Hurricane Michael. Superstorm Sandy. The Phuket Tsunami. The Nepal Earthquake. Super Typhoon Haiyan. Whenever and wherever a natural disaster wreaks havoc in the world, sustainability and building resilience, a.k.a. resilient design, becomes the topic of conversation amongst architects, builders, and contractors. Yet the two, while equally important, are not synonyms. A newsfeed populated with catastrophic images of death and destruction reminds us that while green building is certainly important, CFLs and LEED certification doesn’t matter if a building becomes uninhabitable due to flooding, earthquake or some other disaster. That’s where building resilience comes into play.
What is the Difference Between Sustainability and Building Resilience?
In 1987, the United Nations World Commissions on Environment and Development published a report titled, “Our Common Future”. In it, the authors define sustainability as development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Over the past two and a half decades, sustainability has evolved into a noble buzzword and active green movement ranging from conservation to resource efficacy to global warming to climate change to biodiversity. In essence, sustainability is all about protecting nature and the environment from human endeavors.
However, who protects humans from Mother Nature? That is the heart of building resilience.
According to the Resilient Design Institute, resilient design is defined as “the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to vulnerabilities to disaster and disruption of normal life”.
Plainly speaking, building to code is no longer enough, and neither is creating energy efficient homes. Yes, it makes you more comfortable, it saves you money on energy bills and it reduces your carbon footprint. But the challenge facing contractors today is creating homes, buildings, and communities that are resilient in the face of droughts, flooding and a whole host of other natural disasters.
A daunting task, to be sure. In part because the local environment plays such a vast and critical role. For example, building resilience in New York City needs to accommodate hurricanes, flooding, and blizzards, as well as vast temperature ranges between seasonal peaks. In San Francisco, on the other hand, seismic considerations are obviously much more of a concern, as well as fire danger. And in the East and Southeast, 30 million households are in wind zones of 100 mph or greater. Think hurricanes and tornadoes.
So…. where do we start?? What does a new house look like that’s built on building resilience principles in mind?
8 Practical Tips for Building Resilient Homes
According to Alex Wilson, founder of the Resilient Design Institute, resilient design involves creating homes, buildings and whole communities that are resilient in the face of droughts, extreme heat, and flooding posed by climate change. “…it isn’t built in a floodplain; where we build is a big part of resilience. It has deep roof overhangs to keep water away from the walls and foundation. It is oriented to take advantage of sunlight in passive solar heating. It is designed to minimize overheating and air conditioner use through simple cooling-load-avoidance strategies; it may have shade trees or a trellis with sun-shading vines on the west. It is highly insulated and has high-performance windows. In drier climates, it isn’t surrounded by a lush green lawn in the middle of summer.”
If that sounds a lot like a “green building”, you wouldn’t be wrong. Energy efficiency plays an integral role in creating homes and buildings that are resilient in the face of climate change. Indeed, according to Wilson: “A highly insulated building will do a far better job at maintaining habitable temperatures in the event of an extended power outage or interruption in heating fuel. And it’s worth noting that during normal operations, such a building will emit far less carbon dioxide, the leading contributor to climate change.”
The best of both worlds, right?
Of course, it may seem counter-intuitive to be reading about building resilience on a tape blog, but we feel it’s important to understand how building practices are changing. Not only so we can better understand how tape as a construction tool plays a role in resilient design, but also how we, as a company, might be a part of that change.
- Use low carbon-input materials and systems: Materials such as wood, bamboo, and low-energy input masonry should be considered as more appropriate building materials.
- Design and plan buildings for low external energy inputs for ongoing building operations: Buildings should be designed to be highly energy efficient and include the use of highly insulated building envelopes, triple insulated glazing, and, where possible, passive solar heating with thermal mass storage systems.
- Design buildings for maximum day-lighting: Daylight will be the primary source of lighting for buildings in a post-carbon city, so buildings should be designed to make the most of daylight for internal lighting. Narrower floor plates, internal courtyards, and atrium spaces are good examples of possible daylight effective strategies.
- Design “generic buildings” for future flexibility of use: Because energy costs will be higher, both construction materials and the construction process will be relatively more expensive than they are now… The most effective strategies for designing for future flexibility are the use of modularity and standardization in the planning of program spaces. Modularity provides for building spaces to be multiples of one another, and standardization of spaces aims for the provision of “common denominator” spaces that can be used for many overlapping uses. Buildings should be designed for both first and future uses.
- Design for durability and robustness: Use materials and construction methods that are more be durable in the face of more energetic weather, anticipating an increasing number of significant weather events that climate change will produce.
- Design for use of local materials and products: Resilient cities will need to be much more localized in their use of materials and products. The increased cost of energy will dramatically increase transportation-related costs of non-local materials. That should, in turn, create a greater demand for locally produced materials and products for building construction.
- Design and plan for low energy input constructability: Design and plan for buildings that can be built efficiently by manual labor, and that do not require oil-fueled machines and systems requiring significant quantities of fuel for operation.
- Design for use of building systems that can be serviced and maintained with local materials, parts and labor: Climate change and peak oil will more than likely reduce global trade, and reduce easy access to materials, products and systems from other countries. Therefore, building systems should be designed to be serviceable through a local supply of parts and labor.
More Resilient Design Resources for Builders and Contractors
Obviously, this is an enormous topic, and one the building and construction industry is only beginning to tackle. Indeed, recognized industry standards for resilient building have yet to be established, but the construction of Zero Energy Ready Homes are on the rise, and the techniques of building low-load homes are becoming more mainstream. There are also a large number of valuable resources on the topic to be found online, for example:
- Green Building and Climate Resilience: Understanding Impacts and Preparing for Changing Conditions. This report summarizes the most recent research on the likely impacts of climate change at various scales: regional, neighborhood, and site or building. This report predicts climate change by region, and wherever possible, presents a range of predicted future characteristics in the categories of temperature, precipitation, coastlines, air quality, pests, and fire. This report also explores how climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts at all scales interact synergistically, with a focus on how green building professionals can approach adaptation in the built environment.
- Resilience: The Ultimate Sustainability. This book by Aris Papadopoulos extracts 30 lessons for all nations that aim to build a more disaster-resilient future.
- The Building Resiliency Task Force Report provides 33 actionable proposals for making New York buildings and residents better prepared for the next extreme weather event.
- And last but not least, Achieving Resilience at the Building Scale, presented by the Resilient Design Institute.
As building resilience continues to be a hot topic, so will the discussion of how construction practices will change. Builders will need to pay much closer attention to their selection of building materials, including seaming and flashing tapes. At ECHOtape, we want to understand what performance features are going to be important to builders, so we can prepare ourselves to meet the changing demands of our customers.