5 Tips to Improve Building Resilience

May 16, 2018

Building resilience means creating facilities that can withstand sudden shocks and long-term stresses. Embrace these resilience factors to keep your commercial building functioning no matter what.

Resilience, “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events,” is crucial in an era of more frequent and intense natural disasters, according to the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The organization’s Ten Principles for Building Resilience presents practical, actionable advice for communities. Much of the advice is also valuable for facilities professionals who are looking to shore up their facilities to increase building resilience.

Embrace these five resilience factors from ULI to maximize disaster preparedness and minimize downtime.

1) Explore Vulnerability

Building resilience starts with understanding the shocks and stresses that your area is prone to, ULI explains.

Shocks are sudden, extreme disasters, such as flooding, earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

Stresses are long-term social, economic and environmental problems that undermine a community’s ability to respond to shocks (e.g. air quality problems, high crime or an insufficient transportation system).

Figuring out where your building is vulnerable is the first step to understanding the risks to your assets and the potential costs of recovery.

Start assessing vulnerability by looking at your assets and their proximity to sources of risk. For example:

  • Do you have buildings located in a floodplain?
  • If not, does your building depend on utility infrastructure that’s near a flood-prone body of water?

2) Seek Solutions that Benefit Everyone

Some building resilience recommendations benefit not only individual buildings but also the community at large, ULI notes. Private sector building investments can promote equity and benefit vulnerable and low-income neighborhoods while saving money and headaches for building owners.

Still Relevant: Planning for Sustainability

For example, urban heat islands have a disproportional impact on disadvantaged people because the extra air conditioning required to offset the higher temperature can be prohibitively expensive, ULI notes. Planting trees and implementing other green infrastructure, such as vegetated roofs, offsets the urban heat island effect and helps lower the temperature (and energy bills) for everyone.

3) Invest in Enduring Locations

Cities should incentivize development in areas that are less vulnerable to rising water levels and other potential shocks, ULI’s report explains. However, if your organization is already looking at moving or expanding, you don’t have to wait for cities to catch up to capitalize on the relative safety of high ground.

For buildings where it’s not cost-effective to relocate, ULI recommends looking into fortification strategies. Elevating mechanical equipment can keep boilers and chillers out of harm’s way so they can continue to function during a flood or storm surge, for example. Buildings in drought-prone regions might explore graywater recycling and xeriscaping to reduce the facility’s demand for potable water.

You can also turn your building property protection strategies into a green certification initiative. Several designations and design standards, including LEED and Sustainable SITES, offer points for building resilience strategies like renewable energy systems and backup power.

4) Understand the Business Case

Building resilience can deliver significant returns even when it’s not needed to withstand a shock, ULI states. In some cases, such as resilient energy and water systems, you may notice a reduction in upfront construction costs as well as lower-than-average operating expenses. Sometimes, resilient design can also lead to lower insurance premiums or access to better insurance coverage.

A resilient design strategy can also serve as an important marketing tool to bring in new tenants and retain the old ones. If your building can withstand major events and long-term stresses better than its competitors, that can spell quality to future occupants.

One facility named in the report – 1450 Brickell, a Class A office tower in Miami – embraced several resilient design strategies to fortify the building against hurricanes and storm surges, including a backup generator, elevated ground floors 8 feet above grade and high-impact-resistant windows for the building.

Its curtainwall window system was the strongest of any commercial building in the U.S. at the time of construction, far exceeding the requirements of Miami building code (which was already stringent). As a result, the building was 100% leased as of 2013, compared with 40% lease-up rates for two similar office towers.

5) Account for Nature in Building Design

One of the most important resilience factors in the report is designing to exist with nature rather than fighting it. This means addressing the geography of individual sites in a holistic way and focusing on resilient design that accounts for natural hazards, ULI explains.

For buildings in areas that are vulnerable to rising water levels, focus on elevating mechanical equipment out of harm’s way, stormwater management systems and green infrastructure to help slow water.

Areas where heat is the biggest problem can take steps to mitigate the impact of high heat, such as green and blue roofs, reflective surfaces and vegetative cover. Buildings vulnerable to wildfires require access to water, a safe distance from combustible elements like grasses and trees, and design that avoids wind corridors.

Read the rest of the report.

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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