In light of recent natural disasters and the increasing unpredictability of weather, it's time to make buildings disaster-resistant.
As climate change creates more extreme weather events even in places where they may not have struck before, it will become increasingly more difficult to restrict development to areas with a low likelihood of natural disaster. Therefore, we need to begin constructing homes that will not only help us mitigate climate change, but will also help us adapt to the changes in weather patterns that we are already beginning to see.
Climate Change Mitigation
Buildings are responsible for over a third of the United States' carbon dioxide emissions (1) and are therefore a key target for the reduction of greenhouse gas output. Buildings that are in the shape of a dome have been shown to use less energy (2), thereby decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the air.
Climate Change Adaptation
As of 2011, over 99% of tornado deaths are in areas where warnings or watches have been issued (3), suggesting that the issue isn't a lack of notice but instead a lack of safe shelters.
The construction of buildings that are in the shape of a dome will not only help reduce energy use, but will also establish shelters that can withstand a variety of natural disasters, including high winds of 300 mph and even fire (2).
Why don't we just build safe rooms or basements?
While safe rooms or basements would protect people from high wind events, it is highly likely that the remainder of a traditional home would be destroyed, leading to displaced residents and the need to rebuild entire communities. In addition, in places like Joplin, the soil makes it more difficult and costly to construct basements. If we could avoid having homes destroyed in the first place, we could not only avoid some of the casualties from disasters but the need for clean-up as well.
As the weather becomes more unpredictable and possibly more extreme, buildings that can protect people and even survive disaster will become more essential, decreasing not only the loss of life but also the resources needed to rebuild.
Category of the action
What actions do you propose?
The use of domes as the primary structure for living and working in would be ideal because this would allow them to be used on a daily basis, which has several advantages:
- There is less waste from having to build a dedicated tornado shelter that is only used in the rare event of disaster
- It is safer to have people already be in a safe shelter, instead of having to move to another part of the building, which could take more time and may not happen if the tornado happens at night, if residents happen to miss a tornado watch/warning, or if they do not take the warning seriously because they have become accustomed to false alarms (4).
- Shelters that are not used for long periods of time can be neglected and be unpleasant places to wait out a storm. Having them be used daily would avoid this problem.
Depending on each area's situation, a different approach would be taken:
1. In areas that have been destroyed by tornadoes and other natural disasters:
- Rebuild schools and large community structures with at least some portion of the building that is a dome structure
- If possible, require that new homes are also rebuilt as monolithic domes. If not politically feasible to make it a requirement, provide relief funds, subsidies, and insurance incentives for homes that are rebuilt as domes.
- Because domes are rebuilt quickly, for areas where people are resistant to having homes in the shape of a dome, they could at the very least be used as temporary structures that then area incorporated into the newly reconstructed home.
2. In pre-existing developments:
- Provide subsidies to build tornado-resistant dome structures attached to homes that could double as a storage shed, pool-house, etc.
3. For new developments:
- Require or subsidize the construction of dome-based structures so that even as the population of once-rural areas grows, they will not drastically increase the probability of casualties from tornadoes
Who will take these actions?
This effort would be most effective if it was set up as a coalition of people in addition to those actually building the domes, ideally community members or other workers who are trained in building techniques:
Non-profits: A great deal of resources will be poured into recovery and rebuilding. To ensure that rebuilding will not have to happen repeatedly if a new disaster hits, ideally there would be cooperation from the non-profit sector to encourage the use of dome houses.
Government: If government agencies can encourage the use of domes through changing building codes and/or providing subsidies, it would be more likely that people will construct these buildings.
Schools, churches, businesses, trailer parks, and community centers: By having gymnasiums, auditoriums, or at least some portion of the building that is a dome shape, people will have a safe place to shelter in when they are out of their homes. Having trusted community centers rebuilt as domes could also help others see them as viable options for their own homes.
In addition, if there could be domes situated near trailer parks, or if trailers were replaced by domes when possible, it would be much easier to avoid casualties from these areas.
Architects and designers: Because these homes are unconventional, they may require modifications that would make them more palatable to more people. They could also be customized to the needs of each area that they are in, perhaps incorporating green roofs or renewable energy systems where possible.
Behavioral psychologists, marketers, and educators: Because dome-shaped structures are different from traditional homes, it may require an outreach effort to ensure that people consider using them.
Where will these actions be taken?
While they would ideally be phased in across the country, they should start with:
- Areas that are rebuilding after tornadoes, fires, or hurricanes. Hurricanes would be the lowest priority because depending on the construction of the dome (5), flooding might still affect the home and there could be homes that are better adapted to that.
- New developments in tornado or other natural-disaster prone areas.
- Pre-existing homes in tornado or other natural-disaster prone areas.
If the span of such natural disasters changes, it would be prudent to spread regulations or subsidies to include these areas as well.
What are other key benefits?
Low Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Cement
Cement is "the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S." but there are currently efforts to see how both ancient (6) and new cement mixes could reduce and possibly even reverse carbon dioxide emissions (7). These are likely to produce less of a net carbon dioxide emissions than using wood and other traditional building materials.
Resilience: Psychological, Financial, and Environmental Benefits
While the probability of a tornado hitting any particular household may be quite low, concrete-shell domes provide peace of mind to inhabitants while also reducing their carbon footprint.
Creating entire homes that are tornado resistant would reduce the amount of money, emissions, and resources required to build dedicated tornado-proof structures and to rebuild destroyed buildings, making them an efficient use of space.
Speed of Building/Job Creation
While they are quick to build, they also require labor and training, creating jobs.
What are the proposal’s costs?
In areas where destruction has already occurred, significant expenditure may already be required, so this would have those funds redirected toward a new type of building.
Concrete-shell homes are supposed to cost about as much as traditional homes (8), but may cost more because of the need for custom fixtures. However, if they became common enough, this may not be an issue.
Any additional cost should also be outweighed by the psychological, financial, and environmental benefits, including the savings over a lifetime of using less energy and perhaps lower insurance rates.
- Research into building techniques
- Incorporating into regulations
- Building materials and labor, and associated subsidies
- Education/outreach programs
- Energy use
- Insurance rates
- Cost for rebuilding structures and replacing destroyed property
- Cost for injuries, casualties, and trauma associated with disasters
Ideally, a coalition would be built as soon as possible, with these efforts moving quickly so that they could be incorporated into rebuilding after this tornado season. However, this could be delayed by the need for gathering policy support, training, and even just having people accept these structures as opposed to traditional homes.
1. "Buildings and Climate Change." United States Green Building Council. http://www.documents.dgs.ca.gov/dgs/pio/facts/LA%20workshop/climate.pdf
2. Lanham, Carol. (2009). School Business Affairs. "Keeping Students Safe: Introducing the Monolithic Dome."http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/EJ919337.pdf
3. Smith, Mike as cited by Andrew Revkin. (2013). "How Storm Chasers Have Made Tornado Alley Safer."http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/how-storm-chasers-have-made-tornado-alley-safer/?ref=andrewcrevkin
4. Schwartz, John. (2013). "Shelter Requirements Resisted in Tornado Alley." New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/22/us/shelter-requirements-resisted-in-tornado-alley.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
5. South, David. (2007). "Flooding: Effect on a Monolithic Dome." Monolithic. http://static.monolithic.com/pres/flooding
6. Grabar, Henry. (2013). "Could a 2,000-Year-Old Recipe for Cement Be Superior to Our Own?" Atlantic Cities. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/technology/2013/06/could-2000-year-old-recipe-cement-be-superior-our-own/5800/
7. Biello, David. (2008). "Cement from CO2: A Concrete Cure for Global Warming?" Scientific American.http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=cement-from-carbon-dioxide
8. "The True Cost of a Dome Home." (2009). Monolithic. http://www.monolithic.com/stories/the-true-cost-of-a-dome-home