Six Mitigation Areas for Building Professionals

NU Online News Service, March 13, 1:55 p.m. EDT

 Working under the assumption that climate change is inevitable, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning have released a study outlining how building professionals can anticipate changing environmental conditions and reduce potential impacts on both the built environment and new construction.

“Green Building and Climate Resilience: Understanding Impacts and Preparing for Changing Conditions” examines eight regions of the U.S. (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Great Plains, Northwest, Southwest, Alaska and Islands) and the expected climate-related vulnerabilities in each area, then drills down to provide design, construction and operation strategies to mitigate each risk.

“Until now, green building practice has focused primarily on lessening the built environment’s contribution to climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states. “The next step is to understand the impact of climate change on the built environment and to incorporate appropriate adaptation strategies into green building practice so that the environments we design, build, and manage today will be suitable for a range of uncertain futures.”

Read related: "Carriers Gain Comfort Level with Green Coverage."

Based on the existing LEED rating system and LEED reference guides, building professionals can set performance goals for the future climate, for both new and existing buildings, the report suggests. For example, a project in a region expected to experience more intense rain events could set a goal of managing all storm water runoff onsite.

 Recommendations are broken down into six categories:

• Envelope—relating to the thermal properties of the building shell.

• Siting and landscape—the performance of site or landscape to respond to temperature and/or precipitation impacts.

• Heating, cooling, lighting—the performance of building mechanical and electrical systems.

• Water and waste—efficiency of plumbing systems to respond to decreases in water supply or electrical power interruption.

• Equipment—to allow for increased capacity without reducing performance.

• Process and operations—to improve design processes or energy performance in response to climate events.

The report then looks at 81 mitigations, such as interior and exterior shading devices (envelope), fire-safe landscaping (siting and landscape), evaporative cooling towers (heating, cooling, lighting), gray-water system (water and waste), that can make a building “resilient” to anticipated climate change, or “no regrets” (a higher standard that can include exceeding existing codes for wall and roof insulation, etc.).

For example, the report identifies the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest regions as being at high risk for increased temperatures on urban heat islands and prioritizes the use of covered or shaded parking to absorb less heat than conventional asphalt.

The report concedes that the few studies examining the effects of climate change at the neighborhood or building scale have focused on California and the Northeast, and that more research is needed to understand the benefits, costs and efficacy of each strategy.

Read related: "Traditional E&O Risks Emerge From Sustainable Construction."

“Every building is designed for a specific range of conditions, such as peak temperature, storm surge and average precipitation,” said Dr. Chris Pyke, vice president of research at USBGC. “Climate change has the potential to undermine some of these assumptions and potentially increase risks to people and property. Fortunately, there are practical steps we can take to understand and prepare for the consequences of changing environmental conditions and reduce potential impacts.”

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