The living space in this new home built by Global Green in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans is elevated four feet (1.2 m) to keep it above expected flood level. Numerous other "passive survivability" features are included.
A lot of people have been working for a long time to try to head off global warming — and some progress is being made. Buildings are becoming more energy-efficient, fuel economy standards for vehicles are finally rising again, and use of renewable energy is burgeoning.
We need to continue these efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon dioxide, but the reality is that it's too little, too late to prevent
climate change. Even if the CO2 spigot were turned off tomorrow, the earth would still see significant warming and the other predicted impacts of climate change: more intense storms, flooding, drought, wildfire, and power interruptions. It's time to design our buildings and the built environment to adapt to the very different climate that scientists say is going to be with us.
That's the subject of the feature article in our September 2009 issue of Environmental Building News
: "Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World
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(no login required — see Alex Wilson's note in the comments, below).
Andrea Ward and I interviewed some of the nation's top climate scientists, including Stephen Schneider, Ph.D., of Stanford, and Jonathan Overpeck, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona, to establish context for the article — making the case that not only is climate change happening, but it's happening more rapidly than the best climate models predicted just two years ago.
We address the question of mitigation vs. adaptation — whether we should put effort into preventing climate change or adapting to it — and argue that we must do both simultaneously. "The bottom line is that you've got to adapt to what won't get mitigated," says Schneider in the article.
Moving on, we focus on measures for adapting to climate change. We describe 36 strategies, organized into five categories, providing context for each of the categories and succinct explanation for each strategy. These strategies are listed briefly here (details appear in the full article):
Drought and water shortages
- Design cooling-load avoidance measures into buildings
- Design natural ventilation into buildings
- Limit internal gains by specifying high-efficiency lighting and equipment
- Model energy performance with higher cooling design temperatures
- Provide landscaping to minimize cooling requirements
- Address urban heat islands in building design and landscaping
- Plan for termite ranges extending north
More intense storms, flooding, and rising sea levels
- Avoid new development in the driest regions
- Specify water-efficient fixtures and appliances
- Plumb buildings with water-conserving fixtures in mind
- Plumb buildings for graywater separation
- Harvest rainwater
- Plant native, climatically appropriate trees and other vegetation
- Avoid building in (expanding) flood zones
- Expand stormwater management capacity and rely on natural systems
- Design buildings to survive extreme winds
- Raise buildings off the ground
- Specify materials that can survive flooding
- Install specialized components to protect buildings from flooding or allow flooding with minimal damage
- Elevate mechanical and electrical equipment
- Install check valves in sewer lines
- Begin planning for rising sea levels in coastal areas
- Specify Class A roofing
- Eliminate gutters or design and maintain them to minimize fire risk
- Avoid vented roofs or protect vents from ember entry
- Install high-performance, tempered windows
- Choose deck materials carefully
- Install noncombustible siding
- Manage vegetation around homes
- Design buildings to maintain passive survivability
- Provide dual-mode operability with high-rise buildings
- Design mechanical systems to operate on DC power
- Provide site-generated electricity from renewable energy
- Provide solar hot water
- In urban and suburban areas, maintain access to the sun
- Plan and zone communities to maintain functionality without power
The article also describes the work Global Green is doing in New Orleans to create homes that are better adapted to climate change, and we take a brief look at the idea of "engineering" our way out of the climate crisis (intentionally modifying the climate to offset or balance the warming that's occurring).
If there is good news in all this, it is that most of the measures that help us adapt to climate change have other benefits, such as reducing operating costs, improving building durability, and reducing environmental degradation. The challenges are huge, but green building practices are at the leading edge of both mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
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