(Pictured above: Reindeer Lodge suffered massive distruction during the 2017 winter at Lake Tahoe)

Top Structural Tips for Mountain Home Architectural Design

When a property is improperly designed for its environment, lots of things can go wrong.  Just one look at the photo above of the old Reindeer Lodge on the east slopes of the Sierra near Lake Tahoe is a testament to the power of Mother Nature.

When done right, lots of things can go right.

For those who live in and around the Lake Tahoe and Truckee region, we are well aware of the impact that Mother Nature had on our lives this past winter.  The good news is that the record snowfall completely erased the 10-year drought and brought Lake Tahoe back up to its natural rim.  The not so good news is that as the snow continues to melt, we are continuing to see the structural damages to homes and businesses throughout the region.

With this in mind, I thought I’d share some insights within this news report about some of the key features you’ll want to incorporate into your mountain home’s design or incorporate into a mountain home remodel before winter returns.

The ideal roof design for mountain homes.

Let’s start with the roof.  When Borelli Architecture begins to design our clients’ homes in the Lake Tahoe/Truckee area, we like to design a home with a roof that is ideal for the snow loads, changing temperatures and weather, as well as neighborhood appeal – and of course, our clients’ desires.

Key to the design process is to identify the home’s setting – where there is sun, and where there is not.  From that point, we start to develop a structural design which complements the location’s potential snow “impacts.”  What we want to be sure to do is avoid a design that would cause significant snow slides that can destroy porches and cars, block doorways … you get the idea.

In a cold climate, the ideal roof is a simple gable.  In general, the distinguishing feature of the gable is its triangular shape.  This design allows for water and snowmelt to flow naturally to the base of the home … and not into valley and crevasses that may “dam up” and cause water and ice damage.

Another option for those who prepare something more modern is what the industry calls an “avalanche shed” design.  A simple visual for you is a roof that has only one tilted slope which is slanted toward a section of the home where there will be no residual impact.

No matter what the final design may be, we look for a good roof plane has a consistent slope from the ridge to the eave.

Where to place vents when designing mountain homes?

This past year unveiled many mistakes in rooftop plumbing placements that are now under full repair.  Plumbing vents that were installed and placed lower on the eaves and not on the home’s ridges were torn and twisted by the significant snow pack; some even ended up on the ground after the snow finally slid.

Simply said:  we always plan for the vents to be near the ridges, not the eaves.  Why? Ridges are dryer than the eaves that see much more water and snowpack over the course of the year.

What about gutter placement for high elevation home design?

With the weather patterns of the Sierra we can always expect rain and snow throughout the seasons. To keep the precipitation off the driveway and entrances, we suggest our owners have gutters installed below the plane of the roofing and drain away from popular outdoor areas of the home.

Want some free advice about mountain home design?

Borelli Architecture team has been designing and remodeling homes throughout the Truckee and Lake Tahoe area for over 25 years.  We’ve learned a lot and always welcome the opportunity to share our insight.

If you’d like a free consultation, reach out at any time.  I think we’ve seen it all – yet you might surprise us.

James P. Borelli
Call me at 775 831 3060 or send a note by visiting our Contact page, right here.

Lavish Mountain Home Design or Classic Tahoe-Style Ski Chalet? What’s the Trend?


When one turns back time in mountain home design, one will find that the finer ski escapes of yesteryear were dictated by the availability of local materials, elevation and snowpack, and sheer help. Today is a new day where the design of the classic ski chalet homes are being replaced by some of the finest mountain home architectural designs in the world.

Small windows (to keep heat inside) and steep rooflines (to encourage the snow to slide) have been replaced with eco-friendly LEED design options that continue to test the challenges that come with high-elevation living; pair that with the extraordinary mountain home design elements that have turned the classic ski chalets into award-winning Legacy homes and only time will tell what we will see through this impressive evolution of architectural design.

Here in the bourgeoning Lake Tahoe and Truckee mountain resort region, this market in particular demands more than a home where the family can gather, sit around the fire, and share stories of yester-year. They are seeking an escape from their primary residence and looking for luxuries that make coming to destinations like Lahontan, Martis Camp and other distinguished mountain communities a once in a lifetime experience, every time.

In the next few months, I’ll be sharing various concepts of mountain home design. In the mean time, if you have any questions about how to build a mountain home within the ecologically sensitive region like Lake Tahoe or Truckee, California, feel free to reach out.