Due to the effects of climate change, natural disasters have become increasingly common. Alongside this, the intensity of these natural weather conditions has also increased. When these events take place, they can devastate the lives of many people and organizations.

Depending on the natural disaster, their trail of destruction causes billion dollars of damage. In addition, when these extreme weather conditions occur, many people lose possessions, homes, loved ones and jobs. For these reasons, it is imperative the building process keeps evolving to mitigate the effects of natural disasters.

Learning From Natural Disasters

According to National Centers for Environmental Information, all states in the United States have experienced natural disasters that have caused at least $1 billion in damage. Natural disasters create havoc, but it’s important to learn from them so we know what to do differently moving forward.

Building With Natural Disasters in Mind

The construction sector builds homes with green technology to help reduce the carbon it generates, and now they are building properties to withstand extreme weather conditions.

Here are a few examples of how the building industry has updated its processes to help make their building process more efficient and structures more resilient against extreme weather events.

1. Floods

Many people live in areas with a high probability of floods, and they are one of the most deadly natural disasters. As climate change exacerbates extreme weather conditions, floods are expected to increase in frequency and severity.

One way the building sector has tried to overcome flooding is to build houses on stilts or piles. This construction method aims to keep the bottom level of the home above flood levels, but it can also secure homes built on unstable soil.

Other techniques used to reduce the damage floods cause include flood walls, which are built to help keep flood water out of a dwelling. These walls redirect the water away from the property and allow it to flow elsewhere.

Other note-worthy processes include using sealant to make structures watertight or utilizing walls that are easily knocked away to allow the water to pass through without sustaining massive damage to the property. In some areas, homes are also designed to float in the event of a flood.

2. Tornadoes and Hurricanes

To protect properties from tornadoes and hurricanes, they must be designed to withstand dangerous winds. The main danger of extremely high winds is roof displacement, where the wind is so strong it rips the roof from the base of the structure.

Builders can use a continuous load path to keep properties intact during hurricanes and tornadoes. This construction method connects the structural frame — the roof, house and foundation — together with metal connectors, shearwall, timber and fasteners. Using a continuous load path in construction reduces the probability of the home being ripped apart.

Flying debris is also a significant source of damage to buildings. Installing durable, high-impact windows is one way the construction industry can respond to the risk of tornadoes and hurricanes. Polycarbonate glazing shields offer a better chance of stopping wind-blown debris from entering in the event of a tornado or hurricane.

3. Seismic Events

Earthquakes can destroy structures in a matter of seconds. Following government regulations, the construction sector has made major changes in its building processes to mitigate the effects these seismic events cause, including:

  • Shock absorbers: These absorbers are placed on every floor and decrease the energy sent to the foundation.
  • Shear walls: Structures are built to endure gravity, but with massive lateral forces, the building can start to crumble. Shear walls are specifically designed to withstand lateral forces — wind or earthquakes — and can handle the tension a seismic event causes.
  • Pendulums: Another practice, often utilized in skyscraper construction, is the use of pendulums. A massive ball is suspended from steel cables that move in the opposite direction of the seismic activity. The ball is connected to a hydraulic system at the top of the building to help keep the structure stable when an earthquake occurs.

Older buildings can also undergo seismic retrofitting to meet current building codes and ensure the safety of occupants during a seismic event.

4. Wildfires

The risk of wildfires increases as average temperatures rise. Over the last 20 years, the frequency of fires on the West and East coasts has doubled, and the rate has quadrupled in the Great Plains region. Wildfires pose significant risks to communities and cost billions of dollars in damages, but the following construction methods can limit the spread of fire and protect structures from harm:

  • 1. Ignition-resistant roofs
  • 2. Firewalls
  • 3. Window protection, like panels or shutters
  • 4. Fire-rated doors
  • 5. Noncombustible exterior wall coverings
  • 6. Enclosed foundations

Continue to Learn and Adapt

While natural disasters cause massive damage, the building sector continues to learn from them to adapt their building process. It is clear they have already made great strides to help withstand these dangerous events and will continue to do so.

Only with a holistic approach, examining what works and what does not, will buildings become more resilient to natural disasters.


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