As Climate Disasters Increase, Designers Seek Clean Solutions: Disaster-Resistant Homes

John duSaint, a retired software engineer, bought land near Bishop, Calif., in a mountain valley east of the Sierra Nevada. The area is prone to wildfires, extreme daytime heat and high winds – and heavy winter snow.

But Mr. duSaint is not worried. He plans to live in the dome.

The 29-foot structure will be covered with aluminum sheeting that reflects heat and is fireproof. Because a dome has less surface area than a rectangular house, it is easier to stop heating or cooling. And it can withstand strong winds and heavy snow.

“The shell of the dome is indestructible,” said Mr. duSaint.

As the climate grows stronger, geodesic domes and other sustainable building designs are gaining renewed interest from climate-conscious home buyers, and the architects and builders who care about them.

These developments could lead to disruptions in America’s struggle to adapt to climate change: The technology exists to protect homes from the effects of hot weather — but these innovations have been slow to make their way into home construction, leaving more and more Americans vulnerable to climate change, experts say. .

On the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, volunteers recently finished reassembling “Weatherbreak,” a geodesic dome that was built more than 70 years ago and was briefly used as a home in the Hollywood Hills. They were avant-garde at the time: about a thousand aluminum blocks tied together in the earth, 25 meters long and 50 meters wide, to produce a larger metal.

This design has also gained new importance as the Earth warms.

“We started thinking about how our museum can help with climate change,” said Abeer Saha, managing director renovation of the dome, he said. “Geodesic buildings emerged as a way to solve our housing problem in the past, in a way that has not been given enough attention.”

Domes are just one example of the innovation that is happening. Buildings made of steel and concrete can withstand heat, wildfires and hurricanes. Even traditional wooden houses can be built this way greatly reduce the complexity major damage from hurricanes or floods.

But the additional fixed cost can be about 10 percent more than conventional construction. The investment, which often pays for itself by reducing the cost of repairs in the event of a disaster, still presents a problem: Many homebuyers don’t know enough about construction to demand a strong one. Builders also don’t want to add power, fearing that consumers won’t be willing to pay extra for things they don’t understand.

One way to reduce this gap would be to tighten building codes, which are set at the state and local level. But many places don’t use the latest codeif they have the necessary building standards at all.

Some architects and planners are responding to the growing concern about disasters themselves.

Somewhere in the Wareham River, near Cape Cod, Mass., Dana Levy watches her new home fort go up. The building will be built with a form of concrete, or ICF, to create walls that can withstand strong winds and flying debris, as well as retain heat in the event of a power outage – which is impossible, thanks to solar panels, storage batteries and emergency generators. The roof, windows, and doors will not feel the wind.

The whole point, according to Mr. Levy, a 60-year-old retiree who works in renewable energy, is to make sure he and his wife don’t have to leave the next time a hurricane hits.

“There’s going to be a lot of people who are going to run out into the streets looking for the government’s limited resources,” Levy said. His goal is to clear the storm, “and call my neighbors.”

Mr. Levy’s new home was designed by Illya Azaroff, a New York-based architect who specializes in concrete construction, with work in Hawaii, Florida and the Bahamas. Azaroff said using this type of concrete adds 10 to 12 percent to the cost of a home. To offset the extra cost, some of his clients, including Mr. Levy, choose to make their new home smaller than originally planned – to provide an extra bedroom, so to speak, to survive a disaster.

Where the risk of wildfires is high, some architects are turning to steel. In Boulder, Colo., Renée del Gaudio he built a house which uses steel and its sides to create a flameproof shell. The stairs are made from ironwood, a fire-resistant wood. Underneath the piers and around the house is a grass barrier that rests on top of crushed rock, to prevent the growth of vegetation that could start a fire. A 2,500-gallon cistern can provide water for plumbing if the fire is too close.

Those things increased the construction costs up to 10 percent, according to Ms. del Gaudio. That cost could be cut in half by using less expensive materials, such as stucco, that would provide the same level of protection, he said.

Mrs. del Gaudio had reason to use the best materials. He repaired his father’s house.

But perhaps no sustainable building model inspires commitment like geodesic buildings. In 2005, Hurricane Rita devastated Pecan Island, located in southwest Louisiana, destroying many homes in the area.

Joel Veazey’s 2,300-square-foot dome was not one of them. He only lost a few shingles.

“People came to my house and apologized and said: ‘We laughed because of the way your house looks.’ We shouldn’t have done that. This place is still here, while our houses are finished.

Dr. Max Bégué lost his home near New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, they built and moved to a dome on the same site, which has survived hurricanes since then, including Hurricane Ida.

Two things give the dome its wind resistance. First, domes are made of small particles, which can carry more loads than other shapes. Second, the shape of the dome’s tunnels is circular, which makes the wind flat for a strong grip.

Dr. Bégué, who is a veterinarian specializing in racehorses, said: “It does not blink in the wind.” “It’s a bit more flexible – more than I’d like. But I think that’s part of its strength.”

Mr. Veazey and Dr. Bégué acquired their homes from Natural Spaces Domes, a Minnesota company that has seen the need to jump in the past two years, according to Dennis Odin Johnson, who owns the company with his wife Tessa Hill. He said he expects to sell 30 or 40 domes this year, up from 20 last year, and has had to double his staff.

A typical dome is about 10 to 20 percent less expensive to build than a standard wooden house, Johnson said, with total construction costs ranging from $350,000 to $450,000 in rural areas, and about 50 percent higher inside and out. cities.

Most of the customers are not particularly wealthy, Johnson said, but they have two things in common: an awareness of the threat of climate change, and a difficult trip.

He said: “They want something that will last forever.” “But he’s looking for something else.”

One of the new customers of Mr. Johnson and Katelyn Horowitz, a 34-year-old consultant who is building a dome in Como, Colo. and the fact that they require fewer things than traditional houses.

“I like quirky,” said Ms. Horowitz, “but I like it never ends.”

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