Resilient design: the foundation of climate adaption
ZS: You have really taken a leadership role in the resilience space, especially as it relates to green building. Please discuss how resilient design fundamentals can help homes, commercial buildings, and communities withstand harsher conditions and extreme weather events.
Wilson: Fortunately, we have several decades of experience to draw from in creating highly energy-efficient buildings. Homes and apartments that are close to net-zero-energy or close to achieving Passive House standards will be highly resilient. Here in Vermont we can build homes today that will never drop below 50°F even with no electricity or supplemental heat — simply by virtue of the building envelope and passive solar design features.
We know how to design schools, which often serve as emergency shelters in the event of extended power outages, to incorporate natural daylighting and avoid cooling loads.
We know how to dramatically reduce the water needed to operate our buildings.
We know how to create New Urbanist towns and neighborhoods where we can access all the services we need without cars.
These are all components of green building, and these features can help to keep us safe in the event of extended power outages or other disturbances.
ZS: Most households, communities, cities, and nations aren’t adopting resilient design fundamentals as quickly as they should be. What’s the hold-up?
Wilson: Partly, it’s an issue of awareness. Our underlying goal at the Resilient Design Institute is to change that, to make the case for resilience and educate communities and building owners about the benefits provided by a strong commitment to resilience. I keep hoping that the wake-up calls we’re getting — Katrina, Irene, Sandy, Texas wildfires, Midwestern drought, and so on — will be enough to bring about the needed change in mindset. After Sandy, New York City has established a Building Resiliency Task Force to come up with recommendations for creating more resilient building stock; I’m hopeful that that process will result in some real change. As a participant in that Task Force I’ll certainly be making that case.
ZS: What are the biggest opportunities for entrepreneurs in this space? What specific industries or products promise to make the biggest impact?
Wilson: The biggest challenge we face in trying to make our buildings more resilient is to dramatically improve the energy performance of existing homes. That’s a huge challenge. It will require innovative outboard insulation systems, high-performance window treatments, and other measures like those, and I believe that there is tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities with such products and systems. It will also require innovative financing approaches, the introduction of insurance policies that reward resilience, stronger building codes — there is a lot that needs to be done on many different levels by many different segments of the business community.
ZS: What advice can you give future home builders, buyers, and developers? What resources are out there for those who are interested in learning more?
Wilson: Certainly, keeping up with resilient design issues is an important starting point. I’m hoping that our website ResilientDesign.org will become a leading clearinghouse of practical solutions for achieving resilience. But there are many other sources of information as well. Readers should take advantage of local workshops, conferences, networking gatherings to keep up-to-speed on resilience. The new book, Two Degrees: The Built Environment and Our Changing Climate, written by leading energy engineers with the firm Arup, is a treasure trove of information on what we need to be doing at both the building scale and community scale — with an emphasis on big buildings.
Photo courtesy of flickr user g.sutley.
Zach Sharpe is the lead climate resilience reporter for Sustainable Industries. He can be reached at email@example.com.