The Mornington Peninsula is just made for beach houses, isn’t it?
It fulfils the Australian dream of having a carefree holiday by the beach, sitting on a veranda, post-swim, sipping Chardonnay, watching waves curling into the coast to the sound of seagulls, with a few chops lazily sizzling on the Weber.
So, let’s see what goes into building a beach house on the Peninsula.
Somehow, we have gotten into the habit of taking our suburban homes to the beach with us, taking on holidays all the features that we are used to at home.
You could save a lot of money and purpose-build your beach house… to be a beach house. There are plenty of things that you don’t need and could ‘pack light’ in a house sense, and other features that you could include to enhance your beachside experience.
After all, don’t you go on holiday to get outside, at least as far as that balcony?
Some architects like Andrew Maynard like to start negotiations with the word ‘Shack’ in order to remind clients as to what kind of abode they should have in mind to start with.
To make a beach house, you will need to factor in protection from the elements. Not only for when you are staying there, but in the months that that house will be unattended.
Positioning of your windows is your first consideration. The prevailing wind on the Peninsula is from the West – so you need fewer windows on the Western side if you can avoid it (which might take some planning if that is the only possible direction of your balcony), and storm-proof glass.
If on top of a hill, the wind will be stronger, so the materials you use will need to be strong enough to withstand storm-like winds. Have a read of our previous blog on building on a slope to learn more about this.
The sun will bake your roof and furniture, buckle your woodwork and heat up your living space.
You will likely be visiting your beach house in the Summer, which means heat. You want to design your house so that the sunlight doesn’t hit the windows and stream inside much of the time.
One way is to make fewer windows on the sunny side, or to shade and mirror the windows, and another is to build with long, overhanging eaves.
Another is to have good airflow from one side of the house to the other. More on that later. [possible link to article: natural heating and cooling, when published.
Keep the rain out, obviously. Tough glass will save a potential disaster in case it cracks in a storm while you are away, since you won’t be on hand to repair it before moisture damage takes hold.
The roof also needs to be effective and durable. You don’t want leaks while you are away and can’t mop up and dry it out. That moisture won’t leave until you return to open the doors.
The roof sealant needs to be marine-grade and replaced every few years to guard against damp surprises.
Moisture can also seep in through the brickwork, and even through the cement slab.
It is very important to find get a builder who knows how to waterproof your bricks, slab and roof. Your entire structure can become damp, causing structural issues and health concerns through mold.
Some sites are prone to flooding, which will be determined early in the process with information from the council about how flood-prone your area is. If so, you might consider raising the house on stilts, and certainly make drainage a priority.
Remember that your beach house will be left unattended, unaired for months. Any moisture that gets in will stay in, and it doesn’t take much to generate mould, which can have you chucking out your furniture, your curtains, your mattresses, and yourselves until you can make it habitable again. You can’t safely live while breathing in mould.
Humans are messy creatures. So is your Golden Retriever if you have one.
Being close to the beach, your people and pets are going to want to get wet, walk in the sand, walk home…
You want their first port of call to be a wet area to get all that muck off before they walk it through the house.
An outdoor shower area, or an outside door leading straight into a bathroom would allow people coming in from the beach to wash, wash off the dog, rinse off any wetsuits or boogie boards, hang them and their towel somewhere, THEN enter the house.
You really want to take advantage of the natural views, to enjoy with that balcony beer or veranda Verdelho.
Firstly, make sure it is facing in the right direction – facing downhill to the sea is ideal, and large enough to seat all your guests.
To make more space available, wide glass sliding doors are a good idea, or you could go one step further and consider glass doors which can open out for wall-to-wall balcony access. Your living room then becomes part of your balcony.
You will also need protection from the elements, so design your balcony with overhanging eaves and wind-proof sides.
A minimalist wire railing might look nice in calm weather, but if your balcony faces the prevailing wind, you will get more use out of your deck if you opt for solid glass as a wind-break.
You will need airflow through your house, both to air it out, and to regulate the temperature. Take advantage of the nice Summer breeze.
Windows on either side of the house allow you to achieve this cross-flow ventilation. In our experience we no longer recommend old-fashioned louvred windows since they are not the best option in the high winds sometimes experienced on the windward side of the Peninsula. Nowadays, there are many more subtle ways to ventilate your home.
Do make sure you have installed flyscreens – you won’t use your airflow windows much if it means letting all the bugs in.
In all cases, given the harsh salty conditions and the amount of time that you won’t have to maintain them, you will need Marine Grade materials.
The metalwork will have to be rustproof. Stainless Steel with an upkeep of rinsing off the salt and application of vinegar will guard against most corrosion, and some designs include an easy watermain shut-off for when you vacate after your holiday. A simple pipe-burst or unattended leak can gut your property.
Floorboards may buckle in the heat, humidity and moisture, and require more maintenance than you have time to give them.
Carpet is nice to have in your cozy bedroom, though carpets throughout the rest of the house would track dirt and sand in a way that is hard to clean, and perhaps trap moisture for months before you open up your beach house again. We recommend a low-maintenance, sturdy, low-pile carpet for only the areas where carpets are necessary.
Tiles are perhaps your best choice – they don’t trap dirt, are easy to clean, and aren’t affected by heat nor moisture. No, not marble – just a basic tile that does the job.
Exposure-grade fired clay bricks are durable, require no upkeep, and are made to withstand high salt conditions for a long time and still look good.