Homes located in deserts can be just like homes in other climates, although the exterior materials may be different. Since the desert climate is hot and dry in the summer and the sun is intense, wood-sided homes are seldom seen in desert climates. Shake roofs, which are a fire hazard in places where the humidity can drop as low as 2 percent, are also a rarity.
Homes in desert locations can be single-story or two-story. Desert homes seldom have basements, although some builders offer them as an option when targeting people who prefer extra storage. Desert homes are seldom split level, which is more a local preference than a response to environmental conditions.
Two-story homes are often built in Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Vegas because they offer twice the square footage on the small lots that are prevalent in these desert cities. These homes are also less expensive to build due to the concrete slabs and roofing materials.
Stucco is one of the most common siding materials used in desert housing because it holds up well in hot, dry climates. It is a cost-effective material. The stucco is applied over concrete blocks or over homes built with two-by-fours or steel studs. Stucco can have a rough finish or a smooth texture, depending on the preference of the builder or buyer.
Paint colors are typically beige to reflect the intense summer heat, although a few people opt to paint their homes with different colors. The beige and tans that are popular in the desert cities also hide the dust that collects on the siding as the result of strong winds or summer dust storms.
Concrete tiles are the most practical roofing material in the desert because they can insulate the home well and last long. Some jurisdictions require that tile roofs be the standard roofing material. Asphalt shingles can blow off during a strong summer thunderstorm, and the sun degrades the shingles more quickly in the desert climate than anywhere else.
Tile roofs are frequently shades of light pink, reminiscent of the color of the sunrise or sunset. Asphalt shingles are almost always white, tan, or gray to reflect the intense heat.
Wood window frames are seldom used for homes in the desert because the sun's UV rays and the extremely dry air rot them or crack the finish, and upkeep becomes a problem. Metal or vinyl dual pane windows are frequently used. Some people cover the windows that get sun exposure with "shade screens" that block considerable heat from the sun in the summer.
Insulation requirements in homes in the desert are similar to other places, with R-19 wall insulation and R-30 insulation in the roofs. The R stands for "resistance" and a wall with an insulation value of 19 would provide resistance to the heat for 19 hours.
Occasionally people or builders will construct homes from native materials like rammed earth or straw bales that offer many environmental advantages by using renewable materials and offering higher insulation values. These homes employ passive solar designs and may even use active solar panels to generate electricity or heat water.