Should you build your house more solidly to withstand the possible impacts of climate change?

As the climate change footprint becomes clearer, the ability of homes to withstand the accelerated impacts of climate change and extreme weather conditions becomes a significant challenge.

Some Australians take it upon themselves to go beyond building code and standards to protect their homes from rare, but not impossible, extreme weather events.

Working as an engineer for the Tropical Cyclone Test Station, Geoff Boughton has seen hundreds of homes destroyed and ravaged, with families with no place to live.

He recently witnessed this in Kalbarri and Northampton, an area where houses were not built to withstand the continuous cyclonic gusts of wind caused by Seroja.

Geoff Boughton’s home in Perth is built to withstand a weak cyclone and intense thunderstorms(ABC: Tyne Logan)

When he built his own home in Perth, well outside the cyclone-classified Washington state area, this was something he had envisioned.

Cyclones are rare near Perth, but they are not unheard of.

“When you think of a one in 500 year event, if a house lasts 50 years, that makes a 1 in 10 chance of it happening in the life of my house,” he said. .

“The other thing is that with climate change, we really don’t know what the climate will be like in 50 years.”

tradie drills nails in the roof
During construction, a series of reinforcements were added to Geoff Boughton’s roof.(Provided: Geoff Boughton)

From the outside, his house looks like a typical Perth house, but its structure is much more solid.

It is able to withstand a weak cyclone blowing constant gusts of up to 160 km / h and is waterproof to extreme thunderstorms.

And it didn’t cost much.

He said this was achieved through several features, including reinforcing a series of structural elements on its roof to prevent it from lifting even if a window is broken.

Geoff Boughton Reaches at the Window
Mr. Boughton has taller windows, reinforced roof connections, and waterproofing around his roof.(ABC: Hugh Sando)

The windows are a slightly higher specification to better keep water out, and its roof edge is sealed to keep water out.

In total, he said the extra features cost him around $ 4,000 for a new build of his log house.

The fireproof house

Meanwhile, 100 kilometers south of Waroona, nestled in the middle of an old forest so thick you can barely see the house, lives Kingsley Dixon.

His house is considered to be in an area prone to bush fires.

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Kingsley Dixon built infrastructure to protect his home from bushfires.

But after experiencing bushfires, including the devastating Waroona-Yarloop fire, he and her husband went way beyond the base code in their construction.

They’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars adding a reliable, long-term water supply, shallow sprinklers to the roofing system, and fire-resistant landscaping around the house.

“I think we have to go beyond minimum compliance and make sure what we produce imagines the worst fires,” he said.

Kingsley Dixon outside the leafy garden
Kingsley Dixon spent tens of thousands of dollars to protect his home from fires (ABC: Glyn Jones)

Like Mr Boughton, climate change and the increased risk of bushfires in his region reinforced his decision.

Are building codes not enough?

Both Mr. Dixon and Mr. Boughton are part of a growing cohort of people who are building what’s known as “resilience” in their homes.

A resilient home is one that can be inhabited with relatively little work after a big event.

Building standards are constantly revised to include climate change, with the primary objective of protecting public health, safety and general well-being.

But University of Washington environmental engineer Anas Ghadouani said they’re often “slow” to accommodate changes and don’t always protect your home from extreme weather events.

A head and shoulders photo of UWA water expert Anas Ghadouani smiling and standing in front of the Swan River.
Professor Anas Ghadouani said building codes don’t always protect your home from extreme weather events(ABC News: Charlotte Hamlyn)

He said the codes juggle a good balance between risk and impact.

“The regulator can only look at the minimum standard that will resolve the minimum damage to a neighborhood with this building code,” he said.

He said the current risk analysis provided by building codes often meant that a home would not withstand “abnormal storms,” ​​which are becoming increasingly likely with climate change.

“So building codes protect you from an event for 100 years,” he said.

“But the problem is that some of these events occur more frequently than they are statistically assumed to be.”

Is it worth the cost?

Government and industry are encouraging the building of extra strength in your home.

In the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Seroja, the Washington State Fire and Emergency Services Department has offered grants of up to $ 20,000 to build additional protection in their homes.

Melissa Pexton, State Recovery Controller at TC Seroja, said it was about minimizing future destruction.

“With an increase in these more devastating events, we really want to try and build resilience at every opportunity,” she said.

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Earlier this year, James Cook University, Suncorp Insurance, CSIRO and architectural firm Room 11 collaborated to build what they called “a house to save many,” a fire-resistant, flood-resistant house. , storms and cyclones.

The directors of the architects of Room 11 said the final design showed, with thoughtful planning, that it could be achieved at a cost comparable to that of a standard architecturally designed house.

The costs of building resilience in your home can vary widely, as evidenced by the costs of Mr. Boughton’s features versus Mr. Dixon’s.

But it’s more affordable when you’re building from scratch.

Mr Ghadouni said it was ultimately a personal choice and the need to weigh the risk against the cost of construction.

“Probably not enough people are taking action on this in my opinion, but people don’t really know what to do,” he said.

He said there was enough climatology at the regional level for the owner to make a decision on his risks.


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