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 designed to be resilient but homes that proved their resilience by withstanding extreme weather events.
Such an example is a tiny home in Cocoa, Florida, located in Brevard County in the Space Coast region.
In 2022, this home survived hurricane Ian with no damage. The homeowner stayed in her subdivision while the rest of the tiny home dwellers had to evacuate. Other than debris from neighbor homes, the powerful storm didn’t cause damage to the house.
This home was designed and built by Miniopolis Tiny Homes to be energy-efficient, safe, and durable to withstand strong winds and powerful storms such as category-five hurricanes.
Climate Resilience Strategies
Brian Sodre, the founder of Miniopolis Tiny Homes, researched solutions and building materials he believes to be the best options for homes in Florida’s climate. Focusing on the climate risks of powerful storms, extreme temperatures, as well as pests, Miniopolis incorporated the following climate adaptation strategies to minimize damage to the house and to protect its occupants:
The entire structure's walls and roof were built with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) by Murus. This SIP manufacturer agreed to help educate and teach the builders how to work with SIPs. According to the Structural Insulated Panels Association (SIPA), SIPs are building systems for residential and light commercial construction. The panels consist of an insulating foam core between two structural facings, typically Oriented Strand Boards (OSB). The main benefit of SIPs is that they allow Continuous Insulation and airtightness and minimize thermal bridging, which significantly increases their energy efficiency compared to conventional stick framing. SIP walls and roofs are designed and manufactured offsite and assembled at the construction site. This process reduces the costs of time and labor.
Magnesium Oxide board, or MgO board, is another durable, innovative building material. It is a sheathing material similar to cement board and drywall and can be applied to both the interior and exterior of a house. MgO boards can be used for fascias, soffits, tile backing, wall and ceiling linings, and underlayment. They are considered to be fire, weather, and mold resistant. Sodre expressed his concern regarding mixed reviews on this building material stating potential long-term damage. The concerns are mainly around mold and moisture issues when the material is used externally. Therefore, it’s essential choosing a tested or certified MgO board and install it with an experienced professional and in the right conditions to ensure this product functions optimally.
Like Miller and Overland, whose projects we discuss in previous blogs, Sodre is a believer in Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs). You can learn more about this product in this blog. Sodre uses ICFs by Fox Blocks, a company that provides training for service providers.
Sodre is particularly excited about 3D-printed homes and believes they are climate resilient, meaning they are both sturdy in the face of climate extremes and eco-friendly. Allowing a continuous material in the walls increases airtightness and improves energy efficiency. The sturdiness and durability depend primarily on the material mix used in printing.
Minoplois collaborated with a young talented 3D printing home company that uses a mortar mix while exploring methods to create a more environmentally friendly mix, such as using concrete that absorbs CO2.
Sodre considers all the mentioned solutions as robust options to withstand category-five storms. All are fire-resistant or rated Class A for fire and pest-resistant, increase energy efficiency, and are manufactured offsite and delivered for assembly. The choice between the mentioned strategies mainly depends on the budget. The ICFs are the most affordable, followed by the SIPs and MgO boards. 3D printing is currently the most expensive strategy, but also Sodre’s favorite.
Environmental impact is a top priority for Miniopolis. Building materials should not only be climate resilient but also eco-friendly. An environmental issue Sodre wished to address is waste reduction. Compared to conventional construction, which diverts up to 30% of its building materials to landfill, the choice of building materials will allow disassembly and recycling.
As mentioned, Miniopolis construction addresses energy efficiency. Sodre finds no sense in high electrical bills trying to cool a home in Florida with AC when there are smart and more efficient solutions such as insulated and energy-efficient building materials. Less space to condition also increases a home’s energy efficiency. “The less energy used, the fewer carbon emissions we put into the environment.”
Miniopolis incorporated smart home features and energy-efficient appliances to increase energy efficiency, and sustainable materials such as bamboo flooring and countertops. Although some features had higher upfront costs, the high quality will ensure they last longer and reduce reinstallation or replacement, saving funds for the long term.
Miniopolis proudly showcased the climate-ready home as artwork since the reduction of environmental impact didn’t take away from the home’s functionality and beauty.
Finally, to avoid water runoff, Sodre wanted to ensure rainwater coming down the roof is properly absorbed. They planted fruit plants around the house where the water flows, including two avocados, a peach, a lemon tree, and other plants that attract honey bees.
Brian Sodre founded Miniopolis Tiny Homes in 2020 with a vision to create sustainable tiny home communities. This company is his dream and passion. Sodre is a Florida State licensed General Contractor dedicated to building homes that range between 500-750 square feet. He was born and raised in Miami, Florida, witnessing extreme weather events from a very young age. Sodre experienced category five hurricane Andrew with his family in 1992. Many of his family members were displaced from their homes, either completely lost their homes or had some kind of devastating damage. This traumatic experience convinced him that owning a structurally sound home is not only financially valuable but more importantly, it protects the lives of loved ones. Sodre strives to help people feel safe at home even in extreme weather.
Sodre is fortunate to combine his love for traveling in his job, taking on different projects around Florida, staying in tiny properties, and helping other customers achieve the same.
Sodre acknowledges that building properly doesn’t end when the project is completed. Although required to provide a one-year warranty, he wants to be there for his customers for years later and be available to help if needed. This approach is irregular in the construction industry, yet it’s a win-win situation where the builder can enhance their skills by learning about the actual performance of the built project, and the owners gain a trusted professional even after completion of construction.
Sodre and his wife owned and lived in three different properties and gradually realized that large homes allow extra space for things they didn’t necessarily need. They learned that letting go of inessential items made them happier. Tiny homes permit space for precisely the essentials and no more.
Sodre sees a rise in demand for tiny homes since they fit into the life cycles many of us go through. Moving out of our childhood home to a small affordable house, and once the kids grow and move out, downsizing for convenience and minimizing maintenance and expenses. Tiny homes can be the perfect versatile solution within these cycles. They can help first-time buyers achieve their own properties and provide a comfortable solution for people who decide to downsize.
Miniopolis continues to construct climate ready homes. They are working on two 3D-printed concrete houses in Lehigh Acres, Florida, to create disaster resilient housing.
Overcoming Potential Challenges
Numerous challenges typically emerge in the design and construction processes and have the potential to amplify when it comes to building climate resilience. Challenges range from budget and communication with service providers and customers, to lack of understanding of climate adaptation strategies.
The biggest challenge for Sodre is propelling contractors out of their comfort zone and introducing new ideas to them. Although sometimes intrigued, contractors are often hesitant.
The construction industry is not sustainable. It is often set in traditional methods and slow or resistant to working with innovative materials and processes that demand a learning curve that translates into time and money investments.
Sodre believes the only quick solution is to employ prefabricated building materials. Materials manufactured in an enclosed factory and assembled onsite reduce the cost and the search for skilled laborers and speed up the building process without compromising on quality material.
Professionals lack sufficient education to implement innovative materials and strategies. After educating himself, Sodre relays his knowledge to workers with the help of manufacturers’ representatives. Introducing a new method or a building material is usually challenging in the first usage, but the learning curve is surprisingly short.
A third-party certification such as LEED would have helped showcase the effort and thought put into reducing environmental impact while constructing a safe and durable tiny home. Unfortunately, the cost of certifying the house wasn’t financially feasible for a young company with a small budget and no funding. In some aspects, Sodre believes the house stands to the LEED standard. For example, Murus claim their structural insulated panels qualify for LEED certifications. In addition, the blower door test that measures the home’s airtightness determined that the structure’s envelope was above code.
Another major challenge for Miniopolis is the size of desired homes. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the size of an average American home has increased over the years. People are used to living in larger spaces, and even building codes have adapted to this trend. Many municipalities in Florida set a minimum residential living area of 1,200 square feet, while Minioplois’s expertise and passion are to build 500-750 square feet size homes.
Florida adopted one of the more stringent building codes in the U.S. Still, Sodre believes there is still room for Florida’s building code to be more stringent to withstand extreme weather.
Sharing the Climate-Resilient Design Knowledge
The tiny home in Cocoa, Florida, was showcased as a model home for a few months after completion. It attracted over 2,500 people who walked through and explored the strategies used for safety and energy efficiency. The spectators were county commissioners, state legislatures, media outlets, as well as people within and outside the community. The new homeowner uses the tiny home as her primary residence.
Sodre is passionate about educating on environmentally friendly and affordable home construction solutions. He teaches fellow contractors about innovative building materials and strategies that solve recurring construction problems. “There is power in making the right decision out of the overwhelming increasing options in building a home properly.”
More professionals like Brian Sodre are realizing the need for a profound change in the construction industry and endeavoring to make a difference. Miniopolis Tiny Homes take the approach of a tiny eco-friendly, and durable home.
Sustainable buildings begin with a change of mindset. As consumers, we should make environmentally conscious choices, although sometimes inconvenient and different from our adopted lifestyles.
Educating consumers is a responsibility that extends across the building industry, and all should contribute to the effort of adapting homes to climate change. From the consumers themselves, especially when so much information is available. Through professionals who should be familiar with available options that answer to consumer’s desires, whether it’s a wood or concrete home. Professionals and service providers should be open to innovative building strategies for different climates and extreme weather and offer such options to property owners. Lastly, building manufacturers are able to and are responsible foro educating homeowners and contractors about available climate-resilient products. It will increase demand and may contribute to reducing prices.
eampact helps simplify such information and make it accessible to everyone. We share location-relevant climate-resilient building strategies. We vet certified products and experienced and knowledgeable professionals.
Designing and building with climate risks and the environment in mind may be more complicated since new multiple threatening factors go into the equation, yet, it’s feasible.