Wildfires: In California, 10 of the 20 largest wildfires since 1950 burned in 2020 and 2021.
Heatwaves: Eight of the 10 warmest years on record occurred between 2012 and 2022, and temperatures at night have increased by almost three times more than daytime temperatures.
Drought: 2000 to 2021 marked the state’s driest 22-year period over the last 1,000 years.
For more statistics, see the 2022 “Indicators of Climate Change in California” report here.
In addition, sea-level rise, extreme waves, mudslides, glacier melts, diminished wildlife… We may not feel these climate events first-hand in our lives today; however, as architects, we are keenly aware of the compounding and accelerating effects on our homes in the future. In this post, we’ll explain how climate change affects our homes, ways to mitigate these risks and resources to stay up to date.
PROTECTING OUR NEW HOMES
Fire sprinklers are required in new homes throughout California. Cool roofs [more info on these here], triple-glazed windows and non-wood exterior sidings are also code-required. Energy-efficient HVAC and water heaters, ENERGY STAR appliances, low-flow faucets and improved insulation must also be utilized. Solar PV panels and rain gardens are required for all new homes and ADUs. Coming soon: no more gas connections and appliances will be permitted. By April 2023, new homes will be required to be all-electric!
INCREASED BUILDING & MATERIAL PRICES
The impact of climate change on construction material pricing and availability is apparent. Deforestation and drought conditions currently reduce availability of usable timber, keeping prices high. Additionally, our changing climate is driving significant alterations in construction material composition and manufacturing: stronger, lighter and more durable materials are required, further increasing the cost of materials. Cost overruns have also grown across our industry due to delayed construction (for example, extreme rain, flooding or temperatures may close job sites or slow foundation work).
Climate change alters the range and behavior of pests, which can damage or even destroy parts of our homes. As the global temperature rises, this hot, dry weather drives common household pests – think termites, crickets, ants, rodents – indoors in search of cool, wet spaces. Warmer temperatures can also cause these pests to become more active and breed more frequently, leading to increased populations. A recent report found that termite wood discovery and consumption are highly sensitive to temperature. As the Earth warms with “topicalization” (warming shifts to tropical climates), termite wood decay is expected to increase as termites access more of the Earth’s surface – and in turn release more carbon stored in deadwood into the atmosphere.
How do we mitigate the risk of termites and other pests? Proper waterproofing and insulation is likely the best answer (more below on this), which we carefully specify and detail within our construction documents; along with utilizing construction products that do not provide “food” to pests, such as paperless insulation.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Poor outside air is a pronounced side effect of climate change, and that doesn’t mean global indoor air quality is any better. Higher temperatures and increased humidity can lead to the growth of air pollutants, including mold and mildew. Poorly maintained cooling devices can release Ozone and Freon. Frequent droughts and wildfire result in exposure to more smoke, dust, VOCs, Carbon and Nitrogen Dioxide. Weatherizing homes against extreme conditions and adding insulation helps save energy and money, but it also reduces vital ventilation to remove indoor pollutants.
For architects, this dilemma is a balancing act. At TBA, we begin with strategies for natural ventilation: site orientation, operable windows and vents, understanding the wind/air movement throughout the home… and even more. We also spec whole house ventilation systems including HEPA and UV filters, especially when the homeowner is dedicated to healthy home features like zero VOC finishes, prohibiting chemicals and carcinogenic products, and preventing mold and mildew.
RISING HOMEOWNER COSTS
The frequency and severity of extreme weather has had significant impacts on the insurance market. For example, insurance companies experienced large losses due to California wildfires in recent years – and have broadly increased rates and/or made it harder to get and maintain insurance in wildfire-prone areas. Additionally, potential housing supply in areas of high demand is decreased when climate risks impact further development or when structures are destroyed by natural disasters. These determinants directly increase homeowner costs (and ultimately, the availability of affordable housing).
Influences to rising homeowner costs include:
- The increase in volatility of home prices
- Home value depreciation in areas of tidal flooding, mudslides and wildfires
- Escrow inspections can inflate the apparent risk and costs of remediation
- “Greenwashing” can mislead buyers into paying more for less
- Higher electric and gas bills, restricted water usage
- Increased (frequency of) maintenance to houses
- Extended time and costs to make repairs or install preventions
At TBA, how do we address these hurdles?
We plan for the future. From the very start of any project, we consider the long-term monetary costs of our work, described above. For example, to address increased water costs – and decreased supply – we integrate many strategies into our homes to reclaim, reuse and conserve water:
- Low flow showers, lavatories, toilets and laundry equipment
- Retractable pool covers to reduce evaporation
- Rain barrels and cisterns
- Laundry-to-landscape or greywater systems
- Drought-tolerant plants materials, pervious hardscape design, rain gardens
We work from realistic project budgets and timelines:
- Before any work begins, we align on a realistic budget, and check this at the end of each design phase with a trusted contractor.
- We create and maintain detailed timelines throughout the design process, so we can align with homeowners’ expectations on completion dates.
We provide value engineering:
- Aiming for the stated budget, making clear when design options discussed are outside the budget.
- Presenting alternatives, in case materials aren’t available, or costs have risen too high.
- Multiple sourcing opportunities: In areas of particular concern, we collaborate with experts like waterproofing consultants. We also stay in direct contact with our vendors and collaborators to stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends.
We design for fire resistance:
- Creating defensible space around the home: including eaves, overhangs and soffits that reduce the potential for entrapment of embers and hot gasses; utilizing non-flammable exterior wall materials
- Fire sprinklers and holding tanks… We consider these features and so much more.
HOW DO WE AFFECT CLIMATE CHANGE?
While climate change facts might be overwhelming, they also call us to action. Every mile we walk or bike instead of drive, every double-sided print we make, every sock we darn, every short shower, every light we turn off, and every locally grown tomato we buy decreases our contribution to global warming.
As a studio, we are committed to the future of a healthier and safer planet – and continued learning about how we can make an impact through our work. As a homeowner, how can you create change? We believe it starts with credible information. Some of our favorite resources include:
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Scientific American
- United Nations Environment Program
- International Living Future Institute
We also recommend understanding more about our own contributions at home and the office with Carbon footprint calculators:
Have questions about how you can further make an impact? Contact us at email@example.com