Design Considerations in Colorado By: Ana Vitro, P.E.

Design Considerations in Colorado By: Ana Vitro, P.E.

Design Considerations in Colorado By: Ana Vitro, P.E.

If you’re thinking about building a new house or perhaps modifying an existing house in the beautiful, mountainous state of Colorado, you’ll probably be looking for a qualified structural engineer to help you out. Engineers in Colorado have to consider many things when producing the plans for a house. To name a few, they’ll need to consider construction materials, effects from climate, and terrain. Whether you’re building new or modifying an existing house in Colorado, it is important to understand the new and existing house construction materials, weather-specific designs your engineers will have to consider, and how the varying soil types can affect design.


Colorado has a long history, and it is not uncommon to encounter homes that are over one-hundred and ten years old. A lot of the houses that are built prior to 1940 will be constructed of multi-wythe brick walls with nominal lumber for floor joists and roof rafters. Sometimes the foundation walls will also be multi-wythe brick, which can pose an interesting challenge for homeowners who wish to add-on to their historical home. Newer homes are built with wood walls, and if the homeowner wishes to keep brick as part of the design (which is still a popular choice for Colorado homes), the brick is used as a veneer. This allows for easier and faster construction while still maintaining a traditional feel. Brick can be used effectively in modern-style homes, too. The modern farmhouse style is a common choice for homeowners building new across the front range, and a more modern color of brick is typically chosen. Regardless of the final design aesthetic, or whether the house is new or an addition, the engineer you choose will be able to effectively incorporate brick into the design and blend any addition done to exiting homes with the existing brick material.


It doesn’t matter where you build in Colorado – weather will always be a consideration here. Part of the beauty and appeal to Colorado is that residents get to experience all four seasons. You guessed it – that means SNOW. If you’ve ever had someone bury you in snow as you might have someone bury you in beach sand, you’ll know that snow is heavy. Roofs in Colorado need to be able to withstand that weight. Pre-manufactured roof trusses are very common, and new homes are almost always exclusively built with trusses, with the exception being for some vaulted ceilings where the final design requires standard lumber to achieve the desired look. Sometimes with remodels, it is more economical to re-do a roof, or part of a roof, with trusses instead of needing a complicated reinforcing of the existing roof to achieve the highly desired large, open spaces. Many existing homes relied on the interior walls for additional support at the roof and floor. It is always a good idea to get an engineer on site to determine how the roof is being supported before doing any work that involves removing walls.

Walls are also used to support buildings against wind, and due to Colorado having both mountains and plains, it gets a lot of wind that is very fast. Engineers need to consider this as well, and they rely on walls to help stop the wind from toppling a house over. Also, due to the amount of sunny days that Colorado receives, the majority of homeowners desire homes with large windows, especially along the back of their homes. Large windows let in a lot of light, and if you’re lucky enough to get a lot with a good view of the mountains, you’ll have endless beautiful views of the mountains during all seasons and all times of the day. However, windows don’t count as part of the wall, so engineers will often turn to another common building material in Colorado – steel. Steel can be used to create something called a moment frame, and this can be very effective in resisting the high winds experienced in Colorado. You typically need only one or two, depending on the size and design of the house, and are comparable cost-wise to other wind-resisting elements while adding the benefit of being small enough to fit around large windows with as little wall as possible.


The last major design consideration your engineer will take into account is the foundation. The soils in Colorado are varied and can even vary from one lot to the next. Colorado has expansive soils. This means that when they are moistened through rain or snowmelt, they expand and get bigger. They then shrink when they dry out. This is not an ideal soil to build on, as you can clearly see that the constant expanding and shrinking of the soils will cause anything on top of it to move. One of the most effective solutions to this is a deep foundation. Deep foundations, like concrete drilled piers, are supported by unmovable bedrock. Helical piers are another type of deep foundation, and they are installed like a screw into the dirt. Eventually, that screw meets enough resistance that it can support new construction. Helical piers are a common foundation for additions to houses that are supported on drilled piers. However, it is also entirely possible that a deep foundation will not be required and a standard footing foundation can be used instead. Regardless, all foundations must be below the frost zone, which is the top layer of soil that freezes during the winter. This zone is at least 30 inches down, and the soil freezing in the winter is why basements are so common in Colorado. If you’re already digging, why not dig some more and get some additional usable space?


Clearly, understanding the usage of different types of materials in Colorado is important as they can be useful in ensuring a house that is on a stable foundation, is capable of resisting the effects of weather unique to the state, and that create the desired aesthetic of the home, whether that’s a modern or traditional style. Engineers consider all of these things and more when designing new homes and additions because they are dedicated to getting you into a safe home that you love.