Between 2008 and 2017, there were 3,751 natural hazards. Weather accounted for 84% of them, affecting roughly 2 billion people worldwide and causing about $1.6 billion worth of damage. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which occurred in 2017, were the most damaging, especially to residential areas. For example, Hurricane Irma alone damaged or destroyed 70% of homes on St. Maarten island. Thus, floods and storms remain the most damaging natural disasters to this day.
As the planet grows warmer, it’s likely more hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and other disasters are on the horizon. In response to these destructive forces and the imminent threat of more frequent occurrences, architects, contractors and builders are renewing their focus. Building to code is no longer their main goal. Instead, they’re putting more effort into designing and constructing resilient homes.
What Is Resilient Design?
What exactly are resilient homes, though? By definition, this design involves creating and building structures that can withstand droughts, extreme heat, storms, earthquakes, floods, and other types of natural disasters and severe weather. Thus, resilient homes are residential buildings that face catastrophes head-on and remain standing afterward.
However, a resilient building is only as good as its designer. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to constructing one. Architects and contractors must consider the site’s climate and any potential threats to the home before building it. What works for one house might not work for another. For example, an earthquake-resilient residence with cross braces and a strong foundation may still experience flooding and damage on the ground-level floor.
How to Build Resilience
As construction companies and architects look to build stronger, more resilient homes, they’ll likely focus on the following key aspects.
Durability refers to a home’s ability to withstand wear and tear from natural disasters and inclement weather. To build a durable home, designers and contractors must first search for strong, longlasting materials specific to a site’s climate. For instance, they might choose fiber cement siding for a home in Georgia or Florida, as it’s fire-resistant and can withstand hot and humid climates. However, brick or stone siding might stand up better to the freezing winds and harsh winter weather of Northeastern states.
Over time, even the most resilient of buildings will require a bit of maintenance. Whether it be installing a new roof or updating siding, eventually, some aspect of the home will need repairs. To keep costs low and create a culture of resiliency, designers should ensure that the homeowner can hire nearby workers and source all materials locally. Doing so will assure residents they’ll have quick and easy access to help if they require urgent repairs.
Since resilient buildings will likely last longer than their counterparts — especially in the wake of a disaster — it’s equally important to design generic buildings. In other words, the design should be standard in a way that allows for flexible use in the future. For example, designers might include a large common area and a modular plan that can be used as a shelter or neighborhood center later on down the road.
Partnering Sustainability and Resiliency
You may have noticed that the key elements of a resilient home also contribute to its sustainability. By building durable buildings that rely on local materials and last a long time, the industry can create more sustainable communities, even in disaster-prone areas.
Homes that can serve multiple purposes also minimize the need to demolish old houses and build new ones, thereby reducing the amount of construction and demolition debris. In 2017, the U.S. generated 569 million tons of this debris, most of which ended up in landfills. This excessive amount of waste generation isn’t sustainable in the long run. Thus, by creating buildings that can stand the test of time and societal needs, the industry can maximize sustainability.
The Future of Resilient Homebuilding
As it turns out, more homebuyers are looking to purchase houses made from sustainable materials. If they last a long time and can withstand storms, all the better — especially as natural disasters become more frequent and violent.
This increasing demand for resilient and sustainable homes will likely create an even larger market for these buildings. As homebuyers’ perceptions change, you’ll see more houses rise from the rubble, capable of withstanding the disasters that came before.
Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.