Due to our changing climate, the natural environment is getting harsher, and commercial buildings need to adapt. With raging wildfires becoming a summertime norm, along with increased tornadic activity and ferocity of storms, resilient building design has never been more important.

resilient building design

According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, natural disasters cost the United States $91 billion in 2018. Eighty percent of the loss was attributable to Hurricane Michael, Hurricane Florence and the western wildfires. Wildfires set a record in losses that year. For this year, as of July 9, there have been six weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion.

Increased population density in urban environments also comes into play, where the human toll disasters can take will only escalate.

Adapting to changing conditions

So what does resilient building design mean? According to the Resilient Design Institute, “Resilience is the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance. It is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption.”

Of course, climates vary greatly from Alaska to Florida to Maine, so local requirements for resilient building design will vary greatly. New York’s needs, for example, are outlined via Inhabitat:

New York City has a wet climate, and water is a part of its environmental challenges throughout the year. In New York City, the most common and likely natural disaster scenarios involve water: hurricanes, flooding, storm surges, and blizzards. Resilient building in New York City needs to plan for all of these types of events, as well as the day-to-day stress that comes from significant precipitation year round, high-humidity, and the alternation of humidity (in the summer), with extremely dry interior air (in heated buildings in the winter). Of course, builders in New York City also need to design to withstand seismic activity, high heat loads in the summer, power outages, manmade disasters like terrorism, as well as the normal damage that comes with thousands of people moving through spaces in rapid succession.

Up front, resilient building design can net massive savings. The National Institute of Building Sciences’ Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2018 Interim Report, released in January this year, is the result of a multi-year study on hazard mitigation, which “highlights the significant savings that result from implementing mitigation strategies in terms of safety, and the prevention of property loss and disruption of day-to-day life.” The Institute says the “project team looked at the benefits of designing buildings to meet the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC) and 2018 International Building Code (IBC)—the model building codes developed by the International Code Council (ICC)—versus the prior generation of codes represented by 1990-era design and National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) requirements. The project team found a national benefit of $11 for every $1 invested.”

There are returns on resilience, not just from the investment standpoint, but very much to the human toll disasters can take. There’s never been a better time to get on board with resilient building design.