem mentioned above of intensifying already erratic weather.

Basically, experiment! Try stuff. There will be lots of different microclimates.
 
Seth Fes
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Gilbert that sounds about dead on.  We are considered to be in a desert.  Though the mountains aren't close enough to directly change our winter light exposure.  We live at about 4,551′ elevation in town.  I attached a little image of what the property is shaped like.  The bottom outline in brown is the perimeter wall for the southern part of the property.  It will be about 9' tall and possibly a veranda like border around the inside (pending on shade effects).  The orange wall is just the southern pasture fence.  The yellow wall is the pasture border, and it's height will depend on how we build the outbuildings into it and what that does to the shade on the pasture.  Top of the picture is north, bottom is south.  A The image in the upper third fourth of the picture is the 30x60 (interior) ft home we are planning.  There will be a shed connecting from the west part of the house to the parallel portion of the perimeter wall, to store tool's for caring for the pasture and front area.  The perimeter walls will be about 1.25 ft thick and made out of pumice crete with a plaster finish.
Approximate-Perimeter-wall.png
[Thumbnail for Approximate-Perimeter-wall.png]
 
Seth Fes
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We plan on utilizing the perimeter wall veranda and house roofing for water collection.  We have considered putting an attached greenhouse on the south side of the house, with a small orchard in the southern area (placed according to shade issues).  We share about 45'x100 ft of garden space to the north of the top yellow wall.  It is shared with my parents and will not be affected by the northern wall height. 
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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Another thing to think about is; what will the neighbors think about a nine foot wall around the whole property? From the inside, I can see that it would be very cosy and romantic feeling; I'm fond of walled courtyards myself. From the outside, it might look a bit . . . strange. Will the neighbors think you are hiding something? Are you newcomers, outsiders in the area?

And will the walls block the Eastern morning sun from the house? Blocking the western sun would be good, keeping the house cool, but the eastern sun if valuable and low angle. Maybe the house wall could BE part of the exterior wall at this point? Or is security also part of the desired result?

In any case, it looks like a cool project!
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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OK, just saw your last post, looks like the neighbors are family and you are not new to the area, that's great!
 
Steven Kovacs
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Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
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Out of curiosity, what led you to this particular design (with the quadrangle and wall)?  Is it for privacy?

You might consider painting the wall white to the east of the house - the north-eastern room (presumably a bedroom) will be dark after noon if there isn't some reflected light bouncing in.  Or you could shift the garage back so that all the rooms could have windows on two sides (see: A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander)
 
Seth Fes
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I have communicated and shown potential plans to the neighbors on the east and west side of the home.  The external perimeter wall will have some plants to garnish the perimeter, but nothing that would allow vermin or raccoons to easily scale the wall.  Since we are in the middle of the block it won't obscure any ones view more than the house would, if it were built in line with the rest of blocks homes.   We have been as open and transparent as possible with the intent of why we want that style.  Security and containment are big reasons for us.  For the southern court, there will only be one point of ingress/egress and that is through the house.  This area will be used for free ranging our children, but also with the structure of the house and veranda like perimeter, it will be used for water collection.  There are a few other containment and security issues for me,  for the sheep, chickens, ducks and other animals we are allowed, I want increased potential protection from neighborhood dogs and pests.  Functionally it provides some fun things to try for water management.  I chose that style of layout (siheyuan) but have been trying to optimize self-sufficiency within the quadrants.  For water distribution and retaining, I have been studying polder's and terracing.  With proper implementation, we could keep the pasture and anything grown in the southern court watered with minimal use of pumps or our seasonal reservoir water supply. The southern border of the house is graded about 10 inches lower (over 330 ft) than the northern border, so that will provide a little assistance in the flow.  When I talked to the neighbors, one of my major points is that we want to keep our kids crap out of other peoples lawns.  That is a nice selling point for them since there have been quite a few issues with that in the past from other neighbors.  Honestly though, I like walls.  No wall can ever compensate for us teaching our kids how to respect others and the tools/toys they have, but I still like those boundaries.  To get a bit nerdy, I always think of a cell wall, it is there for organization and function, but selective permeability is needed to have it thrive in relationship to it's neighbors.  And on that note, I let anyone I talk to know that the wall isn't there to keep people out, and when I build it, I will be inviting people in as often as it is appropriate. 

Another reason I chose that style is because of replication and exchangeable parts.  We will be experimenting on what we can produce in town, what works for my wife (homemaker) and my schedule, what we actually end up using and can utilize in a routine, what works with/for the kids, etc.  About 5-10 years after the initial in-town set up is done, we will be doing it on a larger scale out in the country on 10 acres.  It will have the same perimeter wall, but the guts of it will change based on our experience.  By that time our children will be mostly in the age of 10-15 and about ready to start with more intensive work at home. 
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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Will the various buildings have windows looking through the wall, or not?

I quite understand the attraction of walls!
 
Seth Fes
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No.  Any outbuildings will not have windows that go through the wall.  The sheep hut will be on the north pasture wall, and there will be a mushroom growing hut on the south east portion of the wall.  The rest will be just sheds for tools or other various functions.
 
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