Path to Zero
Path to Zero
3.05 - Designing Homes to Withstand Climate Change Fueled Disasters with Author Boyce Thompson

Resilient home design is the subject of this episode as Tucker speaks to journalist Boyce Thompson, author of the book Designing for Disaster.

Extreme weather events that used to happen once in a hundred years, now seem to occur with more frequency, and the scientific community has pointed to climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, as a big reason why this is the case.

And the data bears this out. In a severe weather trend study recently published at the Propane Education and Research Council:

  • Over the past four decades, extreme weather events in the U.S. have increased, on average, by 4.4% each year.
  • More than 300 weather events –– each of which has caused over $1 billion in damage –– have hit the U.S. since 1980.

About Boyce Thompson and Designing for Disaster

Designing for Disaster details methods for building homes to withstand the growing threat of hurricanes, fires, floods, shifting earth, and tornadoes. Several homes featured in the book actually survived major natural disasters, including the Great Northern California Fires, Hurricane Irma, and the Category 5 tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri.

Thompson spent more than 30 years covering the housing market, including 17 years as the editorial director of Builder magazine.

His first book, The New New Home, published by The Taunton Press, was named book of the year by the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Anatomy of a Great Home (Schiffer Publishing 2018) features the work of three dozen of the country’s leading architects. The book identifies the common elements of great residential architecture, breaking them down into terms anyone can appreciate.

“Climate change and the incidence of natural disasters, that was a huge wake up call for me,” says Thompson. “What I found is that if you’re building in an area where you know that there’s been a disaster, a hurricane, tornado, or severe weather fires, it’s up to you to do the research to figure out how to safeguard your house.

Aimed at homeowners, architects, and builders, Designing for Disaster presents sixteen innovative homes that represent the best of resilient-home practices plus a list of resources from organizations such as FEMA and the National Fire Protection Agency.

Rosenberg-Zuckerman Residence, in Sonoma, California, survived the 2017 Diablo wildfires. Built with fire-resistant plaster-covered straw bales. [From: Designing for Disaster-Schiffer Publishing]

In addition to talking about what homeowners can do to build stronger homes, he also pointed out communities establishing stronger building codes. In Moore, Oklahoma, which was devastated by tornadoes in 2014, adopted a new tornado code that borrows engineering technology commonly found in coastal zones, like “hurricane clips” that attach the roof to the walls, and new rafter-spacing guidelines.

The Artery House, in Kansas City, Missouri, features a bunker-like tornado room that. [From: Designing for Disaster-Schiffer Publishing]

Power Outages

Tucker asked Thompson about what homeowners who live in areas with frequent power outages can do.

“You see houses built with the natural ventilation fireplaces and overhangs to protect the house from overheating in the summer,” says Thompson. “You are also seeing more people building homes with backup propane generators which makes a lot of sense if you live in an area where utilities are prone to go out.”