As multiple Northeasters bore down on the East Coast in the last 10 weeks, architects and engineers worried about more than the physical impact to their projects. The storms also brought an increasing concern about the liability risks of failing to prepare for climate change and sea-level rise.
While designers have an ethical obligation to exercise the appropriate “standard of care” when advising clients, it is unclear how that legal standard applies to design choices that could be affected by climate change. Every state has its own case law and statutes of repose setting deadlines when designers are no longer liable for design failures. The Trump administration added to the murkiness last August when it moved to strip climate considerations from infrastructure planning guidelines.
The American Society of Civil Engineers is still adopting its own standards, says Michael Sanio, ASCE director on sustainability. Sanio says their code of ethics also puts public safety first. “Taking into account the best science is a responsibility” he says, “designing to existing codes is insufficient. It’s tough when an employer or client is asking for things counter to code. … It’s your responsibly to let your client and owner know the risk.”
Jay Wickersham, president of the Boston Society of Architects, says designers might not be off the hook if they don’t advise clients about design options to mitigate climate change risks. Wickersham, an architect and lawyer who is the former assistant secretary of environment affairs in Massachusetts, says compliance with the law is one of the foundations of the professional standard of care, but the law is “the floor, not the ceiling. There can be circumstances in which design professionals know more protective measures beyond the building code and zoning code and could be potentially held liable.”
Don Ghent, principal and design realization leader at Gensler DC, says his firm shares climate-related research with owners before agreeing “on the best approach for that particular project.” He says many owners want to go above code. He also says insurance companies will likely start guiding owners to ensure they meet the best standard. “Everyone is always looking to nullify risk,” Ghent says.
Georges Pigault, vice president of architects and engineers professional liability for Liberty Mutual, says firms, in general, shouldn’t solely rely on ever-evolving codes, legal standards and flood maps. He says they should consider industry, social and economic trends, along with the project’s scope, life cycle and delivery method.
Pigault says it’s important to understand the client’s expectations so that the project team can take a collaborative approach to risk management.
Firms should document those understandings and also consult with insurance brokers, carriers and consultants to help stay consistent with the standard of care, Pigault adds.
“At the end of the day you have to consider changes in use, or changes in environment in design conversations and decisions,” Pigault says. “It’s about awareness and understanding the trends and really the knowledge of what is happening today, with the anticipation you can have change over time.”
After a year of devastating weather events, building owners are evaluating how resilient their existing structures are. Builders who face reconstruction must make sure the properties are more resistant to the impact of wind-driven objects.
Any contractor can build with high-impact weather in mind with the right tools and materials. According to Jerry Carrafiello, owner of Rivertown General Contracting in Irvington, N.Y., a contractor should:
1. Minimize the chance of roof lift by anchoring the structure through the walls and foundation, using hurricane clips or ties nailed into the wall and wrapped over the trusses.
2. Use high-impact glass windows, as well as Tapcon screws, to attach windows to concrete.
3. Fortify garage doors with braces and seal them.
4. Choose impact-resistant hurricane shutters and door jambs with interlocking thresholds.
5. Build with reinforced concrete when possible.
These measures don’t require special equipment (except for the construction of concrete and masonry walls). When image 3installing hurricane clips or other impact-resistant items, make sure you have the necessary power drills, nailers, bits and fasteners on hand. With the proper hand tools and techniques, builders can guarantee a stronger structure. Even experienced DIYers who amass tool sets with a variety of saws, hammers, wrenches and screwdrivers can perform many of these tasks.
When Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992, Miami-Dade and Broward counties led the way in a massive overhaul of state standards for building codes. Wind resistance was one of the priorities. According to the Wall Street Journal, these stricter building codes most likely paid off when Hurricane Irma rolled through the area this past September. Other local government agencies in hurricane-prone areas may also change codes to require higher wind resistance for buildings.
In addition, new building materials may become more popular. Contractors can add Kevlar fiber to a building’s structure or to storm-specific items, like hurricane shutters. DuPont even has an entire line of Kevlar-reinforced safe rooms for use during tornadoes and hurricanes. These materials can be installed with traditional hand tools and don’t require extra equipment or training. By addressing wind resistance, building officials, property owners and contractors will be better able to protect buildings from the damaging effects of high winds.
Journalist and writer Kim Slowey spent more than 25 years in the construction industry and continues to be a certified general contractor in Florida. She writes about commercial and residential construction, tool use and workforce development. Kim also writes for The Home Depot. You can see the wide selection of hand tools on their website by clicking here.
Tags: Knighthouse Publishing, Building for weather
Sustainable Development | December 02, 2015 | Rob Cassidy
Researchers at Harvard, SUNY-Upstate Medical Center, and Syracuse University conduct a controlled experiment to see if high levels of carbon dioxide and VOCs and poor air ventilation affect cognitive scores.
Ever since the green building movement kicked in nearly 20 years ago, a lot of claims have been made about the impact of high levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds, as well as the impact of low levels of fresh air circulation. For the most part, these claims were based on anecdotal information and hope, not hard science. Now, we may have at least one rigorous, peer-reviewed study that does show that improved indoor environmental quality can positively benefit human cognitive capability.
In the study, researchers from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, SUNY-Upstate Medical Center (Syracuse), and Syracuse University subjected 24 participants to spend six full work days (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.) in an environmentally controlled office space, blinded to test conditions. On some days, the participants were exposed to IEQ conditions representative of "conventional" (high VOC concentration) and "green" (low VOC concentration) office buildings in the U.S. Other simulations tested the participants' cognitive skills in a green building with a high outdoor air ventilation rate ("Green+") and artificially elevated carbon dioxide levels independent of ventilation.
The research team found that, on average, participants' cognitive scores were 61% higher on the "green building day" and 101% higher on the two "Green+ building days" than on the so-called conventional building day (p<0.0001). VOCs and carbon dioxide were independently associated with cognitive scores.
The authors - Allen JG, MacNaughton P, Satish U, Santanam S, Vallarino J, Spengler JD - concluded that cognitive function scores were significantly better in Green+ building conditions compared to the conventional building conditions for all nine functional domains. The full report, "Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments," was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
This is the kind of research we've been looking for. We know instinctively and through experience that poor indoor air quality, whether through inadequate ventilation or the presence of VOCs or carbon dioxide, is somehow bad for us. We just didn't know how bad, nor what function or functions were most negatively affected.
Now we have a peer-reviewed, and therefore presumably replicable, scientific study that shows just how much these negative factors affect our ability to work and think while indoors, which is where most people spend as much as 90% of their lives. This gives architects, engineers, and contractors on the Building Team valuable data to advocate to their clients for the budget to make sure IEQ is a top priority in new and reconstructed building projects. The study is a refreshing antidote to the many unscientifically based claims put forth by green building advocates in the past.
Let's see more solid work like this in the future.
Northeaster's Force Designers to Consider Climate Liability
Building for High-Impact Weather
Do green building environments improve 'cognitive function'?