The kind of extreme weather conditions climatologists are predicting due to global warming could spell dire consequences for people’s well-being and safety if developers continue to build to minimum standards, rather than adapting to resiliency-based standards required because of climate change.
Like the natural environment, our built environment rests on a delicate balance significantly affected by our planet’s climate. Small changes in climate will have dramatic impacts in all aspects of our built environment from the reliability of our power grids, to where new urban developments can be built.
The International Panel on Climate Change, 2014 (IPCC) recently made an urgent call to take adaptive action immediately because of climate change. Think polar vortex, ice storms, flash floods, record heat waves, droughts, tornadoes and coastal storms – all the result of global warming. “The housing and construction industries have made advances toward climate change mitigation by incorporating energy efficiency in building design,” says the report, however it went on to state that, “The cost of adaptation measures combined with limited long-term liability for future buildings has influenced some builders to take a wait-and-see attitude.” (IPCC Chapter 26, pg. 33, citing Morton et al., 2011)
This is the kind of attitude Marcus Poirier, president of MasonryWorx, an Ontario association of brick, block and stone professionals, says we need to change. “The decisions we make today will have a dramatic impact on our housing stock for generations to come. Adapting to climate change in our building practices now must be done with a view to buildings lasting for the next 100 years.”
The cost of extreme weather is being felt by Canadians and businesses. The Insurance Bureau of Canada has documented that yearly payouts due to floods, fire, hail and windstorms has increased from $100 million a decade ago to $1 billion between 2009 and 2012. According to the IPCC report, “As climate changes, design standards will change too. Exterior building components including windows, roofing, and siding are all specified according to narrow environmental constraints. Climate change will introduce conditions that are outside the prescribed operating environment for many materials, resulting in increased failures of window seals, increased leaks in roofing materials, and reduced lifespan of timber or glass-based cladding materials.” (IPCC Chapter 10, pg. 20)
“There is no question that the incidents of severe weather are increasing in Canada, so are their frequency and severity,” says Glenn McGillivray, managing director of Institute for Catastrophic Loss Prevention, a centre for multi-disciplinary disaster prevention research and communications. “The number of events is increasing and the impact of the events is increasing.”
While Canada’s building code is generally strong, it’s not perfect, says McGillivray. “There are gaps. As we move into a future of more uncertain weather, some gaps have to be filled.” Forward thinking designers and architects worry that modern communities aren’t being built with the principles of resilience, which allows homes and buildings and the people living in them to cope better during extreme conditions resulting from power failures, ice storms and other severe weather events.
Some, such as green design and construction expert Alex Wilson, believe the issue could come down to a matter of life and death. Adopting resilience stems from “the motivation of life-safety rather than simply doing the right thing,” Wilson has written at BuildingGreen.com. “We need to practice green building, because it will keep us safe–a powerful motivation–and this may be the way to finally achieve widespread adoption of such measures.”