Building with Resilient Design Is a Worthwhile Investment

As yet another hurricane season begins, MIT scientists are calculating the long-term value of investing in resilient design.

With hurricane season upon us, an expert at MIT offers insights into the value of investing in what he calls hazard-resistant construction or resilient design. In an interview with U.S. News & World Report, Jeremy Gregory, a research scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, looks at the benefits of building structures that can better weather a major storm and concludes that, “While it may be pricier upfront, it can pay off in the long run.”

Gregory, who is also executive director of MIT’s Concrete Sustainability Hub believes that being proactive about hazard mitigation and building structures for the long term that are resilient to extreme weather events is not only critical for saving lives but is also a cost-effective investment.

Waves crash over a seawall from Biscayne Bay as Hurricane Irma passes by, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

As communities continue to rebuild from the devastating damage wrought by hurricanes in recent years, there is more focus on resilient building materials and designs that can mitigate future damage. It is estimated that a record $309.5 billion in disaster costs were incurred by the U.S. last year due to hurricane’s Harvey, Irma and Maria. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recently announced that 2018 doesn’t promise to be much better hurricane-wise. They believe the 2018 season “has a 75 percent chance of being near- or above-normal, and that one to four major hurricanes may develop”.

At MIT, scientists are evaluating the cost of resilient building using a life-cycle approach that includes the costs of doing initial construction, maintenance throughout the life of the building, energy consumption, and an estimate of hazard repairs (i.e. costs that might be sustained due to hurricanes).  This is important, Gregory says, in calculating what the payback is on hazard-resistant construction.  “Most often, this kind of construction costs more upfront, but there are paybacks for it over the long run,” he says.

As major natural disasters become more frequent, safety and public health experts say civic leaders should treat these severe weather events as the new “norm” and prioritize disaster resilience in community planning and rebuilding. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences,  every pre-emptive dollar spent on mitigation can save approximately $6 in future disaster losses.

A destroyed apartment complex in Rockport, Texas after Hurricane Harvey passed through in 2017.

Because there aren’t always incentives for developers to take life-cycle costs into perspective, government needs to play a role in encouraging these practices. To help, MIT has developed an online tool called the BEMP (Break-Even Mitigation Percent) which calculates how much can building owners can invest in mitigation and still break even over the lifetime of the building. “The whole idea is to give people a ballpark figure of how much additional costs are associated with mitigation,” says Gregory.


Designing for Resilience—Part Two

Sto Therm ci is an exterior insulated wall system that can stand up to blows and abuse; it can be as durable and impact-resistant as you want to make it.

Having provided a macro look at design issues based on increasingly dramatic and devastating weather events, this week we are going to look at specific resilient design solutions and products as they relate to wind and water, specifically Hurricane Impact (HI) systems.

Hurricane impact resilient design can save lives, structures and money. Hurricanes inflict costly damage on the populated areas where they hit, causing billions in insurance losses, costly business disruptions, and taxpayer dollars spent on disaster management. With more than 50% of the American population (who account for 58% of the nation’s gross national product) living or working in coastal counties; these hurricane-prone areas call for well-sealed buildings that also allow for adequate drainage. Severe wind load, heavy precipitation and ground level flooding all need to be addressed.

Creating smarter exteriors for storm protection

Stricter building codes have contributed to improved resilient design, but so have innovative building products and systems. Exterior insulation finish systems (EIFS) and air moisture barrier (AMB) products have been available for decades, and have always been a “resilient design” solution, but they weren’t necessarily referred to as such.

Using specialized EIFS, AMBs and other exterior wall products and systems to enhance design resiliency can provide protection from some of the most severe weather conditions in North America involving high-wind events and moisture intrusion.  Hurricane protection systems for exterior walls can be economically installed on a variety of substrates including metal frames with gypsum sheathing, wood or steel frames with plywood sheathing or concrete masonry. Many of these are also available in a wide range of decorative and protective wall finishes so that form doesn’t have to be sacrificed to function.

As EIFS have evolved, so has the market for advanced solutions for exterior cladding options that protect against hurricane and tropical storm winds, water intrusion and windborne debris (missile impact).  Exterior walls may be susceptible to damage and can result in building envelope failures in such storms. In most cases, windows will fail before the exterior wall, so one of the key components of good resilient design is an air/moisture barrier with connections and transitions that integrate the window and penetration points, creating a monolithic barrier across the entire building. Specialty systems for coastal construction, incorporating innovative wall systems can offer more wind-and-water-related structural protection.

One of those protective products is Sto Corp’s StoTherm® ci exterior insulated wall system, which can stand up to the full range of blows and abuse that Mother Nature can dish out. You can make it as durable and impact resistant as you want by simply swapping out the standard basecoat and mesh and substituting more flexible or resilient components . The product meets the ultra-high impact class per ASTM E 2486 at 150 inch-lbs. Just how tough it is, can be appreciated here: https://youtu.be/LkEFv7O3s_cArchitects, engineers and builders, as well as politicians and city planners need to understand and take advantage of products that can be incorporated into design strategies to protect valuable buildigs that are subject to severe wind and water intrusion.

Advanced resilient design solutions can offer structural protection and enhance public safety, but also deliver significant economic benefits