Climate change is transforming architecture: Think houses on stilts, with a rounded shape like a ship that can survive a hurricane
When Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle five years ago, it left boats, cars and trucks piled up to the windows of Bonny Paulson’s home in the tiny coastal community of Mexico Beach, Florida, even though the house rests on pillars 14 feet above the ground.
Some developers are building homes like Paulson’s with an eye toward making them more resilient to the extreme weather that’s increasing with climate change, and friendlier to the environment at the same time. Solar panels, for example, installed so snugly that high winds can’t get underneath them, mean clean power that can survive a storm. Preserved wetlands and native vegetation that trap carbon in the ground and reduce flooding vulnerability, too. Recycled or advanced construction materials that reduce energy use as well as the need to make new material. A person’s home is one of the biggest ways they can reduce their individual carbon footprint. Buildings release about 38% of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions each year. Some of the carbon pollution comes from powering things like lights and air conditioners and some of it from making the construction materials, like concrete and steel.
Pearl Homes’ Hunters Point community in Cortez, Florida, consists of 26 completed houses and 30 to be built by the end of 2024 that are all LEED-certified platinum, the highest level of one of the most-used green building rating systems. To reduce vulnerability to flooding, home sites are raised 16 feet (4.8 meters) above code. Roads are raised, too, and designed to direct accumulating rainfall away and onto ground where it may be absorbed. Steel roofs with seams allow solar panels to be attached so closely it’s difficult for high winds to get under them, and the homes have batteries that kick in when power is knocked out. Pearl Homes CEO Marshall Gobuty said his team approached the University of Central Florida with a plan to build a community that doesn’t contribute to climate change. “I wanted them to be not just sustainable, but resilient, I wanted them to be so unlike everything else that goes on in Florida,” Gobuty said.
Babcock Ranch is another sustainable, hurricane-resilient community in South Florida. It calls itself the first solar-powered town in the U.S., generating 150 megawatts of electricity with 680,000 panels on 870 acres (350 hectares). The community was also one of the first in the country to have large batteries on site to store extra solar power to use at night or when the power is out. Syd Kitson founded Babcock Ranch in 2006. The homes are better able to withstand hurricane winds because the roofs are strapped to a system that connects down to the foundation. Power lines are buried underground so they can’t blow over. The doors swing outward in some homes so when pressure builds up from the wind, they don’t blast open, and vents help balance the pressure in garages. “That water is going to go where it wants to go, if you’re going to try and challenge Mother Nature, you’re going to lose every single time,” Kitson said.
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