Prepare Your Home for Extreme Heat, Droughts and Floods

In: Old Houses, Home Improvement Tips, Green Renovations, Garden And Lawncare, Technology, In The News

Make no mistake - Earth’s climate is changing rapidly.  While this has been well understood in the scientific community for over twenty years, it has taken the current record-smashing heat and drought to get the attention of many Americans.  Nearly 2/3 of the United States is experiencing abnormal to exceptional drought.  And when it does rain, it often arrives as catastrophic flooding.

Thus far we’ve responded with record sales of air conditioners, record high energy consumption, and record high water use to keep our lawns green.  Yet, unless action is taken, rising temperatures and Summer heatwaves will make homes uncomfortable at best and potentially life-threatening at worst. More frequent and severe floods will threaten many homes, while reduced water availability will put many populations at risk.

The good news is that there are many simple, affordable changes you can make to ensure that your home is more comfortable and sustainable . . . No matter what the weather.  Many cities like Chicago (see chicagoclimateaction.org), New York PlaNYC, and Seattle are making long term plans for adapting to extreme weather events.  Common sense says we should be making the same plans for our homes.

There are 130 million homes in America.  They were generally designed for the climate as experienceed during the time the homes were built.  But, the climate has changed and will continue to change more dramatically if we continue business as usual.

Here are some ways you can ensure that your home remains comfortable, resource efficient and livable for many years to come.

Manage Heat: Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S.  The 1995 heat wave in Chicago killed 750 people over five days.  More than 70,000 Europeans died as a result of the 2003 European heat wave.

  1. Install awnings or plant trees to shade windows in the summer
  2. Add storm windows with low-E glass to filter infrared heat
  3. Install a smart thermostat like the Nest or the Ecobee to maximize comfort while minimizing energy consumption
  4. Restore your old home’s natural ventilation features [See my article on "How to cool your house without air conditioning"]
  5. Consider an induction cooktop when replacing your stove.  They are twice as efficient as a gas stove, perform better, and will release much less heat into the house.
  6. Get rid of all your incandescent light bulbs.  Now!  Not only are they horrible energy hogs and will cost your more money over time, but they also create a great deal of heat.
  7. Replace heater and a/c with the most efficient you can buy or finance.  Over time, geothermal heating and a/c can be the most affordable, even though it has a higher up front cost.

Manage Water: Extreme droughts and increased demand are putting severe pressure on shrinking water resources.  36 U.S. states are anticipating catastrophic water shortages, even during non-drought periods.

  1. Consider installing a large (1,500 gallon) rain water capture cistern (like existed in many older homes).  This water can be filtered and used for watering vegetable gardens, flushing toilets, showering or washing clothes.
  2. Install high-efficiency shower heads that use no more than 1.5 gallons per minute
  3. When retrofitting plumbing, considered a dual-plumbing system to reuse water from showers, sinks and laundry for outdoor use or for flushing toilets.
  4. Divert storm water into rain gardens to replenish groundwater aquifers instead of flowing out to the street and storm drains.  This will reduce localized flooding and pollution of streams and rivers.
  5. Consider planting a green roof on your flat or low-sloping roof.

Flood Mitigation:  Even as droughts become more severe, the growing intensity of rain and snow in the Northern Hemisphere has increased the risk of flooding.

  1. Check the FEMA Flood Maps to determine your flood risk http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/flooding_flood_risks/ffr_overview.jsp
  2. Store valuables on an upper floor rather than in a vulnerable basement
  3. Rewire, raising electrical points above flood level
  4. Relocate meters, boilers and hot water tanks above flood level
  5. Avoid carpet on floors below flood level
  6. Ensure that all flood pathways on driveways and walks drain away from the home
  7. Use porous materials when replacing driveways, walks and patios.  This allows water to flow into the ground rather than pool and flood.

    Retrofitting your home can enable you to better cope with the impacts of climate change.  Doing so will help you avoid suffering from the effects of flooding, from water shortages during droughts, and from overheating during periods of extreme Summer temperatures.  Most importantly, it will allow your home to continue to be a healthy, comfortable place to live for your family.