Creating a more resilient built environment is becoming an increasingly important priority in the construction industry in the wake of a series of highly destructive natural disasters that hit the continental U.S. and its territories last year. To reduce the impact of climate change-related events and other disasters, construction contractors are increasingly joining forces with clients, architects, engineers, and regulators to identify and implement practical and cost-effective strategies for making homes and other buildings more resilient.
According to a report released in January by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), 2017 was the costliest year on record for weather and climate disasters, with the total costs to U.S. property owners of the damage caused by hurricanes, heat waves, cold waves, flooding, mudslides, tornadoes, and wildfires amounting to $306 billion. The NIBS study estimated that every Federal grant dollar spent on disaster resiliency and mitigation could save the U.S. an average of six dollars, and that every dollar spent on building to a higher standard to exceed select code requirements could save the country four dollars.
As recovery efforts from disasters hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico and wildfires in California continue, the focus in many states and localities is not just on building replacement structures, but building with resiliency as a main priority. While enhanced performance criteria have already been incorporated into building codes in many parts of the U.S., additional code improvements and updated resiliency measures are being introduced to make buildings and communities less vulnerable to natural disasters and extreme events.
Approaches to enhancing resiliency vary based on several factors, such as the types of natural or man-made hazards a building is exposed to, as well as a building’s size, occupancy, and location. For example, in hurricane-prone areas, engineered solutions are being used to protect buildings from high winds and wind-borne debris, including special protection for windows. In flood-prone areas, buildings and essential utility equipment may be raised above potential flood levels. The use of flood damage-resistant materials may also be required in new construction, such as preservative-treated wood products capable of withstanding direct and prolonged contact with floodwaters without sustaining significant damage.
In November 2017, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced it will officially adopt resilient construction standard RELi, which incentivizes the design of buildings capable of withstanding shocks and stressors, such as extreme weather events and their resulting hazards. Like the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, RELi uses a point system across various credit categories spanning environmental, social, and economic considerations.
RELi includes LEED prerequisites for sustainable practices, but introduces new criteria for resilient design, including adaptive design for extreme events, such as heavy rain, sea rise, and storm surge.
Builders of single-family homes can also take advantage of FORTIFIED, a national program for resilient construction established by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). The program’s resilient construction standards address vulnerable areas of a home, including the roof, the openings, and the way the home is tied together. Key elements of a home that meets these standards include a high wind-rated roof covering, a sealed roof deck, impact-rated windows and doors, pressure-rated garage doors, and a continuous load path tying the house together from the foundation to the roof. IBHS provides training in resilient building methods, and a system of certification that signals to buyers that a home is built to withstand extreme conditions.
As these standards and code requirements evolve, contractors should educate themselves about resilience strategies and pass that knowledge on to their clients. By promoting the long-term value of investing in resilient construction, contractors can demonstrate their commitment to the long-term sustainability of their building projects to their clients and to the communities where they operate.