When you look at pictures of the homes and buildings in Bermuda, you’ll notice two things right away. First is that the houses sport an array of colors that you probably don’t see back home. Second, you’ll notice the same white roof on top of every building. It turns out that both of these classic characteristics have historical and very practical roots.
When the earliest settlers to Bermuda were constructing homes, they had to use local, and often unfamiliar, materials. They ended up relying on local Bermuda Cedar and whatever stone they could find on the island.
It turns out that Bermuda is a limestone island, so there was an abundance of limestone and its derivative lime. Limestone could be easily cut with saws and hardens when exposed to air, so limestone became an important material wherever it could be used.
When lime is mixed with water, you get whitewash, a protective paint that was applied to the outside of buildings. When whitewash is tinged with pigment, the result is often more muted pastel colors. Early Bermudians decided to use this to make their homes resemble flower colors. Although there are no official laws about house color in Bermuda, most locals have maintained the traditional colors until today.
To explain the ubiquitous white roofs, we have to go back to the local limestone. Again, the stone was abundant and easy to work with, but because of the lack of fresh water on the islands, Bermudan roofs have a second very practical reason for their appearance.
Underneath every Bermudan home is an underground water tank. The roofs use a stair-step pattern to channel water into gutters that fill the hidden cisterns whenever it rains. This system allows families to capture the water they need for day to day activities on an island with limited access to freshwater. The system works so well that there isn’t a system of water mains for homes in Bermuda. During heavy droughts, they use water trucks to replenish the underground tanks from government reserves.
The bright white color of the roofs reflects UV rays from sunlight which helps to purify the water. And the hardened limestone is more resistant to wind and rain than shingles or tile, which helps protect the homes during hurricanes.
Heavier water users, like golf courses and hotels, usually rely on desalination plants to provide enough fresh water, but the unique white roofs of Bermuda are considered an international example of sustainable architecture and have earned Bermuda recognition as one of the world leaders in water conservation.
The next time you see pictures of Bermudian homes, you’ll know that the unique colors and style are more than an aesthetic choice. Practical needs as far back as the 1700s have shaped the landscape of Bermuda into its characteristic look today.