Built to Weather Any Storm, Resilient Buildings Strive to Withstand Climate Events


Resilient. Its definition has not changed, but the word has taken on a new role in our vernacular as we seek to address the current and future effects of climate change and the ensuing economic uncertainty. Federal and local government agencies, along with many industries and communities, are engaged in resilience planning to anticipate and survive extreme weather and economic disruptions.

So, what exactly does resilience mean in this context?

While some think of resilience only as the ability to recover from a major disruption or disaster, the U.S. Economic Development Administration identifies three attributes of resiliency:

  1. The ability to recover quickly from a shock

  2. The ability to withstand a shock

  3. The ability to avoid the shock altogether

Thinking in terms of resiliency provides a framework to identify and evaluate the risk of disruptive events and develop plans to avoid, withstand, and recover from them. A shock event is complex and many entities might play a role in avoiding, withstanding, and recovering from it. Therefore, part of resilience planning is identifying who is responsible for what during each stage of a potential major disruption, and defining and assigning those roles.

The movement toward resiliency stems from climate change and the increasing frequency of hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and floods. Each risk is specific to different regions, and while federal agencies will be involved, resilience planning must be undertaken at the local level to address the needs of the community at risk.

Take a major hurricane event in the heavily populated Gulf Coast of Florida, for example. The following is a list (by no means exhaustive) of some considerations for a resilient hurricane plan. Imagine who would need to be involved for each item and the coordination required in advance to have the necessary plans in place.

Avoid the shock

  • Focus on strengthening vulnerable communities

  • Evaluate and strengthen infrastructure

  • Accelerate and incentivize the construction of resilient buildings

  • Evaluate hospital buildings for structural integrity

  • Fortify seawalls, levees, and other flood prone areas

Withstand the shock

  • Update emergency communication equipment and procedures

  • Plan evacuation routes

  • Provide supplies and provisions

  • Provide emergency shelters

Recover from the shock

  • Restore electrical grid

  • Repair utility infrastructure

  • Rebuild and repair structures

  • Feed and shelter those in need

Resiliency in Construction

As the list makes clear, the construction industry has a major role to play in resiliency. As extreme weather events become more common and increasingly severe, the built environment must adapt.

The construction industry and the government agencies who regulate it are rethinking decades-old conventional wisdom that sought to build lighter, faster, and cheaper.

Resilient buildings must be built heavier, denser, and stronger. And - as a happy consequence - they are also built according to the principles of sustainable design. Resiliency and safety standards have been established with construction compliance criteria by guides - FEMA P-361 and the ICC 500 to address high-wind and weather events.

Resiliency and Sustainability in Buildings

The concept of resiliency is rather new. In the world of architecture and construction, a much older term is sustainability, which puts climate change and our environment front-and-center.

How do resiliency and sustainability differ in practice when it comes to buildings? Not much. They both strive to solve the same problem; the problem is just viewed from different perspectives.

Protecting and saving the environment is the aim of sustainable design, with life-safety as an obvious goal. The movement toward sustainable design understands that climate change is leading to environmental conditions that won’t sustain life unless society acts, and its goal to heal our climate includes changes in how we build.

Life-safety is the overarching concern of resilient design, and our environment benefits from its proposed solutions. The resilient design movement understands that our built environment – our homes, buildings, and infrastructure – are severely at risk by extreme events brought on by climate change, thus putting our communities and our lives in danger.

Resiliency and sustainability advocate many of the same solutions, such as:

  • Passive daylighting

  • Passive heating & cooling

  • Buildings built to last

Construction Strategies for Resilient Buildings

Looking at construction through the framework of resiliency, the first step is to avoid the shock, and it begins with accepting a change in building practices that have been commonly used for decades. Rather than light frame construction, buildings should be built to withstand the forces of high winds, floods, and fire with non-combustible roofs and walls, and strong, dense materials.

Changing common construction practices can be difficult. Government can assist by revising building codes to require resilient construction, and offering incentives for the use of resilient building materials and practices.

The second attribute of resiliency is the ability to withstand the shock. Through careful architectural design, buildings can provide passive daylighting, heating, and cooling in the event of a sustained power failure, to reduce reliance on mechanical systems.

The third step is to recover from the shock. Fortunately, the repairs and reconstruction required following a shock should be minimal for resilient buildings already built to withstand it.

The Resiliency of Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs)

As the construction industry moves toward a resilient future, ICF blocks are uniquely suited to the challenge.

ICFs are interlocking, stackable blocks that create the formwork for solid reinforced concrete walls. ICF blocks consist of two high-performance rigid insulation panels held apart by a series of vertical ties. Once the ICF blocks are stacked, rebar is placed in the cavity between the rigid insulation boards, and the cavity is filled with concrete. The resulting structure is exceptionally strong, airtight, and insulated.

The resiliency of ICF construction goes beyond its strength, fire-resistance, and ability to withstand high winds. The high thermal mass of concrete gives architects the opportunity to incorporate effective passive solar heating and cooling systems into the design, for an energy-efficient building that is less reliant on mechanical systems.

The Best in ICFs: Fox Blocks

In addition to resiliency, ICFs provide cost savings and ease of installation. Insulated concrete forms by Fox Blocks structural assets provide compliance with FEMA P-361 and ICC 500, plus air barrier, insulation, and vapor retarder exceed code requirements. Fox Blocks ICFs, as one building product with many attributes and advantages, offer combined structure, air barrier, insulation, and vapor retarder into one product and one installation process. Fox Blocks ICFs offer the construction industry a smooth transition to a resilient future.

Curious to Learn More? The team at Fox Blocks is happy to answer any questions about ICFs and would welcome the opportunity to work with you on your project. Contact our experts today.