A Brief Guide to Mountain Ownership

Since you are considering an investment in a vacation home up here in the mountains, there are certain aspects of mountain ownership you should know in order to facilitate your informed decision. Please contact me with your questions….

Important factors to consider when searching for a home in the High Sierra

Always an important element of your real estate decision, a desirable location will generally yield a better value than an undesirable one. In these mountains, as opposed to usual suburbia communities, there are features that come into play which distinguish the desirableness of a property’s location.

Elevation: The higher the elevation the more snow one receives

  • Micro-Climates: Each community in the High Sierra will have small micro-climates. In other words, there will be areas within a small community which will receive more snow, or more sun, or more wind than a parcel which is 100 yards away. These micro-climates are not easily predicted by someone unfamiliar with these mountains. This is one of my unique functions for you as you look at properties….. helping you understand how your property is impacted by our climate and the elements.
  • Direction of the house: Southern exposure results in less ice on the driveway, while Northern exposure will slow the melting of ice.
  • Direction of the Slope of the Parcel: North facing slope will keep snow longer, and frequently will be more heavily forested. South facing slope will become snow-free quicker in spring, and will frequently have the drier vegetation plants.
  • Driveway pitch: A 5° driveway slant is likely drivable, but a driveway with a steeper pitch than that should be looked at with caution 

Structure Design is another very important consideration. When the snow starts to fall, a poor design will immediately reveal itself.

  • Roof line: The direction snow sheds off the roof is vital to the access of your house up here. If the roof is designed to shed directly onto the driveway in front of the garage, you will have a problem.
  • Roof material:

          Metal roofs have a very long life expectancy, maybe 50-60 years. Snow does shed during our storms,  and the rumble can awaken you at night.

          Composition asphalt shingle roof has specified life expectancies. Currently, more newly constructed homes have composition roofs because they are quieter. Building department engineering standards currently allow for heavy snow loads on this type of roof.

          Cedar shingle roof must be less than 25 years old for the structure to be insurable because it is now deemed a fire hazard.  

  • Driveway Maintenance: It is recommended that your driveway be sealed every two years.
  • Exterior Siding Maintenance: Direct Southern exposure receives the most damaging sun light rays. It is recommended that you consider fresh preservative each year for all decks and south facing walls. North facing surfaces should receive staining about every four years. The cost for this wood maintenance is not as much as a regular paint application, perhaps only 50% of a typical paint job.


Attractive features that have withstood the test of time in mountain home design might be important considerations as well.

  • Large Decks:  During summer a sub-culture exists in our mountains called the “deck people”.  People up here experience the outdoors from the advantage of their decks and will sit out for long portions of their days enjoying abundant sunshine, warm temps, low humidity, and few bugs. If you can imagine yourself doing this, then look for a large deck with the setting you desire.
  • The Great Room: One large room which encompasses the living, dining, and kitchen areas is a very popular feature in vacation living. High ceilings, a gas fireplace, and full-on windows are prerequisites for a Great Room. But so, too, is a kitchen counter where your guests can be entertained. If you visualize your new cabin as a place to entertain, then look for a “party bar” which surrounds the kitchen area and extends into the great room.
  • Two Story Homes: It is common to have multi-story homes up here in snow country. It is not only less expensive to build two story homes rather than single storied homes, but during heavy winters with deep snow depths, a second story sits up out of the snow and brings light into your rooms.


Building Code Dates to Know

There are 3 major years that serve as benchmarks in the local building codes, which significantly impact home values.

  1. 1978 – All residences built from this year forward are required to have dual pane windows and a minimum of R-17 insulation factor.
  2. 1983 – All residences from this year forward are required to be constructed with heftier six inch studs. This requirement continues to expand insulation requirements as well as enhance snow load strength of each dwelling.
  3. 1992 – All residences constructed from this year forward now must include additional seismic cross-bracing, further increasing the structural integrity of each dwelling.

From 1998 onward, the Truckee Building Department has continued to increase engineering requirements. In laymen’s terms, a dwelling should be able to bear 20 feet of snow piled up on the roof, plus 5 inches of rain, and withstand a 6.0 earthquake at the same time. Fortunately, we should never have to test this requirement.

Winterizing Your Home

Whenever you plan on leaving your High Sierra home for an extended period of time, during the winter months, it is very important that you “winterize” your property, to prevent potential damage from frozen and burst pipes. These are suggestions only, and are not to be considered as a guarantee against frozen pipes.

At a minimum (away 1 week or less)…

  • Locate your water shut-off valve, and turn off the water (1/4 turn to the left)
  • Open a faucet at the highest point of the home and leave half open
  • Set furnace temperature setting to 55°

For longer periods of time (longer than 1 week)…

  • Pour a little non-toxic anti-freeze into all drains (organic or RV anti-freeze)
  • Flush all toilets and once tank and bowl are empty, turn off water valve behind the toilet
  • Run your dishwasher a little in order to empty any water in drain, pour some anti-freeze into the dishwasher drain.
  • Set furnace temperature to 45 - 50°
  • Turn water heater to “Vacation Mode”

Also, it is very important to make sure that all your foundation vents are closed in the winter to keep all pipes located underneath the house warm, and are re-opened in the spring to prevent moisture build-up.

As an experienced resident of North Tahoe since 1984, I have enjoyed it all!!!

Bruce Watkins

Cell: 530-412-1644