The pandemic has literally given meaning to the idea that our home is a haven, a place where we seek refuge in uncertain and uncertain times. A concept that designers and architects around the world take more seriously than ever – not only in the event of another pandemic, but also because of climate change.
On a global level, storms are becoming more and more of a problem. Forest fires, floods, hurricanes and winter storms are becoming more frequent and more devastating. Sea levels continue to rise and pose a threat to coastal areas around the world. A report released by the United Nations in August found that even if countries drastically cut emissions tomorrow, global overall temperature is likely to change within the next two decades about 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 F) will rise, causing an increase in severe weather events. So how do designers and architects – especially those who work in endangered regions – take these aspects into account when designing houses that are meant to last for generations?
California designers are already facing a number of climate-related challenges, including droughts, forest fires and rising sea levels. “While it’s great to work with customers who are committed to reducing their home’s carbon footprint, a big part of it is accepting that we may already be facing a disaster,” says Sarah Barnard, a designer from Santa Monica. “If so, what can we do to better protect ourselves and our loved ones?”
Encouraging customers to invest in solar and electrical appliances where possible is “a no-brainer,” says Barnard. “With solar you will see an immediate return on your investment through lower utility bills, tax credits and the ability to feed it into the local grid, but you can also rest assured that your home could be self-sufficient should the power fail or be shut down in an emergency,” which prevents fires in California. “
A house without gas is usually safer as it reduces the risk of leaks and improves indoor air quality. While many homeowners still consider a shiny gas range and stovetop the epitome of luxury, Barnard has seen this change as gourmet kitchen brands continue to develop sleek induction hobs that are a far cry from the red ringed electric stoves of the past.
In 2020, San Francisco – perhaps America’s most environmentally advanced city – voted to ban gas in new residential buildings; As recently as April, city regulators considered the total ban on gas appliances as part of the goal of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2045. Jenny Rios, a Bay Area architect and site manager, urges homeowners to electrify as many systems as possible, from kitchen appliances to heat pumps.
Maximizing the self-sufficiency of homes is key to creating climate resilient living space, and it is not just energy that needs to be considered. Water reclamation is also an increasing feature of environmentally conscious households. These systems are commonly referred to as gray water systems and recover used water from washing machines, showers and bathrooms. The name comes from the cloudy color water takes on when mixed with soap, but once filtered the water appears clear and can be used for outdoor irrigation. The systems run at around $ 15,000 – which isn’t a wild number given the size of some of the new build budgets. As gray water systems become increasingly popular in drought-prone California, New York-based designers are becoming more popular Laurence Carr says she saw some of her east coast clients starting to implement them as well.
Courtesy Karen Curtiss
When it comes to bringing these issues up with customers, the San Francisco based one is Karen Curtiss, the director of Red Dot Studio Architecture and Design, decided years ago to stop asking customers if they wanted to make environmentally conscious choices and just started telling them how she works. “At the beginning I mentioned things like using alternative materials, and most of the time the customer said no,” she says. When she changed course and made a green checklist her first pitch, she found that the clients she had hired were already on board and didn’t need to be sold. Curtiss came up with two lists: one of choices she would make for all future homes, such as CarbonCure concrete, a material made with recycled carbon dioxide that is injected into fresh concrete foundations to reduce a home’s carbon footprint.
It has become increasingly easy for Curtiss to convince customers to move on with their decisions, especially in Northern California where people are seeing firsthand the effects of droughts and forest fires. She says she saw some customers invest in integrated air filtration systems to control smoke from forest fires. Other design considerations could include a metal roof or certain types of cladding that will burn down while protecting the walls behind it. Barnard suggests that customers with homes in areas prone to forest fires or flooding discuss choosing a garage door with a general contractor prior to installation, as this is often an entry point for weather damage. “There are now garage door options on the market that can withstand fire for hours,” she says. “If a weather disaster occurs, your home is a little more resilient.”
Coastal homes have their own challenges: designers and architects need to consider both the possibility of flooding and wind damage. Allison Anderson and John Anderson, Directors of Unabridged Architecture of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, review not only the history of storm damage around a waterfront property, but also the climate projections for the area as potential sea level rise can vary widely. “We ask our customers about their service life expectations – is it 50 years? 100 years? – and plan accordingly to maintain habitability for that period, ”says John Anderson. “We also ask about their risk tolerance. If a hurricane comes, will they board and evacuate? Do you expect to return quickly after a storm? These considerations flow into the earliest vision for the project and help us decide on materials, shapes and orientation on the site. “
With the kind permission of the unabridged architecture
Bill Taylor Miami-based Taylor & Taylor Architecture & Interiors says that most homes in South Florida were historically built 6 feet tall – which is 3 feet lower than what the Federal Emergency Management Agency is currently asking for new construction. Many communities are now encouraging homeowners to go even higher and raise homes 11 feet or more.
When it comes to addressing the potential of floods and torrential rain, the Andersons enjoy working at the intersection of architecture and landscaping. “We have limited options to prevent flooding: avoid the option by hiring [the house] back out of the water or lift [it]; Absorb water by creating spaces that can be safely flooded and easily cleaned after an event; or withstand water by flood protection, ”says Allison Anderson. They often use a combination of such features to give customers as much protection as possible.
On a recent Gulf Coast project, Unabridged Architecture raised the home 5 feet above level with two decks, a low retaining wall to deflect waves, and a chain wall foundation to raise the home above the required high water level. Inside, the interior has been chosen to prevent mold growth, an important aspect in a humid climate. There are no drywall and the walls and ceilings are all made of wood. “Ultimately, the decisions we make today have a huge financial and functional impact on our customers,” says John Anderson. “We do everything to ensure that your investments are permanent, resilient and future-proof.”
Home page photo: A recent Unabridged Architecture coastal project that uses landscaping and other methods to reduce flood risk | With the kind permission of the unabridged architecture