Homeowners in the U.S can build and improve their homes to be more resilient to increasing climate extremes. We aim to educate homeowners about climate related risks and opportunities to reduce potential damage to homes and save lives.
In this series of blogs, we share stories of climate-resilient homes. Not only homes that were designed to be resilient, but homes that proved their resilience by withstanding extreme weather events.
The Black and White Beach House is such an example.
The residential property was designed by unabridged Architecture. It was completed in 2019 and already managed to withstand Hurricane Zeta in 2020, Hurricane Ida in 2021, and smaller tropical disturbances.
The project was designed primarily to address the climate risk of hurricanes and associated storm surge and flooding. The site is located along the northern Gulf of Mexico, on the waterfront. This is the location where Hurricane Katrina damaged many houses and claimed lives.
The project’s site sits along a sandy coastal ridge, with the beach at the front, and a bayou in the back. Both the beach and the bayou pose a risk of flooding in the event of intense rainfall or coastal surge.
In hot, humid Mississippi, another risk to keep in mind is the threat of high temperatures for prolonged periods.
“We have been building along the Gulf Coast since 1995 and have experienced the devastating effects of hurricanes on our community. In 2005 we had just completed two new projects – a 22-room retreat center and a new house. One was completely lost while the other was just slightly damaged. Both were designed to be sustainable, but it was a wake-up call that sustainability isn’t equivalent to resilience”.
Allison and John Anderson, unabridged Architecture, see a growing market demand for climate adaptation. “Many of our clients come to us specifically looking for ways to reduce vulnerability, especially if they have been through a prior event. Communities, too, are looking for solutions, and since we work at many scales, we can show them how to build in multiple benefits for their residents and visitors”.
Climate Resilience Strategies
To address the mentioned risks in the location of the property, unabridged Architecture incorporated the following climate adaptation strategies to minimize damage to the house and to protect its occupants:
- The metal roof includes extra hurricane clips to prevent lifting in high winds.
- An ice and water shield was installed beneath the roof surface.
- All windows are impact-resistant.
- The Shear Walls provide lateral bracing against wind loads.
- The Shear walls and tie-downs provide continuous load paths.
- Simpson Z-Max strapping with clips connects the wood framing. The clips have extra zinc to resist saltwater.
Z-Clip by Simpson Strong-Tie
- Floor elevation: the finished floor level was set above the current Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requirements. To achieve the desired floor level, the house was built on pilings on the highest ground within the site, further away from the coastal edge.
- Dry flooding design: to further protect the property from flooding, a landscape chain wall with a limited amount of fill was built in the front of the house to deflect waterborne debris. Along the back of the house, where the outbuildings are located, a retaining wall was used to protect from the bayou and its steep slope.
- Most of the landscape area is permeable, which helps absorb stormwater in extreme storms and rain events.
- Wood was used for the interior finish instead of Drywall. Wood can be dried after a short immersion and treated to prevent mold.
- The walls were designed with a gap between the siding and the wrap for moisture/water drainage to help water drain quickly and efficiently.
Floor Elevation and Permeable Surfaces
- A large shaded wrap-around porch reduces sun glazing indoors.
- Window screening on the east and west sides to prevent low sun rays from entering through into the house.
- Covered arcades are linking the outbuildings to create areas of shade.
- A 400-year old live oak tree on the site has persisted through many storms. This tree formed the central design element and unabridged Architecture worked around it. Preserving the tree protects a part of the ecosystem on-site, allowing the tree to keep sequestering carbon emissions while providing additional shading.
- High insulation above code requirements (see below)
The Wrap-Around Porch and Large Oak Tree Provide Shade
Climate Zone Adaptation Strategies
- Materials for the coastal environment: a concrete masonry chain wall foundation was finished with white marble tile. It increases durability and longevity by protecting from salt-laden winds while contributing to the aesthetics of the design.
- The cypress siding on the main house is traditional in Mississippi but the close grain structure has extended life against insects and water.
- The accessory structures are wrapped in Shou Sugi Ban by Delta Millworks. These products claim to repel insects and water due to the process of wood burning. The company’s exterior products are all sustainably sourced and certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC). All of their Accoya wood products hold Cradle to Cradle (C2C) gold certification.
Shou Sugi Ban by Delta Millworks
The city in which the property stands has adopted the ICC building codes.
The project was designed above code for greater longevity in the following areas:
- Higher elevation to protect from flooding: Freeboard one foot above FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM). Freeboard is a safety factor usually expressed in feet above a flood level to compensate for the unknown factors that could contribute to higher flood levels than calculated.
- Higher insulation to maintain the indoor temperature and withstand heat/cold waves: double R-value of insulation to almost R-40 in walls, and R-60 in the roof.
Voluntary Third Party Standards/Certifications
Allison and John Anderson were the first LEED Accredited Professionals in Louisiana and Mississippi.
They designed the Black and White Beach House to meet FORTIFIED Gold but did not go through the process of certification.
unabridged Architecture’s previous experience building FORTIFIED certified houses enlightened them on the low demand for private homes certifications in that area.
Mississippi’s insurance program doesn’t provide a standardized discount for certification.
Third-party certifications provide an additional layer of verification that the project meets its goals. Yet, with a lack of incentives, there is low motivation to go through the certification process.
Overcoming Potential Challenges
Numerous challenges typically emerge in the design and construction processes and have the potential to amplify when it comes to building for climate resilience. Examples are budget, communication among the different service providers and the customers, and lack of sufficient understanding of climate adaptation strategies.
- To avoid the cost from being a hurdle, unabridged Architecture formulated the risk mitigation strategies from the very beginning of the design. Therefore, the climate adaptation strategies had a minor effect on the overall cost of the project.
- The homeowner was attuned to the functional and performance-based goals of the project, had a sophisticated understanding of design and construction, and recognized the limitations of building in a vulnerable place and the potential damage.
- The Contractor of the project had years of experience in building in the specific area and was aware of risks and standard building solutions for impacts of flooding, wind, and heat. To assist with the communication and clarification of the work needed, the drawings of the design had to clearly indicate the performance goals.
In addition, a structural engineer was consulted, to define wind loads and shear walls.
The project’s site is within the Andersons’ hometown. They are familiar with how the water moves through the watersheds, they have seen the results of major hurricanes and analyzed which structures survived. Their experience is a solid foundation for designing for climate risks mitigation. Yet, they consult with additional resources and tools to complete their understanding, which they chose to share:
- Generally, they begin with the code for wind data and the Flood Insurance Rate Maps for potential flood data, recognizing that both of these resources are based on past databases and do not accurately integrate projections for future storms, which may be more intense.
- They always check the National Climate Assessment and the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit for future projections of sea-level rise and temperature.
- ASCE 7 Hazard Tool
- Flood Factor
Additional Adaptation Strategies and Resources
- ICC500/FEMA P-361 for designing safe rooms/ continuity-of-operations
- Resilience-based Earthquake Design Initiative (REDI)
Sharing the Climate-Resilient Design Knowledge
Alongside their demanding design commitments, Allison Anderson works diligently on sharing her climate-resilient design education and experience in various forms:
- Serves on the AIA Committee on Climate Adaptation and Design Excellence (CCADE) which assists the institute in prioritizing climate mitigation and adaptation.
- Recently completed writing the AIA’s Resilient Project Process Guide to incorporate climate adaptation into the design process. The guide is soon to be released.
- Contributed to the AIA Climate Practice Guide with Lake Flato, Buro Happold, and the Sustainable Performance Institute, adding focused sections on climate adaptation. This guide aims to provide architects with a concise and easily actionable practice that addresses climate mitigation and adaptation.
- Talks and writes on climate adaptation for trade publications and peer-reviewed journals such as the Oxford Research Encyclopedia on Natural Hazard Science.
Anderson believes that sustainability and resilience should be considered and addressed before a project starts. Planning and designing should be done for the long term: “think about where you build as much as what you build, don’t design in ways that make future adaptation harder or more resistant to change (path dependence), what should be the service life in each project? will the building still perform in 100 or 200 years”?
The Black and White Beach House proves that with proper climate adaptation strategies, a structure can perform well and protect its occupants during extreme weather events.
Designing with climate risks in mind may be more complicated since new multiple threatening factors go into the equation, yet, it’s feasible.
Adapting to climate change and future extreme events can be done by acquiring existing education and information, factoring in all aspects at the beginning of the design, and making sure the goals are clear and communicable.
Fortunately, a sustainable and resilient design doesn’t necessarily increase the cost of the project and definitely doesn’t take away from its beauty.
This story demonstrates the value of local expertise. There is no substitute to working with local, skilled Architects, Designers, Engineers, and Contractors that understand the macro and microclimate, environmental risks, and solutions. While building codes (mandatory) and certifications (voluntary beyond code excellence) help reach climate adaptation, trustworthy knowledgeable professionals make sure those goals are met.
In their design, the Andersons give thorough consideration to the location, the lay of the land, the environment, the structures, and the occupants. They apply their local and academic know-how, decide where to design above the code, think broadly about the future’s structure, and how to bring all stakeholders to meet the desired goals. We believe this is the way to build a resilient future.
We applaud unabridged Architecture for making the effort to share their acquired knowledge for the benefit of other homeowners in their community and the U.S. We also thank them for leading the way and showcasing their designs, proving that homes can be comfortable, beautiful, and safe, even in the face of a changing climate.