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Time to Take Resilient Building Seriously

Posted by Sara Gutterman

Mar 22, 2018 12:31:08 PM

As winter releases its seasonal stranglehold, yielding to spring in most parts of the country, the recent Nor’easters prove yet again how imperative it is that we develop a comprehensive approach to resilient building—immediately.

Each passing superstorm deals a blow to our nation’s infrastructure, financial coffers, and collective psyche. 

Take Puerto Rico, where even six months after Hurricane Maria, entire towns are still without power and water.  Or coastal communities in Florida that can only standby and sorrowfully observe the deluge of rising ocean tides.  Or towns in California that are dealing with a vicious cycle of drought, wildfire, mudslides, and flooding. 

In the northeast, millions are without power because of major snowstorms, highlighting once again the vital need for distributed energy infrastructure and giving rise to yet another urgent cry for a more resilient built environment.

When it comes to resiliency and preparedness, there is simply no time to lose.  With each passing year, the intensifying severity of superstorms, wildfires, flooding, and other extreme weather events wring our resources dry. 

According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), the 2017 hurricane season was the second most destructive and expensive in modern history, resulting in $202.6 billion in damage in the U.S. and $369.6 billion internationally.  The “terrible three” hurricanes—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—set notorious records with their unprecedented rainfall, tidal surges, wind loads, and vast destruction.

The 2017 wildfire season was the costliest on record, with nearly 10 million acres burned across the U.S.  Warmer and drier weather is making wildfires more difficult to suppress, and our history of fire suppression has resulted in the growth of untamed vegetation that make forests more fire-prone.  Wildfire experts predict that we can expect wildfires to continue to get worse as temperatures increase and drought proliferates.

The bad news: the NHC, along with most climate scientists, believes that we’re just at the beginning of what promises to be a long, downward spiral relative to intensified weather patterns and extreme natural events.

The good news: we’ve had the opportunity to learn some hard lessons from the assaulting series of natural disasters that have plagued our nation over the years.  We now know how buildings perform—and where they fail—during various different types of catastrophic events, and we know how to build with resiliency in mind.

As Matt Power, Green Builder Media’s own editor in chief says, “We have entered a new age of weather extremes, and we need to take the threat seriously.  Builders now have the knowledge and the products to design and build more resilient housing.  Every choice a builder makes matters when it comes to resilient building: piling depth, rebar placement, tie-down systems, roofing fasteners, glass protection—all of it.”

Power questions, “Can we build homes to withstand the worst that nature can throw at us?  Probably not.  But, we have many tools and systems available. We’re not helpless.  We can build and strengthen homes so that they have a fighting chance when the next big one comes.”

“Most aspects of modern homes and multifamily buildings can be amended and fortified at a reasonable cost,” Power explains.  “Both materials and process matter.  If buildings are designed and assembled with extreme weather vulnerabilities in mind, they inevitably perform better when the crisis strikes.”

The most recent issue of Green Builder magazine outlines a variety of resilient building strategies and approaches, identifying major design and building science flaws (including improper wind load design, material deterioration, unprotected glazing leading to structural and interior damage, and corrosion of fasteners and connectors resulting in structural collapse) and corresponding solutions.

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The issue also identifies a variety of advanced, cost-effective products that can enhance the resiliency of structures—from durable wall systems that help increase a home’s ability to withstand a battering storm, to battery storage solutions that keep the lights on.

It’s paramount that we consider resiliency before disasters occur: the National Institute of Building Sciences reports that, on average, every $1 spent on hazard mitigation can save the nation $6 in future cleanup costs. 

"Mitigation is a cornerstone of how we create a true culture of preparedness," said FEMA Administrator Brock Long. "Investing in mitigation before the next disaster is the first step in building a more resilient nation."

To learn more about how you can keep your homes and buildings safe and protected, don’t miss our upcoming Resilient Building webinar with Green Builder Media’s internationally acclaimed editor in chief Matt Power on Thursday, April 5, at 2:00 ET.  In the webinar, Power will explore strategies, best practices, and essential products for increasing the resiliency of our built environment.  Click here to register. 

Do you have resilient building ideas, insights, or projects that you’d like for Green Builder Media to write about?  Write to me at sara.gutterman@greenbuildermedia.com.

Want to read more?  Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.  For more information about green building and sustainable living, visit Green Builder Media at www.greenbuildermedia.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter for regular updates and breaking news.

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