In the classic three little pigs fable, the homes made of straw and wood are blown to smithereens by the hungry wolf much to the misfortune of the pigs who worked hard to build them.
That wolf now is the climate, blowing homes around like matchsticks with some of the biggest storms in history, most recently a band of tornados that crushed homes throughout a five-state geography.
Now, building product manufacturers, developers and builders are investing in the development of solutions that can withstand these conditions, even as the conditions are changing to become more and more extreme.
Natalie Ambrosio Preudhomme, director at Moody’s ESG Solutions, says we will see increasingly frequent and severe weather events driven by climate change.
“Global climate models are not able to project the occurrence of individual extreme events, but rather provide an indication of long-term direction of travel,” she said. “As such, our data captures exposure to six climate hazards – floods, heat stress, hurricanes and typhoons, sea level rise, water stress and wildfires – projected to 2030 to 2040, leveraging both forward-looking and historical data.”
The increased threats is frightening to anyone, but particularly to those who would not be able to recover easily from damage to their home, or who have nowhere else to go during these events.
Plus, support doesn’t come easily during these times. When a fire, flood or other storm hits, homes are wiped out, but so is the community, the infrastructure and support that a homeowner can typically rely on to get back on their feet.
As Ambrosio Preudhomme points out, climate hazards can have multifaceted impacts on economies. When storms hit a city, it usually leads to operations disruptions that have a direct impact on revenues and balance sheets. Plus, the impacts of storms on energy, water and transportation infrastructure lead to disruptions that cause commute challenges and supply chain issues, even if actual business locations haven’t been damaged.
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Moody’s data peers into the future and finds that 25 to 30% of assessed US facilities are highly exposed to wildfires and 14 to 19% to floods. Exposure to wildfires and floods presents the most concern, along with the ripple effects these storms would cause to the workforce and communities.
Due to their destructive nature, severe events like storms and wildfires present some of the most critical risks to buildings. Moody’s Analytics is now seeing data, such as mortgage defaults and population decline, that show their impact on real estate.
Data To Protect Homes
Climate science data is now at our fingertips that should be leveraged to assess a property’s risk exposure and to minimize loss. Understanding that data will start to allow builders to price in resilience measures during a home’s design.
“There is also a need to increase transparency by disclosing forward-looking risks, so that home buyers are aware of the risks they are taking on in terms of exposure to increasingly severe and frequent events and the associated risk of loss, depreciation and insurance challenges that this brings,” said Ambrosio Preudhomme. “There will need to be continued dialogue to understand the opportunities for insurance companies to minimize their own risk and to incentivize asset-level resilience measures such as flood-proofing and clearing of burnable fuel, while balancing the risks of encouraging development in areas that will continue to endure disaster after disaster.”
Making A Home To Stand Against The Odds
Plastic News reported that of the 840,000 single-family dwellings constructed in 2018, vinyl siding was installed on 26%, stucco on 25%, brick on 21%, fiber cement 20%, wood on 5%, and other materials like aluminum siding on 2%. So, for the more than one-third of homes in the US that are built with materials such as wood and vinyl, which are both highly flammable and non-durable, there is recent evidence that they were not constructed to survive the damage that comes with today’s industrial-sized storms.
Now, with improved research and development, along with incredible investments from manufacturers, new product solutions are able to keep the meanest of the wolves at bay.
James Hardie Industries (JHX) is a global manufacturer of exterior fiber cement products and has seen very promising results from its products that have long-lasting durability, even in the midst of the extreme weather changes. The company’s CEO, Dr. Jack Truong, shared that focus is on four key change agents in the industry, including the lack of skilled labor, affordability, demographic changes, and climate changes.
These are all big issues that are magnified when considering not only what needs to be built, which Truong calculates at 3 to 4 million new homes, but then also factoring in the 80 million owner-occupied homes of which 44 million are more than 40 years old and need to be remodeled or renovated.
The company’s product is durable, water resistant, high-impact resistant, noncombustible and can resist wind up to 220 mph, so it can offer a 30-year warranty. It is also graded by FEMA as a class V material, which means it is highly resistant to floodwater damage. Plus, it is light weight compared to stone and bricks, which means a much faster construction process compared to stucco and other materials.
Fiber cement can replace vinyl and wood, which are both higher risk materials. Using fiber cement also means that oil doesn’t have to be used to create vinyl and that fewer trees need to be chopped down as compared to wood and composite siding products.
There are other subtleties to take into consideration. Truong and his team recognize the critical importance of providing region specific products to certain geographic areas.
“In the Pacific northwest, there has been an increase in the amount of constant rainfall, and a recent uptick in the amount of fire,” he said. “In the southwest, there are hot temperatures and a propensity for more fire. We must engineer for different climates. It’s not about one size that fits all. We understand local weather conditions and have the right materials and formulation to meet those requirements. Given our rigorous R&D practices and demonstrated dependability, we offer a 30-year, non-prorated warranty on most of our products.”
This focus on localization accounts for several other benefits. By serving the needs of local geographies, James Hardie’s strategy is to locate manufacturing plants close to those markets. So, 83% of the raw material in each plant is sourced within 100 miles of the plant, and 63% of what is produced in each of those plants is shipped within 500 miles.
Being that localized to the customers and suppliers, also means minimizing supply chain disruptions.
Additionally, given the commitment to sustainability, the amount of waste to landfills is reduced significantly and the carbon footprint is minimized as products ship close to the plants.
Doug Brady serves as the vice president of global innovation and product management at global polyurethane spray foam company Huntsman Building Solutions. The company’s spray foam insulation and roofing products help strengthen construction with a polyurethane barrier to prevent water transfer, a long-time solution in areas prone to hurricane force winds or flooding.
“The failure mode for most buildings is when the roof separates from the walls,” Brady said. “Our product has been tested in these circumstances. In accordance with NAHB testing, spray foam can increase the racking strength, or the strength of the building to withstand the wind and elements, by between 300 and 400%.”
The gauge for product to be safe in terms of wind uplift is the Miami Dade standard, a must-have certification for any construction in hurricane alley. The certification process requires an application of product to the underside of a roof, which is then exposed to extreme wind. Brady points out that much of the validation of the product, up to 30%, is in the adhesion properties, which the company continues to improve.
In addition to its capability to strengthen the frame, the product is highly water resistant, with a water absorption level of less than one percent. Like the James Hardie product, it is recognized by the National Flood Insurance Program as a class V product, approved for use in flood prone areas, when applied in walls, ceilings and floors.
“We are as close to being waterproof as possible,” Brady said. “Our spray foam protects product behind it and prevents the rebuild issues that come with other insulating materials.”
Keeping The Process Affordable And Green
Truong and his team at James Hardie are integrating the four focus areas of the business, making greener, more affordable products, while replacing others that aren’t as affordable or sustainable, such as stucco that is polymer-based, and stone that is heavy construction and expensive and timely to build.
The installation of products like Huntsman Building Solutions and James Hardie also has long term impacts. For instance, Huntsman Building Solutions insulation helps reduce the need for energy to heat and cool buildings, which currently represents 40% of the energy that is used in the world.
“We are coming out with products that will continue to perform with a high degree of thermal property to better insulate buildings and to reduce the energy load that buildings need to have,” said Brady. “Our products also are manufactured using recycled PET plastic water bottle waste content to insulate homes. We are innovating with new materials that will have the least amount of impact on the environment, keep waste out of landfills, and that can reduce the embodied carbon and the operational emissions.”
Huntsman Building Solutions also is developing programs to educate architects on solutions for more resilient buildings to break down the barriers and shift the conversation from extra costs to better design.
The Definition Of Success
“We get a lot of homeowners and consumers who are very passionate about their home and our products,” Truong said. “When there is an unfortunate event, fire, hurricane or flood, we are confident our solutions will better help our homeowners’ homes withstand such events. Several James Hardie homeowners have shared pictures of neighbors’ homes that were destroyed, while their home withstood the devastation.”
All of this suggests the company’s products give homeowners the opportunity to get out of the house when there is an external threat, allowing them to protect their most important possessions. That’s a huge success, one that would provide relief to millions of homeowners who worry on a regular basis about how their home can protect them.