Designing And Building For Climate Change

While the focus in recent years has been on building greener homes and more eco-friendly building practices, it is important not to forget that new buildings should also be designed to cope with the impending impacts of climate change.

What Is Climate Change?

In a nutshell, climate change refers to the differences in global climate conditions as a result of human intervention. The use of the word ‘climate’ refers to long-term global averages of temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns over many years.

Essentially human activities have led to a significant increase in the production of ‘greenhouse gases’ such as carbon-dioxide and methane. These extra gases trapped within the earth’s atmosphere accelerate the earth’s natural heat retention process, effectively altering the earth’s temperature artificially.

It is this extra heat that is the concern for the global community, as the world warms issues arise around more extreme weather events which could result in issues with food production, water supplies, disease and general living environments for both humans and all of the planet’s inhabitants including animals, insects, plants and sea life.

Climate Change In New Zealand 

What is New Zealand’s current climate change situation? Here are some fast facts from the Ministry for the Environment’s report ‘Our Atmosphere and Climate’ published in 2017.

  • Between 1990 and 2017 there has been a 24% rise in New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Road transport experienced the largest increase in emissions over that same period, increasing by 78%.

  • New Zealand’s hottest year on record was 2016.

  • New Zealand has experienced an increase in temperature of 1 degree centigrade since 1990.

  • In NZ 169,000 hectares of land was deforested between 2017 and the year 2000.

  • New Zealand’s native and exotic forests removed 67% of our carbon dioxide emissions in 2015.

  • There has been a 25% reduction of glacier ice since 1977.

  • New Zealand has experienced a 14-22cm sea-level rise at its four main ports since 1916.

  • The pH of New Zealand’s ocean decreased by 0.03 between 2017 and 1998.

7 Possible Effects Of Climate Change 

While no one can accurately predict the full effect of changing climate conditions over the next 100 years, there are historic indications and educated predictions that can be useful when building in response to climate change. What kinds of climate changes could affect buildings as time goes on? Some of the projected changes we may see in New Zealand in the future are:

  1. Hotter temperatures

  2. Differences in the amount of rainfall received

  3. Stronger winds and stormy weather

  4. Increased likelihood of natural hazards such as flooding and drought

  5. Rising sea levels

  6. Higher levels of UV radiation

  7. Increased fire risk

9 Things to Consider When Building For Climate Change

In New Zealand housing stock ranges from the new through to houses that have stood the test of time and are over one hundred years old. If considering the lifespan of your new home could still be around in over 100 years then the need to look to future climate conditions over the long term is evident.

Designers, builders and new home owners are all responsible when it comes to building for climate change. There are a number of ways you can incorporate climate change house design factors into your new build, take a look below for a 9 things to consider when building for climate change.

  1. Structural Design. Including specific structural design aspects in order to cope with additional wind loading, higher rainfall and heavier snowfall etc. such as roof pitch, storm water runoff and roof drainage guttering systems.

  2. Outdoor Areas. Designing buildings with greater emphasis on outdoor areas, including considering additional areas of shading, plantings and structures for wind resistance, and efficient irrigation systems.

  3. Use Of Natural Resources. Designing buildings to make more use of natural ventilation, light, heat from the sun and maximising directional aspects is a large part of optimum climate change house design.

  4. Passive Design. Incorporating passive design features to aid in more efficient temperature and humidity control. This includes things like building orientation, insulation, energy efficient heating and cooling and minimising ongoing energy use. If we continue to construct new homes unable to withstand future weather conditions, we’ll end up needing more electricity to heat and cool our homes and workplaces.

  5. Water Usage. With temperatures rising water use is going to become a focus in many areas, incorporating water saving/reusing features, and more efficient sewerage disposal systems will reduce pressure on urban water supplies.

  6. Location. Building in hazardous areas such as low-lying places that are flood-prone or coastal zones that are likely to experience greater erosion needs to be carefully examined moving forward. Should these areas be limited? Avoided all together? Or do design aspects just need to take these potential hazards into consideration?

  7. House Size. Thinking about the size of your new home is already a factor for many, however climate change may mean greater emphasis is placed on less wastage and reducing the carbon footprint of the home during construction and over its useful life.

  8. Materials Used. Building material selection has a huge role to play in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. Buildings create emissions right from when construction materials are extracted/processed through to transportation, installation, daily use and disposal – careful selection is wise.

  9. Future Proofing. The increased awareness of the effects of climate change will undoubtedly generate stricter building guidelines and regulations. Building codes will have greater emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, eco-friendly manufacturing processes, construction materials and recycling. Taking these things into account when designing and building your new home now will future proof it for future generations.

Useful Links For Designing Climate Friendly Homes

  • Estimated Service Life Building Materials Information.  Information on specific building materials giving values for the embodied greenhouse gas and energy impacts.

  • BRANZ LCAQuick Lifecycle Assessment. A excel spreadsheet based tool that calculates the life cycle environmental impacts of building elements and whole buildings including the consideration of ongoing maintenance and durability.

  • Ministry For The Environment. Information on climate change in New Zealand and likely impacts.

  • NIWA. Find out what climate change is and why it is happening.

  • NASA Sea Level Changes Portal. Find out more about the changes to sea levels around the worlds and what this means for those living within low lying zones.

  • Climate Change And The NZ Building Industry. A report from the independent, not-for-profit membership organisation ‘Royal Society’ on climate change mitigation options for the NZ Building Industry.

For more information on building lower carbon footprint homes in NZ see here or learn more about building eco-friendly homes from the team at Build7, your professional builders located in Christchurch, NZ.