Story at a glance
- Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida Wednesday after slamming into Cuba and knocking out the island’s power grid.
- With such extreme weather becoming more commonplace, the need for technology to protect homes from hurricanes and wildfires becomes increasingly urgent.
- A variety of technologies are emerging, from tough solar panels to 3-D printed walls.
Correction: This article was updated at 12:40 p.m. to reflect the total number of buildings ICON has 3-D printed.
The unfolding devastation caused by Hurricane Ian in Florida — and its predecessor Hurricane Fiona which caused mudslides and flooding in Puerto Rico last week — serve as reminders of how urgently humanity needs to figure out how to protect homes from the extreme weather events that scientists warn may be made more powerful by rising global temperatures.
Well insulated buildings and those made from concrete are more likely to survive an extreme weather event like Hurricane Ian, according to Lionel Scharly, strategic construction advisor at Real Estate Bees.
That’s why homes are commonly made from concrete in places that experience frequent hurricanes, like Puerto Rico.
Scharly added that home builders should also take the shape of a home into consideration when it comes to adapting buildings for hurricanes. Round buildings are better for hurricane-prone areas since they reduce wind pressure and a 30-degree roof slope also helps a home decrease wind pressure, making it more resistant to strong storm winds.
And while investing in strong building materials and incorporating hurricane-resistant windows and doors will help people manage more intense storms, building experts are looking at other ways of making homes more suited for the challenges that come with extreme weather.
In Puerto Rico, Marvel Architects designed eco-friendly homes meant to better withstand the impact of hurricanes and all the complications that come with the storms. Not only are the model buildings built with reinforced walls, the homes also feature solar panels that direct energy to a generator, freeing residents from being dependent on the island’s power grid.
Construction technology company ICON has also taken on the task of trying to figure out how to make homes that are better equipped for hurricanes. The company has built over two dozen hurricane-resistant buildings in Mexico and the United States including homes using a large-scale construction 3D printer called the Vulcan. The machine can build a single-story home up to 3,000 square feet by squirting out layers of a concrete-like material called Lavacrete.
Miami-based construction company MV Group USA has placed extreme weather conditions and sea level rise at the forefront of their new waterfront home designs.
The company is currently renovating one home in the Miami neighborhood of Coconut Grove that sits below sea level. To help residents manage inevitable flooding, the company converted the home’s existing ground level to an 8-car garage with a breakaway wall and drainage system to help residents manage eventual flooding and added a third floor to the building, according to President of MV Group USA Manny Varas.
One Canadian company is looking into how nontraditional housing materials could help make homes more hurricane-proof. JD Composites made hurricane-resistant walls out of recycled plastic soda bottles, which they claim can withstand a category 5 hurricane.
Some companies have been working for years on ways to help make homes and communities more resilient to extreme weather events, beyond hurricanes. In California, where wildfire season has expanded due to climate change, one architectural firm designed a home with a zinc roof and flaps that come down to act as a sort of “fire blanket.”
Tesla, the automotive and clean energy company run by Elon Musk, has also been working on helping homeowners combat the harsh consequences of human-induced climate change. The company has created solar roof panels that are resistant to high powered winds like those that occur during a hurricane.