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Building for Resilience Provides Long-Term Savings

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Climate change is disrupting lives and changing the planet, affecting or causing extreme weather events globally. Fires devastate the Amazon and California, while Europe and Florida face massive flooding and record setting heatwaves and mudslides. Even in instances where climate change is not the culprit, it can exacerbate many extreme weather events.

The damage caused by hurricanes, floods, and fires is emotionally and financially difficult for many. It is estimated the annual damage caused by river floods is over $100 billion globally and continues to rise. Since 1990, the total hurricane-related risk insured by the American government has increased fifteenfold, reaching an estimated $885 billion. In the US alone, the total cost of weather disaster relief reached an estimated $312.7 billion in 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office. Amid the increasing severity of natural disasters, building for resiliency can help reduce long-term costs and the possible destruction associated with extreme weather events.

The Roles of Cities and Technologies in Building for Resiliency

Many people are forced to rebuild in the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, fires, and other natural disasters. However, in some areas, cities are calling for or have already set plans to build for resiliency. Taking a proactive stance against these disasters can provide many benefits. One benefit is reduced destruction, which lessens physical harm to people and decreases rebuilding and emotional costs. In New York City, the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency produces Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which includes design recommendations to mitigate climate change such as minimizing effects from increasing heat, design interventions for increased precipitation, and planning for sea-level rise. Designing for onsite stormwater retention can help reduce flooding; the city is piloting approaches to control stormwater on the surface by creating parks and playgrounds that can improve infiltration of excess stormwater.

In Galveston, Texas, housing developers are focused on resiliency for property, people, and land. The effects of climate change on low income communities led housing developers to focus on resilient, affordable housing. Developers have incorporated storm-rated windows, doors, and roofs in new designs, understanding vulnerabilities of the area. Window location and material selection can reduce total building energy costs by roughly one-third. Investing in the proper infrastructure can provide long-term cost savings by reducing the need to continually rebuild.

However, not all cities are prioritizing building for resilience. After extreme flooding in 2013 that caused roughly $5.7 billion of damage in Alberta, Canada, officials ordered mandatory buyouts in two towns. Residents were forced to move rather than rebuild. Since then, Canada has worked to make government disaster relief more difficult to obtain, and it will eventually not be available. While this alternative approach to combating destruction can reduce costs of rebuilding time and again, it forces people to leave their homes and communities and could mean increased restricted areas for building. By adequately designing and constructing the built environment to limit destruction, a long-term solution can be created that does not rely requirements to move towns.

Building Energy Codes at Play

While cities and individual companies have plans in place to build for resiliency in the wake of climate change, building requirements can help grow these efforts. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), it is much more expensive to rebuild homes than to initially build them right. EESI cites a study by Louisiana State University that found if stronger building codes had been in place in Louisiana, wind damages from Hurricane Katrina would have been reduced by 80%. The US’ Safe Building Code Incentive Act of 2011 (H.R. 2069) was created to encourage states to adopt and enforce state building codes. According to a 2012 Milliman Inc. study, roughly $11 billion could have been saved on hurricane-related expenses since 1988 if H.R. 2069 was in place and actively enforced from 1988 until 2012. That same study states 30%-80% of hurricane-related construction costs could have been saved if buildings were built to model building codes. Additionally, beyond the role in building for resilience, roughly 87,000 new jobs would be created if new buildings were built to exceed the 2015 International Building Code. The benefits of more stringent building codes have been studied but implementation is still needed to be more effective.

The Role of Buildings Transform through Building-to-Grid

The role of buildings is shifting. Navigant’s Building-to-Grid white paper highlights the importance of digital, future-ready buildings. The shift from intelligent buildings, with controls and automation of individual systems such as HVAC, lighting, and security, to Building-to-Grid (B2G) will allow for energy flexibility, reliability, and decarbonization when all services are offered concurrently. Distributed energy resources such as solar or energy storage play a critical role in the energy transformation. This shift toward B2G in buildings can help owners and managers improve bottom lines, which could provide additional resources for fortifying building envelopes against severe weather events. Looking at the building holistically, rather than as siloed systems, allows for future-ready resilient buildings.

There are various possibilities in building for resiliency, and it is clear there is not a one-solution-fits-all approach. The Ten Principles for Building Resilience report by the Urban Land Institute addresses vulnerabilities by redefining how and where to build, harnessing innovation, and technology, among others. By incorporating one or more solutions for resiliency, long-term savings can be realized. The National Institute of Building Sciences found that for every $1 spent on disaster mitigation, roughly $6 can be saved on future disaster costs. The need for building resilience and the benefits associated with this practice present an argument that is difficult to ignore in our changing climate.

Krystal Maxwell's picture

Thank Krystal for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 20, 2019 1:08 pm GMT

Thanks for this post, Krystal-- it's timely and informative. It definitely shows the whole 'ounce of prevention (resilience) is better than a pound of cure (cleanup after the fact.' But with people often balking at the cost of providing that ounce of cure, shortsightedly ignoring the long-term costs, how do you go about ensuring others make resilience a top immediate goal on their priority list and in their budget?

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