designing for climate resilience

Lead by Example

02-09-2022

In 2018, Build Academy, along with The World Bank, Airbnb, and The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) held a design competition for modular homes.

What a great way to encourage and promote the design of resilient affordable homes for communities in need! With a budget of $10,000, the structures had to adhere to a set of criteria to apply for the competition: withstand earthquakes, severe storms, and floods within three different climate zones. 

The winners designed homes in various locations around the world. They used different strategies to building climate resilience in different climates such as, elevated or floatable houses to protect against floods, creating seismic resistant structures to withstand hurricanes, all while focusing on the use of locally-sourced construction materials.

To learn about climate resilience vs adaptation, check out our blog about the different terms.

 

Here are a few additional climate resilient homes:

An inspiring competition managed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is Solar Decathlon, a competition that has challenged architecture and engineering college students around the world since 2002. The competition asks students to design and construct high-performance buildings powered by renewable energy. The 2021 winners also happened to explore efficiency strategies for places with extreme climates—the kind of conditions climate change will make more common in the future.

University of Colorado won the 2021 competition. Accommodating the cold and snowy climate zone, the winning home design used solar-tracking photovoltaic panels to generate an estimated 321 kilowatt-hours of excess electricity that is stored in on-site batteries. The home also used an energy-recovery ventilator that reuses exhaust heat from the home’s appliances, and incorporates highly efficient air conditioning through zone-based ductless mini-split heat pumps.


Buildings climate change resilient

 


Take a look at this cool design from W-LAB for a very hot and arid climate. The lab designed cabins that can withstand drought conditions by using techniques such as grey water, solar desalination, and mist catcher systems. The plan includes vast vegetation for both shading and coping with high winds.


Climate-resilient architecture

 

Finally, a three apartment building remodel in Turin, Italy shows it is also possible to turn an existing building into a more resilient one. The original skeleton of the structure, the overall shape, and the original volume were kept. The upgrade enhanced the home’s energy efficiency by adding energy-saving insulation and reinforced it to improve its earthquake resistance.

 Designing for climate resilience

 

While designing a climate event-resistant building might be brilliant on paper, and feasible to construct, would it withstand the actual hazards it’s designed to? 

We found homes that are already proven to be resilient, meaning that they already withstood harsh climate events.

Here is an example of a log home in Florida that survived two hurricanes: Hurricane Mathew and Hurricane Irma--with hardly any damage. The home’s logs were milled from bald cypress that naturally resists insects, mold, and rot and is suitable for Florida’s hot, humid climate. The house has double-pane windows, reinforced framing, and a thick low-gauge metal roof built to withstand high winds.

Designing Climate-Resilient Buildings

 

We address this yellow beach house in our other blogs since it was the only one that survived Hurricane Ike in 2008 in Gilchrist, Texas. 

The owners’ previous home in the same location was destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005, so they decided to rebuild their house, but this time, they made it resilient. The yellow house was supported by wooden columns fourteen feet off the ground, about 22 feet above sea level. Despite that, Ike's storm surge managed to get inside the house, but not destroy it. Many of Gilchrist's homes were built before the updated building codes and weren't elevated or not elevated nearly as high as this yellow house. The owners shared that it cost about $300,000 and the resilient additions cost an extra $180,000.

Buildings climate change resilient

 

Here is another example of an owner who experienced his share of natural disasters: a flood in 1996 and ice storm in 1998 in Quebec, both of which caused billions of dollars of damage. When his house burnt down in 2012, he decided to build a resilient house. 

Alex Wilson, the founder of Resilient Design, stated that the result is probably the most resilient house in North America, at least for cold weather. In this article, Wilson specified the strategies used to make it so: airtightness, heavy insulation in the walls and floor, a metal roof designed to hold the heavy snow, solar panels to supply the house’s energy, batteries for energy storage and a backup generator.

Climate-resilient architecture

 

Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to the town of Darien, Connecticut, in 2013. Twenty homes were declared uninhabitable and 94% of the power utility customers lost power for as long as two weeks. Hundreds of thousands of homeowners across Connecticut lost power for more than a week, not long after losing power to a snowstorm and Hurricane Irene in 2011.

But one home in Darien maintained an inside temperature of 66 degrees for three days and nights without power, had enough hot water for showers, and a gas stove for cooking. In 2010, the homeowners decided to upgrade their home to be energy efficient and eco-friendly, as best they could: they re-sheathed with energy-efficient Structural Insulated Sheathing (SIS), foam insulated panels, installed triple-pane Energy Star rated windows, solar panels and a solar hot water system. The trim of the windows were made from a hazardously swinging tree in their backyard and a bonded Logic recycled cotton insulation made from blue jeans was used to insulate the walls of the house. 

 

Lastly, here are a couple of personal experiences of homeowners in Mississippi whose homes were built with Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) and withstood Hurricane Katrina with little to no damage while all the surrounding buildings were destroyed. 

 

Final Thoughts

The building industry, architects and contractors, have the knowledge and the tools to design truly sustainable homes. Homes that are both eco-friendly and resilient. Homes that have less impact on the environment, and can withstand the impact from the environment. Homes that offer safety, comfort, and efficiency.

 The market also offers knowledge, tools and materials to build and construct such homes at an affordable, and sometimes, reduced cost compared to mainstream solutions. This applies for both building a new home or upgrading an existing one to become more resilient. 

In recent years, sustainability has gradually evolved from being eco-friendly to also being resilient. We can now witness how truly sustainable homes manage to provide durability and livability conditions during and after extreme weather events.

We need more examples of how homes fulfill their duty to protect their occupants, provide safety, comfort and healthy living conditions for many years by withstanding climate change impacts and keeping outside events outside. 

Please share your unique stories with us to help us enhance the movement of resilience. 

 

KEEP COOL. BUILD RESILIENCE. EAMPACT.

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