Why do you need Climate-Resilient Design?
Our climate is changing and becoming more intense and unpredictable. Extreme weather is becoming more frequent, with more profound impacts expected as Earth warms. The year 2022 tied 2017 and 2011 for the third highest number of billion-dollar disasters. 2022 was also the third highest in total costs of more than $165 billion.
According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, $20 billion is spent yearly on average to repair homes following major disasters and minor storms.
In our climate-resilient stories, we share climate-resilient design examples of homes designed and built/remodeled with resilience in mind. These homes perform better during extreme weather events and suffer less damage.
What is a Climate Resilient Design?
A climate-resilient designed home better withstands extreme weather events. Such a home optimally performs in the climate of its location for decades to come. A climate-resilient design takes into consideration the local prominent climate risks. A different climate calls for different considerations. A climate-resilient home in Florida should be designed differently from a resilient home in California. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
Homes used to be constructed with local materials, and designed and built considering the surrounding natural conditions and resources, such as the direction of the house and its openings, the size of the openings, the house’s elevation, and proximity to water bodies and other natural ecosystems. Today, most homes in the U.S. are similarly designed and built despite nine distinct climate zones in the country with different climate conditions. The reason there is not enough particular individual consideration for each home has to do with the low cost of building in bulk, lowering cost of construction and building materials, and the ability to generate energy and the widespread of mechanical systems that can create comfortable internal conditions independent of the outside environment. Buildings became repetitive boxes that look the same regardless of location, climate, and environment.
The recent trend of biophilia is a growing realization of the connection and dependency of humanity on our surrounding environment, and it reflects on the built environment as well. More architects and designers seek ancient home design methods in which utilizing natural resources can help reduce the usage of mechanical systems. At the same time, professionals employ proven strategies and technologies to enhance a home's ability to withstand extreme weather events.
Each climate risk has proven techniques that help the home better withstand extreme weather events when implemented in the design.
A proven climate-resilient design example that protects from flood damage is the elevation of homes or essential appliances in the homes. Elevated homes in a high flood risk location or elevated essential appliances within the homes significantly reduce damage from floods. Moreover, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a home elevated just one foot above the base flood elevation (BFE) can lower flood insurance premiums by as much as 30 percent and save tens of thousands of dollars of potential damage. Another proven climate-resilient strategy is high-impact windows and roofs that withstand high winds.
Check out the strategies used in the Black and White Beach House to reduce flood and wind damage.
Each risk has numerous proven strategies for protection. eampact’s climate resilient strategies series specifies the main strategies for each climate risk. By implementing these solutions in your home, you improve your climate-resilient design, and your home becomes one step closer to being protected from extreme weather events.
Note that a resilient design should not compromise being eco-friendly. We don’t want to exacerbate climate change while designing to protect from it. Although not easy, it’s feasible. At eampact, we share specific building products certified by a third party to be climate resilient. For each product, we also rate its eco-friendliness.
Resilient Design Process
The first step in approaching climate resilient design is to assess which risks we need protection from. To determine that, we need to acknowledge the local climate risks. Many Americans are already aware of the prominent climate risks in their area as they have experienced them or know someone who experienced them. About 40% of Americans live in counties that experienced at least one type of extreme weather event. eampact provides a simple tool to discover the climate risks in your zip code based on data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Keep in mind that ideally, climate risks should be based on future forecasts instead of past data due to our rapidly changing climate.
After determining the prominent climate risks, explore the solutions and strategies available for each risk and implement them within other design constraints. Some strategies provide solutions for more than one climate risk. For example, a properly sealed airtight envelope strategy protects from extreme temperatures and wildfire. Read about these strategies in the RESTORE Passive House.
Once again, architects and designers should also consider that while design and building materials should be durable and resilient, they should also be climate-friendly to avoid exacerbating the problem and causing future designs to be more challenging. It is not an easy task, yet professionals engaged in environmentally friendly and resilient design and construction admit it enhances their creativity and declare that there is no other choice if we want to keep life on our planet.
Resilient Design Examples
As mentioned, each climate risk has a few researched strategies that have proven to protect homes and minimize damage from extreme weather events. For example, to protect from storms and high winds, prominent strategies would use high-impact windows and roofs and extra straps to secure elements to the main structure. Protect your home from extreme heat by adding insulation, air tightening the house, and using natural ventilation can help a home maintain a stable temperature inside. As mentioned, some strategies deal with several risks at the same time, such as adding vegetation and trees around your home, which can help protect from high temperatures by providing shade and lowering the ambiance temperature, help absorb water in case of flooding, along with other benefits such as improve the air quality and increase biodiversity and quality of life. Find additional strategies for each climate risk at eampact’s climate resilient strategies blogs and lists of climate resilient products.
Note that you can implement most climate-resilient strategies on existing homes. The climate-resilient design example for flood protection of home elevation is an expensive strategy for an existing home. Instead, you can elevate electrical essentials to higher floors or attic which reduces potential water damage. Using resilient design surfaces such as water-resistant flooring can also help lessen damage from flooding. An example of resilient flooring that can mitigate water and wildfire damage can be found on our website by looking for products by risk and location.
Can you Afford Climate Resilient Design?
Climate resilient design is not necessarily more expensive than regular construction/remodeling. The same goes for building products for a climate-resilient home. The key is to build in a better way, with consideration of climate strategies.
Although traditional construction is usually less expensive upfront, when considering the reduced energy bills, lower insurance premiums, and less potential damage, building properly has a positive return on investment.
As Trey Farmer, Architect of Passive Houses in Austin, says, you can’t quantify the cost of our health and our kids' health. You can’t quantify knowing that you have the best indoor air quality and that your house is comfortable and performs well in power outages due to extreme weather events. Peace of mind alone has its value.
Climate Resilient Design is essential if we want our homes to withstand the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.
Professionals are becoming aware of the necessity to build homes properly with climate in mind.
Resilient design examples can be found throughout the U.S. eampact highlights them along with their strategies in our blogs.
Building such homes will become easier and less expensive as more climate-resilient homes are built and more professionals are engaged in such construction.
eampact joins the effort by sharing the knowledge of experienced professionals and promoting climate-resilient building products and strategies. Join our community by sharing your experience with a climate-resilient home, or look for products and professionals on our website.