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November 12, 2019

As the climate changes, architects and engineers need to design buildings differently



In the past seven years, four major disasters have caused serious disruptions in the Northeast and Midwest United States. Hurricane Sandy slammed into New York City in 2012, inflicting nearly US$11 billion in damage to buildings. In 2014, a storm dubbed “Snowvember” dropped more than seven feet of snow in western New York. Three years later, historic flooding along Lake Ontario inundated numerous homes and businesses. And severe storms in the Susquehanna River watershed in 2018 caused more than $1 billion in damage.

As Earth’s climate changes, the frequency, intensity and duration of these extreme weather events is expected to increase. At the University at Buffalo, I lead a laboratory that studies climate change and buildings. Our research shows that the U.S. building stock may not be prepared for future climate-related storms and flooding.

Another challenge is that buildings consume a lot of energy, which accelerates climate change. Organizations like Architecture 2030, a professional alliance that promotes sustainable design, point out that buildings contribute nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and are an important target for carbon reduction programs.

To this end, our lab focuses on the intersection of energy efficiency, renewable energy and adaptation to climate change. We recently completed a multi-year study outlining how climate change is affecting New York State’s building sector and potential strategies to adapt buildings to a changing climate. Encouragingly, we found that Americans can protect themselves from extreme weather and reduce buildings’ contribution to climate change at the same time.

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