How severe weather is shaping home design

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Business of Home Weekly Feature, October 13, 2021. By Haley Chouinard.

The pandemic gave literal meaning to the idea that our homes are a refuge, a place to eek shelter during uncertain and unsafe times. Its a concept that designers and architects worldwide are taking more seriously than ever-not just in the event of another pandemic, but also because of climate change.

On a global scale, severe weather is becoming more of an issue. Wildfires, floods, hurricanes and winter storms are getting more frequent and more devastating. Sea levels continue to rise, posing threats to coastal prope1ties around the world. A report released by the United Nations in August found that even if countries were to drastically reduce their emissions tomorrow, the total lobal temperature is likely to rise around 1.5 degree Celsius (34.7 F) within the next two decade , all but ensuring an increase in severe weather events. So, how are designers and architects-particularly those working in vulnerable regions – taking these issues into account when designing homes meant to last for generations?

Coastal homes present their own challenges: Designers and architects are forced to consider the possibility of both flooding and wind damage. Allison Anderson and John Anderson, principals of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi-based unabridged Architecture, check not on]y the history of storm damage around a waterfront property but also the climate projections for the area, as the potential sea-level rise can vary widely. “We ask our clients about their expectations for service life – is it 50 years? 100 years? – and plan accordingly to maintain habitability for that period,” say John Anderson. “We ask about their tolerance for risk, as well. When a hurricane is coming, will they board up and evacuate? Do they expect to return quickly after a storm? These considerations are factored into the earliest vision for the project and help us decide on the materials, forms, and orientation on the site.”

When it comes to addressing the potential for flooding and severe rainfall, the Andersons like to work at the intersection of architecture and landscape design. “We have limited ways to prevent flooding: Avoid the possibility by setting the house back from the water or elevating it; accommodate water by creating spaces that can flood safely and be cleaned easily after an event; or resist water through floodproofing,” says Allison Anderson. They often use a combination of such features to offer client as much protection as possible.

On a recent project on the Gulf Coast, unabridged Architecture elevated the house 5 feet above grade by using two terraces, a low retaining wall that deflects waves, and a chain-wall foundation to raise the house above the required base flood elevation. Inside, the 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 tremendous financial and functional impact for our clients,” says John Anderson. «we do everything we can to ensure their investment is durable, resilient, and ready for the future.”

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