Adapting Our Homes in Wake of Climate Change

In the last blog, we discussed the critical implications of the construction methods of our homes and buildings on the causes of climate change. The energy consumption of our buildings is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions across our economy.

The building sector also provides us the largest source of low cost and easily attainable reductions in energy consumption and thus greenhouse gas emissions with existing technology. In many cases the climate-friendly options for our homes are those options that also save us money over time: improved insulation, high efficiency lighting & heating, or solar technology. No futuristic, yet-to-be-discovered technology needed.

Although saving money while saving the planet is as compelling a reason as any to build and renovate our homes with the best energy performance options available, there is another equally critical function that our homes can do for climate change.

Adaption of Our Homes:

When we think about adaptive strategies in buildings we must first consider what the impacts of climate change are, and will be in the future. Scientists agree that the most likely outcomes of increased carbon pollution to our atmosphere will be increased severity of heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.

Also likely are increasingly powerful storms, including larger rain events, which in Santa Fe and New Mexico means increased likelihood and severity of flash flooding. With changing temperature and moisture conditions comes changes to pest behavior, as we have seen with bark beetle infestations, and increasing difficulties for agriculture as California is experiencing today.

Our homes can easily be designed and constructed to respond to these climatic stresses. And often can be done in ways that add no additional cost in the context of typical new construction costs today.

Examples of Home Adaption for Climate Change:

Examples include proper solar design, where solar gain is optimized to increase the indoor temperature only in winter while fully shading the living space in summer. This coupled with high mass interior walls and floors can create a home that resists the temperature extremes of the exterior climate.

Similarly, fire resistive exterior building materials will reduce our risks to wildfires. Exterior materials such as steel posts and beams, metal siding and roofing and masonry walls can minimize fire danger to the structure. These materials are also pest and water resistant, improving our resilience in the face of flooding.

Water scarcity is already a reality for New Mexicans and in the future it is likely to only become more so. The use of water conserving fixtures is already code in Santa Fe and has become the norm, but the inclusion of rain water catchment and grey water re-use for landscape irrigation will afford us more garden enjoyment and food security without the added stress to our water supply.

Building & Renovating with the Future In Mind:

The ways in which we build and renovate our homes can afford us increased resilience to the impacts of climate instability. Such methods improve our capacity to remain comfortable and protected from the climate effects we are already faced with, as well as the increased impacts still to come.

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