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It’s time to talk resiliency

Published by
World Cement,

Allen Hamblen, CalPortland Co.

The massive costs associated with man-made and natural disasters highlight the pressing need to change the conversation about so-called green construction to focus on resilient construction. As part of their priorities for the 2018, US Congress and local governments should push for more durable and resilient construction guidelines that will not only save lives, but also taxpayer dollars. Resilient construction is an increasingly pressing requirement, as the country is buffeted by the need to rebuild after such catastrophic events, including fires and storms.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, underscores the costly predicament. It found that extreme weather and fire events have cost the federal government – and US taxpayers – over US$350 billion in just the last decade, with the price tag expected to rise as the climate changes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared 2017 the single costliest year on record for weather and climate disasters.

It is only going to get worse. The GAO cited one particularly troubling projection in the scientific literature: for the years 2020 through 2039, GAO said that the US could sustain between “US$4 billion and US$6 billion in annual coastal property damages from sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms.” The same projection identifies the southeastern US as bearing the brunt of coastal property damages.

Addressing this clear and present danger

A good place to start is a wholesale recalibration of the definition of what is often labelled as ‘green construction’. The emphasis over the last several years has been to promote construction of LEED-certified buildings as the pinnacle of sustainability.

But in light of extreme weather trends and their sweeping impact, this is myopic. It hardly benefits the environment, and it hardly should be considered ‘green’, if a LEED building, damaged in a disaster, requires major reconstruction and, as a result, the release of more CO2 to produce more materials.

Rather, the recalibrated view should be that the greenest building is the energy-efficient building left standing, the one reinforced by better materials, such as concrete, and the one that does not require additional carbon release to produce additional materials necessary for repair.

Modernising the definition of green will require a national dialogue about the need for specialised resilient construction techniques, certainly for disaster-prone areas in which hurricanes and other extreme weather occurs. These construction techniques – for new and existing structures – can help ensure that infrastructure continues to work following a disruptive event.

Of all construction materials for buildings and other infrastructure, concrete is by far the most disaster resilient. Concrete can be incorporated in several key aspects to make projects more durable and disaster resistant. For example, concrete wall, ?oor, and roof systems offer an unsurpassed combination of structural strength and wind resistance. In addition, hardened exterior ?nishes for walls and roofs of a home or business provide the best combination of strength and security.

The investment in resilient construction pays off for taxpayers, insurance companies, and anyone else footing the bill. According to the National Institutes of Building Sciences, for every dollar spent on resilient construction techniques, six times that amount is saved in recovery costs after a disaster strikes.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Concrete Sustainability Hub have studied construction cost trends in areas prone to disasters. What they found is well worth underlining. They concluded that hazard-related maintenance costs “can be significant over the lifetime of a building. In fact, the costs of hazard-related repairs can exceed the initial building cost.” Their case studies demonstrate that investing in greater hazard-resistant residential construction in certain locations is very cost effective.

While there is a need for this discussion, individual states are moving legislation that would actually limit the use of stronger materials. These legislative efforts – for example, in Washington state and Oregon – run counter to good common sense and public safety.

Building resilient communities

Leaders need to recognise that green, resilient communities start with comprehensive planning, including stricter building codes that produce robust structures with long service lives. More durable buildings with high-performance features that incorporate concrete and cement promote community continuity. They are the new ‘green’ buildings, making cities and towns stronger and better able to successfully manage any disaster challenge.

About the author: Allen Hamblen is President and CEO of CalPortland Co. He is also Chairman of the Portland Cement Association, which represents US cement manufacturers.

This article first appeared in World Cement North American 2018. Interested in reading more like this? Sign up for a FREE TRIAL subscription here.

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US cement news PCA news Cement news 2018