Housebuilding for Flood Resistance

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Building & rebuilding the same old ways is not turning out well

Southeast Texas, where I grew up, got phenomenal rains just days ago. Many households that flooded during Harvey flooded again. Taylor’s Bayou near Port Arthur reported more than 43 inches. For everyone who is affected, I am so sorry. I was in Alvin TX in 1979 when we set a record at 42 inches of rain in 24 hours, with a storm total of about 45. I never expected to see such immense amounts of rain become common storm totals.

It isn’t feasible for everyone to simply move away. That’s where the industries are (a quarter of the USA’s gasoline is produced in a triangle from Port Arthur to Houston to Freeport, all of which got hit by Imelda), where the work is… and for many, it’s where generations of family are rooted. Besides, things are changing everywhere. Moving could be a matter of going from floods and hurricanes to tornadoes or blizzards.

So what can you do if you live in an area that could flood?

I’m still researching that question, but elevating the house up onto pilings cannot be the only solution.

Some of what I’ve found won’t retrofit onto the wood frame construction that is common in southeast Texas.

But if you are building or rebuilding in an area that might flood, maybe you can keep your house above rising water without putting it permanently sixteen to twenty feet up on pilings.

The Netherlands developed special concrete that is hydrophobic, which means it doesn’t absorb moisture. They use the special concrete to make barges and build a luxury house on each barge. The barge-houses are beautiful. They are moored by floating access walkways. When the water rises, they simply rise with it. When the water goes down,they go down with it. (This method is seeing limited use in some other countries now, too.)

And in Sacramento, California, I’ve dined in a restaurant that is on the river. On it, not beside it. The parking lot is underneath. The restaurant is one story higher. Similar to the barge houses, the restaurant can rise as the river does; the parking garage can be allowed to go underwater, since no one will go out to eat in the midst of a flood anyway. Huge rings at each corner go around steel pilings, keeping the restaurant from floating out of its place.

Combine those two ideas and you could have a normal-looking house on what appears to be a tallish concrete foundation, but that house can float itself in a flood.

In an era of accelerating climate change, the way we’ve always done things before won’t be enough. We’ve got to look for other ideas. I’ve just tossed one on the table. There must be more. If we put our heads together, we can find better ways to do things, some to heal the planet and some to get along better while the Earth recovers.

Some companies that make floating houses

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