How Builders and Developers Can Offer More with Disaster Resilient Home Design

[NOTE: This article was written in March 2020 for a professor specializing in construction management. It was never published and is therefore being used here for my professional portfolio.]

Those looking for ways to position themselves as the premier builders, developers, architects, and construction professionals in 2020 don’t need to look any further than resilient construction.    

2019 was a difficult year for extreme weather events. Globally, there were a total of 40 billion-dollar weather disasters, the fourth highest inflation-adjusted number of billion-dollar weather events on record. In the U.S. alone, there were 14 weather disaster events that exceeded $1 billion dollars in losses, making 2019 the fifth consecutive year (2015-2019) in which there have been 10 or more of such events. Among these were Hurricane Dorian which caused $10 billion in damage, Tropical Storm Imelda which caused $5 billion in damage, and the Midwestern floods, or what the New York Times called “The Great Flood of 2019,” which caused $10 billion in damage. The 2010s in general were the costliest decade for natural disasters. Of course, citing numerical figures like this doesn’t begin to do justice to the scale of human suffering as a result of these events.     

Unfortunately, the frequency and severity of weather disasters such as floods and hurricanes are increasing. And despite the Multihazard Mitigation Council’s (MMC) estimation that every $1 invested in hazard mitigation saves $6 in future disaster costs, not only is there not enough being invested, most of it occurs after disaster has already struck. But retrofitting existing buildings after the fact is a costly and inefficient form of mitigation. Making homes resilient at the time of construction is a much better approach, but for the time being the onus of this has fallen largely on homeowners.       

The silver lining is that this has led to a rise of interest in resilient homes and construction. Resilience, in this context, refers to a structure’s ability to withstand natural elements and extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, and tornados. In recent years we have seen highly publicized examples of resilient homes such as the Sand Castle, one of the few surviving houses in Mexico Beach, Florida, after the town was battered by Hurricane Michael in 2018. Striking images of the house standing strong amidst a sea of wreckage made it an overnight symbol of resilient design and construction. 

Even with the growth of public interest, resilient building has heretofore been seen as the responsibility and domain of homeowners. But with the benefits of resilience becoming better known, it is now being taken more seriously by those in the building industries: developers, builders, architects, and even interior designers. 

I predict that as more homeowners become aware of the benefits of resilient construction, they will increasingly seek the services of those who can make their homes resilient. For example, I expect there will be more questions from clients about the “FORTIFIED” designation. Based on 20 years of testing and research by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), FORTIFIED is a building method that has three-tiers of designations—Roof, Silver, and Gold—all of which go beyond building codes to safeguard commercial and residential structures against extreme weather events like floods and hurricanes. 

In addition to offering greater value to homebuyers, there are numerous other benefits of resilient building:

  • Resilient homes and structures are more attractive and valuable than vulnerable ones. Homes in Alabama with FORTIFIED designation, for example, are appraised at approximately 7% higher than similar but non-FORTIFIED homes. 
  • Insurance companies in numerous states offer significant discounts for homes with resilient construction. 
  • Resilient homes save money on both repair and maintenance costs
  • Resilience overlaps with sustainability, something that homeowners also increasingly want. Once thought of as two separate concerns, projects like FLASH’s Hurricane Strong Home are showing that resilience and sustainability can come together. Indeed, resilience is arguably the foundation for sustainability since all the LEED and BREEAM certifications in the world won’t help if buildings don’t remain standing.

Three useful industry reports that go into further detail to make a case for the business and economic benefits of resilient construction are the Portland Cement Association’s The Real Value of Resilience, Urban Land Institute’s Returns on Resilience: The Business Case, and the National Institute of Building Sciences Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves

For those wishing to learn more about, and possibly get trained in, resilient construction methods, an excellent place to start is with the FORTIFIED program. Information about FORTIFIED training courses for building professionals is on their website. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) is a non-profit organization that seeks to educate the public through its informative blog and downloadable resources. And Habitat for Humanity is on the forefront of showing that resilient building can be affordable and cost-effective with their Habitat Strong program which also offers resources and training programs.  

With so many benefits for both builders and homeowners, more public awareness, and helpful resources widely available, now is an excellent time for builders, developers, architects, and other professionals to begin offering value-added services for a demand that will only grow stronger in the years ahead. 


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