How Extreme Weather Shapes Home Design

The pandemic has given literal meaning to the idea that our homes are a refuge, a place to seek shelter during uncertain and dangerous times. It’s a concept that designers and architects around the world are taking more seriously than ever, not only in the face of a new pandemic, but also because of climate change.

Globally, severe weather events are becoming increasingly problematic. Forest fires, floods, hurricanes and winter storms are becoming more frequent and devastating. Sea levels continue to rise, threatening coastal properties around the world. A report released by the United Nations in August found that even if countries drastically cut emissions tomorrow, total global temperature is expected to rise by around 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 F) over the next two decades, while ensuring an increase in severe weather events. So how do designers and architects, especially those working in vulnerable regions, take these issues into account when designing homes that are meant to last for generations?

Creator Sarah BarnardSteven Dewall

California designers already face a litany of climate-related challenges, including droughts, wildfires and rising sea levels. “While it’s great to work with clients who are committed to reduce the carbon footprint of their home, a big part of that is accepting that disaster may already be upon us,” says Sarah Barnard, a Santa Monica-based designer. “If so, what are some things we can do to better protect ourselves and our loved ones? »

Encouraging customers to invest in solar power and electrical appliances when possible is “a no-brainer,” says Barnard. “With solar power, you see an immediate return on your investment with lower electricity bills, a tax credit and the ability to feed it back into the local power grid, but you also have the peace of mind of Knowing your home could be self-sufficient if the power goes out or goes out in an emergency, which happens to prevent fires in California.

A gas-free home is generally safer because it reduces the risk of leaks and improves indoor air quality. Although many homeowners still see a gleaming gas oven and stove as the epitome of luxury, Barnard has seen that start to change as gourmet kitchen brands continue to develop sleek induction cooktops, which are a far cry from red ring electric stoves of the past. .

In 2020, San Francisco, perhaps America’s most environmentally progressive city, voted to ban gas in new residential buildings; as recently as April, the city supervisor considered banning gas appliances altogether as part of the goal to become net zero carbon by 2045. jenny riosa Bay Area-based architect and construction manager, advises homeowners to electrify as many systems as possible, from kitchen appliances to heat pumps.

Maximizing home autonomy is key to creating a climate-resilient home, and it’s not just energy that needs to be considered. Water harvesting is also a growing feature of environmentally conscious homes. Commonly referred to as gray water systems, these facilities collect wastewater from washing machines, showers and bathtubs. The name comes from the cloudy hue the water takes on when mixed with soap, but once it has been filtered the water appears clear and is safe to use for outdoor irrigation. The systems cost around $15,000, which isn’t a wild number, considering the size of some new build budgets. As gray water systems become increasingly popular in drought-prone California, a New York-based designer laurence carr says she’s seen some of her East Coast clients start implementing them as well.

Karen Curtis

Karen Curtiss of Red Dot StudioCourtesy of Karen Curtiss

When it comes to addressing these topics with customers, the San Francisco-based company Karen Curtis, the director of Red Dot Studio Architecture and Design, decided years ago to stop asking clients if they wanted to make eco-friendly choices and just started telling them it was. that she was working. “At first I would talk about things like using alternative materials, and more often than not the client would say no,” she says. Once she changed course and incorporated a green checklist into her initial pitch, she found that the clients who hired her were already on board and didn’t need to be sold. Curtiss developed two lists: one of choices she would make for all homes in the future, such as powering all windows and positioning to catch the most natural light, and the other with optional green features that take things a step further, like water harvesting systems or CarbonCure concrete, a material containing recycled carbon dioxide injected into fresh concrete foundations to reduce a home’s carbon footprint.

It’s become increasingly easier for Curtiss to persuade customers to take their choices further, especially in northern California, where people are seeing firsthand the impact of droughts and power outages. by forest fires. She says she’s seen some customers invest in built-in air filtration systems to help remove smoke from wildfires. Other design considerations may include a metal roof or certain types of siding that burn while protecting the walls behind them. Barnard suggests that customers with homes in areas prone to wildfire or flooding discuss their choice of garage door with a general contractor before installation, as this is often an entry point for weather damage. “There are garage door options on the market now that can withstand several hours of fire,” she says. “In the event of a climate catastrophe, your home has a little more resilience.”

Coastal homes present their own challenges: designers and architects are forced to consider the possibility of flooding and wind damage. Allison Anderson and John Anderson, principals of Unabridged Architecture, based in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, not only check the history of storm damage around a waterfront property, but also the climate projections for the area, as the elevation potential sea level can vary considerably. “We ask our customers what their life expectancy is: is it 50 years? 100 years ? – and plan accordingly to maintain habitability during this time,” says John Anderson. “We also ask about their risk tolerance. When a hurricane comes, will they board and evacuate? Do they expect to return quickly after a storm? These considerations are taken into account in the first vision of the project and help us to decide on the materials, the forms and the orientation on the site.

Unabridged Architecture elevated a recent coastal project 5ft above ground level using two decks

Unabridged Architecture used two decks to help raise this Gulf Coast home 5 feet above grade for flood protection.Courtesy of Unabridged Architecture

Bill Taylor of Miami-based Taylor & Taylor Architecture & Interiors says that in South Florida, most homes have historically been built at an elevation of 6 feet, which is 3 feet lower than what the Federal Agency emergency management currently recommends for new construction in the area. Many communities are now encouraging homeowners to go even higher, raising homes 11 feet or more.

When dealing with the potential for flooding and heavy rain, the Andersons enjoy working at the intersection of architecture and landscaping. “We have limited means to prevent flooding: avoid the possibility by [the house] water return or raising [it]; accommodate water by creating spaces that can flood safely and be cleaned easily after an event; or resist water with flood protection,” says Allison Anderson. They often use a combination of these features to give customers the most protection possible.

On a recent project on the Gulf Coast, Unabridged Architecture raised the house 5 feet above ground level using two decks, a low retaining wall that deflects waves, and a chain foundation to elevate the house to the above the required base elevation. Inside, interior finishes were chosen to prevent mold growth, an important consideration in a humid climate. There is no drywall and the walls and ceilings are all wood. “Ultimately, the decisions we make today have a significant financial and functional impact for our customers,” says John Anderson. “We are doing everything we can to make sure their investment is sustainable, resilient and ready for the future.”

Homepage photo: A recent coastal project by Unabridged Architecture, which uses landscaping and other methods to reduce the risk of flooding | Courtesy of Unabridged Architecture

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