Hurricane Florence and Resilient Architectural Design 

Recent images of the ferocity of Hurricane Florence’s impact on the South Atlantic coastline remind me of how fragile our living spaces can be.  We take for granted that Mother Nature supremely rules – until catastrophe strikes in the form of a hurricane, tornado, historic rainfall, blizzard, wildfire or other disaster.

There is a certain level of hubris in thinking that the force of nature can be ignored or put off. Ignoring it — or believing it can’t happen to us

— won’t work when we’re knee deep in water, forced to evacuate or staring at a torn-off roof.  Hurricane Florence’s massive winds, accompanying tidal surge and prodigious amounts of rainfall combined to produce tremendous damage to buildings, communities and infrastructure.  This follows an active 2017 hurricane season, in which Hurricanes HarveyIrma, and Maria caused immense destruction along other coastlines.

The question after the shock subsides and the rebuilding begins is typically, ‘What can I do to not only survive an event like this, but also to minimize or eliminate the impact?”  Although extreme weather can’t be controlled, risks can be minimized or eliminated. For example, people can design resilient homes to withstand and cover from disasters.   That point is underscored by the Resilient Design Institute, which defines resilient design as “the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to these vulnerabilities.”

Getting started

There are many ways to gauge, address and change a home’s resiliency potential. The Resilient Design Institute offers several principles involved in successful resilient design.

One of the first and foremost steps in building a resilient home is understanding the potential threats and vulnerabilities. For the Chicago area, these tend to be high winds, intense rain and snow events, flooding, and power outages.

There are many resilient design resources available, including information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), that offer guidelines that provide assistance with designdecisions, as does the American Institute of Architects. For example, basements should be designed as “sacrificial” areas that can handle flooding. This can consist of wall systems split into upper and lower sections, with the lower section able to withstand a flood event and to be quickly and easily repaired.  Mechanical systems should be raised off of the basement floor and foundation heights raised up higher than normal.

Because of our reliance on electricity, an electrical backup system is a key component to a solid resiliency strategy. One of the best ways to do this is to make sure you have a solid power generator, either run by on-site renewables or a gas powered generator, or both, a way to store this energy and a way to decide which components are powered by it. At NextHaus Alliance, our preference is to reduce the use of extractive fuels like natural gas, thereby reducing CO2 emissions, and instead use renewable energy.  While wind power is generally best on a large commercial scale, it is not so appropriate at the building scale; solar photovoltaic is much better suited for this.

To store energy, various battery backup strategies can be considered. These are getting more affordable and robust over time. To manage where the power is used, a sub panel circuit box is used, with critical circuits prioritized to manage power where it is needed during an outage. This could include powering refrigerated devices, sump pumps, remote controlled skylights for natural ventilation, ceiling fans, etc.

Other strategies for resilience include making sure the building is as watertight as possible. Installing a full ice and water shield on the roof helps make sure if there is damage to the roofing, the home itself will remain watertight. Oversized gutters and downspouts that direct storm water safely away from the home are essentially the norm now. In areas vulnerable to hurricanes (and, one might argue, severe tornadoes), homes can be secured with “hurricane straps” that hook into joints to prevent roofs from being blown off in high winds.

 

There are many other strategies that can be integrated into the design of the building to lessen or eliminate the impact of stress events on a home or your designs.  For more information on how you can have a great home that is resiliently designed to provide comfort and peace of mind, contact NextHaus Alliance at info@nexthausalliance.com.