By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
The case for resilient construction must include precast concrete.
Community, city, state and federal leaders in the United States are recognizing that building and re-building communities the same way every time is not effective. As a result, initiatives devoted to creating communities prepared for flooding, high winds, fire, and other natural and man-made disasters are popping up across the country. National Precast Concrete Association members must also be prepared to service this growing segment of the precast concrete industry.
Resiliency doesn’t need to be a fairy tale
We all remember the story of the three little pigs. One pig built a straw house, the second built a stick house and the third built a precast concrete house (NPCA’s version). Next, the big bad wolf huffs, puffs and blows down the straw and stick houses, but his powerful lungs are no match for precast concrete. Now, imagine if the first two pigs rebuilt their homes with straw and sticks again. Even in a fairy tale world, this would be illogical. But in the real world, this happens all the time. Strong storms and forest fires raze entire communities, and in the aftermath, we have historically rebuilt using the same materials and the same minimal building codes.
Resilience is defined as the ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change (1). Misfortune seems to be on the rise in the U.S. and worldwide. In 2011 and 2012, the country endured a record number of extreme weather events – heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and floods – resulting in an estimated $188 billion in total damages (2).
Four out of five Americans live in counties that were hit by at least one federally declared weather-related disaster in the last six years. Extreme weather is stressing the aging transportation, water, energy and communication infrastructure in our communities and regions, which was given a “D+” grade in 2013 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. This is forcing many community leaders to take action.
Resilient Communities for America
Resilient Communities for America has many mayors and leaders on board from across the U.S. who are devoted to creating more prepared communities (3). Resiliency strategies outlined in the Resilient Communities for America agreement include:
- Evaluating local vulnerabilities to extreme weather and a changing climate.
- Reducing the community’s carbon footprint to help reverse climate change and avoid the costs of adapting to more severe climate impacts.
- Implementing energy efficiency programs that help residents, businesses and municipal government save money and energy, lower carbon emissions and reduce demand on the grid during severe weather events.
- Investing in upgrades to community facilities to safely serve the needs of changing communities decades into the future.
- Harnessing innovations in information technology and green infrastructure to optimize performance and reduce costs through more efficient operation.
The use of precast concrete for building and infrastructure construction can contribute to achieving all these goals. Precast not only serves as protection from nature’s wrath, it is also the premium choice for energy-efficient buildings, primarily due to its thermal mass (4).
100 Resilient Cities
100 Resilient Cities is another organization raising awareness of the importance of resilience in the U.S. and worldwide (5). Some examples of city resiliency strategies include:
- Toronto, Ont.: Improvement of aging infrastructure.
- Pittsburgh, Pa.: Expansion of green infrastructure and improvement of the flood management system.
- Norfolk, Va.: Design and build-out of a new kind of coastal community to withstand changing threats.
Legislation has been introduced to provide incentives to builders and owners who use resilient construction methods. Congress bill H.R.3397, “Disaster Savings and Resilient Construction Act of 2015,” would, if passed, provide a tax credit to owners and/or contractors who use resilient construction techniques when building and renovating homes and commercial structures in federally declared disaster areas.
Resilient construction is effective
After Hurricane Andrew caused more than $32 billion in damages in 1992, Florida adopted strict building codes for its coastal areas. Just three years after the new codes went into effect, they were tested when Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne struck Florida within a six-week period. Post-hurricane analysis found that while Charley’s winds affected thousands of homes, not one of those designed and built under the new, strengthened construction rules suffered structural damage (6).
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety advocates for stronger construction in new and existing homes and has created a set of engineering and building standards called “FORTIFIED.” (7) The use of precast concrete products in home and commercial construction can help meet these standards. This results in not only a safer home or business, but also significant savings in insurance.
Wildfires also pose a risk throughout the U.S. As more and more businesses expand into affected areas, wildfire risk will grow. Noncombustible siding materials such as precast concrete will provide the greatest protection from flames, embers and radiant heat.
Precast meets the challenge
Significant challenges face communities wishing to improve their resilience to natural and man-made disasters. But the benefits are immeasurable. Precast concrete has a long service life and is robust and durable. It will withstand flooding, fires, high winds and hard rains. NPCA members must use resiliency as a part of their marketing message – especially in disaster-prone areas – so when the next big bad wolf comes calling, people and businesses can be safe.
For additional questions or comments, please contact Claude Goguen, director of sustainability and technical education, at [email protected] or at (317) 582-2328.
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of sustainability and technical education.
(2) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration