Rebuilding to higher standards after disasters

Rebuilding to higher standards after disasters

After a disaster, there are advantages to rebuilding to higher standards that might decrease the likelihood of a repeat of the damage caused by the disaster, whether it was a wildfire, flooding, hurricane or another event. However, municipalities are often reluctant to implement new building codes that might impose additional costs and delays on homeowners who have lost their home. While weighing the advantages and disadvantages of putting new building codes into place, towns must balance the desire to help avoid future damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure; to avoid lost tax revenue, lost business income and loss of life; along with any potential rebuilding delays and increased rebuilding costs.

The costs to make homes more resilient to natural disasters has not been quantified extensively. Some changes in construction may not cost much more while others can be very expensive. Headwaters Economics produced a report to quantify the costs of a typical home in southwest Montana if built with fire-resistant materials versus the costs of one built with standard materials. The report concluded that the costs of the two homes were about the same, when built new. In addition, some wildfire-resistant items last longer and require less maintenance. Costs for upgrading various parts of an existing home were also included in the report.

“The report concluded the costs were about the same.”

In Florida where tougher codes have been implemented over the years, six Habitat for Humanity homes survived Hurricane Michael without major damage in contrast to the homes around them. The homes were not custom built, high-value homes but were built to be affordable. The additional materials and methods used in their construction for resistance to hurricanes did not add a significant amount to the building cost.

Another frequent—and costly—natural disaster is flooding. There are different causes of flooding, including storm surge and inland flooding as a result of rainfall and overflowing waterways. With homes along the coast the risk may be easy to identify, but homeowners inland may find it more difficult to determine the risk to their homes. The difficulty with building to avoid flooding is that it is not always known or predictable where flooding will occur as it does not always occur in the official flood plain. This makes it difficult to justify the expense of raising a house that is outside a flood plain. A lower cost option for these homes is to use water tolerant materials on the lower sections of the first level and position wiring higher up in that level’s walls.1 This allows a quicker recovery if the house is flooded and less chance of mold, which could make the house uninhabitable.

1, January 2017