Climate and buildings affect one another.
The built environment is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), which add to climate change. Numerous certification standards for green buildings were initiated worldwide as part of climate change mitigation efforts to reduce this impact.
Nevertheless, it is not sufficient that buildings have a low impact on the environment, the environment must also have a low impact on buildings.
In this blog, we will cover the following terminologies:
It would be safe to say that mitigation efforts will not eliminate climate change, at least not in the foreseeable future. Therefore, adaptation is needed to cope with the effects of a changing climate. Many aspects of climate change and its associated impact will continue for centuries, even if we eliminate anthropogenic emissions (environmental pollution such as carbon dioxide) of GHGs. Therefore, buildings should be designed to adapt and cope with current and future climates.
Adequately designed buildings provide more comfort and safety for occupants throughout the buildings’ long lifespan. A typical lifespan ranges between 50 to 100 plus years, while many houses today are built with a 25 to 40-year lifespan.
Buildings designed and constructed to deal with future climate change, and extreme weather events, are resilient buildings. Many of our blog posts discuss resilience, as this is eampact’s prime focus. In this blog post, we focus on basic concepts and terms concerning climate change and its impact.
The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) defines climate mitigation as “a human intervention to reduce GHGs.” This definition is broadly agreed upon in academic and professional literature. Therefore, climate mitigation strategies in buildings refer to techniques that help reduce GHGs directly or indirectly emitted by buildings, thus reducing the impact of buildings on the environment.
There are different ways of defining climate adaptation:
The IPCC defines it as “the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects.”
NASA defines adaptation as: “adapting to life in a changing climate [which] involves adjusting to actual or expected future climate. The goal is to reduce our vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change (like sea-level encroachment, more intense extreme weather events, or food insecurity). It also encompasses making the most of any potential beneficial opportunities associated with climate change (for example, longer growing seasons or increased yields in some regions).”
In our blog posts, we research and share climate change adaptation strategies that refer to features in the design of a building, which can help buildings and other real estate structures withstand gradual climate change effects such as increases in temperature and precipitation.
Note that there should be a distinction between design for the current climate, based on historical climate observations, and design for the future. In many cases, building codes, standards, and actual design are based on historical and current climate data, whereas we believe "adaptation" is about achieving resilience, which can only be met with a design based on predicted future climate. We will discuss this further in other blog posts.
According to the IPCC, resilience is the “capacity of social, economic, and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event, trend or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain their essential function, identity, and structure, while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning, and transformation.”
Applying this definition to the built environment; the design and the sustainability of construction materials, should:
Help a home withstand extreme weather phenomena such as severe storms, floods, wildfires, and droughts.
Provide comfort and safety to its occupants during and after extreme events.
Ensure a quick and full recovery after an extreme event while reducing cost for repairs.
What Makes a Building Truly Sustainable
We believe a sustainable building should be both green and resilient.
While many use “green” and “sustainable” interchangeably, a “green” house isn't necessarily resilient to extreme weather events. Therefore, it is not a sustainable house.
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) defines a green building as a “holistic concept that starts with the understanding that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on the natural environment, as well as the people who inhabit buildings every day. Green building is an effort to amplify the positive and mitigate the negative of these effects throughout the entire life cycle of a building.”
As we can see, building “green” is a critical step to tackling climate change. However, it lacks the fundamentals of resilience.
Complementing “green” with “resilience” turns the house to “sustainable”, which gives it the ability to withstand future environmental impact, and mitigate the impact of the environment, its occupants, and the structure itself. When using the help of professionals, make sure your sustainable construction services address climate resilience as well as eco-friendly practices.
Durable vs. Resilient
We want to distinguish between “green", “durable” and “resilient” homes.
A green home is a home built to comply with a green standard and/or has a low/no/positive impact on the environment. This doesn’t ensure that such a home is resilient.
A green and durable home may be well-designed and built for longevity, but if not adequately designed, it may not withstand extreme environmental or weather phenomena.
A green, durable, and resilient home has it all: it is more likely to withstand extreme weather events and protect its occupants’ lives and provide a safe and comfortable haven throughout and after a severe weather event.
Comfort and Survivability
People rely on buildings for comfort and survival.
In a widely-cited survey performed in 2001 by the National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS), respondents reported spending an average of 87% of their time in enclosed buildings. Yes, 2001, we can only guess how those numbers would look like right now, in 2020-2021, especially with the future impact of the pandemic and working from home trends.
87% of our time isn’t just a number, it strongly indicates that our well-being, happiness, and health are all dependent on buildings and structures.
When we consider the projections of climate change on human health, we further highlight the need for resilient buildings. Large-scale changes in the environment due to climate change and extreme weather events increase the risk of the emergence or re-emergence of health threats such as respiratory and waterborne diseases and heat stress. Adequately designed buildings may act as a barrier and reduce these health risks.
Our blogs further discuss adaptation strategies per risk. Some of the critical solutions against environmental changes are proper insulation, air-tightness, and ventilation which can help cope with extreme temperatures and air pollution. Proper design, and the use of moisture and flood resistive materials, can help protect against mold and dampness, while designing a continuous load, hardening roofs, gables, eaves, using impact windows and doors, and adding a safe room can help protect from storm damage.
Now is the time to shift “green building” into “sustainable building” and that a home should be both green and resilient.
Implementing appropriate adaptation strategies for changing climate conditions into green building practices will close the gap between the actual operating conditions of the building and the expectations incorporated in the planning, design, and construction phases.
We believe that governments, corporations, and people worldwide should continue working together to mitigate climate change, and many are currently doing so (we will explore this further in future blog posts). Still, there is an urgent mission to help people prepare and implement best practices to save their homes and well-being.
There are some good examples of government-led and local initiatives which both discuss and address adaptation, but many of them are at a municipal or community level. We believe the general public, such as homeowners, home renters, farmers, and small business owners, should be aware and knowledgeable of adaptation strategies and solutions.
eampact’s mission is to help improve lives by conveying relatively complex and scattered information in a simple fashion and in one central location. While we strongly believe in the need to mitigate climate change, we focus on the importance of climate change adaptation, by providing information and solutions for people to improve their homes and well-being by adapting to climate change and creating a resilient home that can withstand environmental hazards and climate extremes. And yes, we do encourage those solutions to be green, certified, and locally sourced as much as possible.
KEEP COOL. BUILD RESILIENCE. EAMPACT.