USA: A hotter topic - Building heat resilience into multifamily housing
By Catalina Jaramillo
Affordable multifamily housing is the most vulnerable building sector when it comes to extreme circumstances, and its residents have fewer resources. “Lower [income] populations are the first victims and the last ones to recover,” O’Neill said at a conference on climate change and affordable housing organized by Green Building United in Philadelphia. That’s why property owners, developers and homeowners need to consider extreme weather when investing in future development.
How can multifamily buildings prepare for extreme heat? Two things that help are backup generators and insulation, said Thomas Chase, senior project manager for New Ecology, a nonprofit that works with Enterprise to develop resilience and recovery strategies and that also did a presentation at the conference.
“The first thing we push is always the envelope,” Chase said. “A well-insulated, air-sealed envelope that mitigates thermal swings becomes a more resilient building even when the power is out.”
A passive house, one with a good thermal envelope and insulation and that doesn’t rely on mechanical solutions for climatization, is the ideal, he said. Apartments built under that energy-efficiency standard can be habitable for up to a week during a heat event with no electricity, he noted, while a normal construction becomes uninhabitable in half a day.
A backup generator can allow residents to run their cooling units after an outage, but Chase strongly recommends solar power plus battery storage.
In May, City Council approved modern building codes for commercial and multifamily buildings. Adoption of the 2018 International Building Code will increase energy efficiency in buildings by more than 30 percent compared to the 2009 code it replaces, and will increase demand for energy-efficient equipment, bringing the price of cooling and heating systems down. The new code also mandates specific building materials and construction practices according to updated climate zones, making new construction more resilient to the effects of climate change.