Sustainable Buildings: More Resilient in Disasters?

April 30, 2012

Sustainable buildings are more efficient than conventional buildings, but are they better at standing up to disasters too? A landmark report on climate change says yes.

"In the wake of last year's disaster activity, it is important that we develop and enforce safe and sustainable building codes to make our communities more resilient," says FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, who spoke at the National Leadership Series event where the report was released. "Green building practices, the resiliency of our communities, and emergency management priorities are not mutually exclusive."

The report, titled Green Building and Climate Resilience, detailed adaptive strategies for green building practitioners, including a four-step process to integrate climate adaptation strategies into existing buildings:

1) Understand regional impacts. Identify how climate affects the building's region. Your climate zone is impacted by temperature, water and other precipitation, coastal effects, air quality, pests, and fire.

2) Evaluate O&M targets. Understand how building maintenance and operations perform under peak climate conditions.

3) Conduct scenario analysis. Analyze how the building will respond to projected climate impacts in your area. Model different system options under a variety of climatic conditions to test this analysis.

4) Implement adaptation strategies. Install technology that will provide passive or efficient responses to more extreme climate events, thus allowing you to maintain occupant comfort while preventing spikes in energy use.

Rising average temperatures are of particular concern because they affect all regions and influence many other facets of climate change, the report noted. Higher temperatures lead to more extremely hot days (when the temperature is over 90 degrees F.) and more frequent and intense heat waves.

As this phenomenon occurs, the Southwest is likely to see a decrease in all precipitation and an increase in longer and more severe droughts. The Midwest will have fewer but more intense storms, leading to an increased risk of flooding, while the Pacific Northwest pine forests may be in danger because more insects will survive as winters become warmer.

The report was produced by the USGBC and the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.

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