Housing in the U.S. is a major focal point for both sustainability and disaster management. It was estimated that the 2005 Hurricane Katrina cost approximately $67 billion in housing alone, devastating 300,000 homes. The residential sector is responsible for at least 10 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., mostly from electricity use and direct emissions from combustion fuels. Therefore, decreasing emissions from the residential sector at every opportunity is critical to mitigate  climate change. Since many homes need to be upgraded before or rebuilt after a disaster, disasters can be seen as an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the residential sector. 

I am curious if any of the participants in this forum are aware of good public policies and programs that apply to both disaster management and sustainable energy. Do you think there is an opportunity to address both issues with the same policies and programs, or do they need to be kept separate? Of course not all policies for disaster management could also address sustainable energy, but some certainly could.

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I posted some musings here a couple of years ago, admittedly stretching beyond residential buildings.

There is plenty of potential for joint policies/programs but it requires the stakeholders to stretch beyond their traditional stove-piped comfort zones, which doesn't happen easily.

One of the more substantive things that is happening is the promotion of energy efficiency by insurers, some of whom see and value the kinds of co-benefits you're talking about.  Many of their efforts to develop "green insurance" products and services focus on buildings.

Howard Geller had pointed me to your blog when I started talking with him about this concept a few months ago, but I had never come across your insurance page on the LBL website. Thanks for sharing that.

Can you help me understand the role of insurers in integrating these two domains? I have found that appraising for green features and disaster resilient features of a house is a challenge to both, but how does insurance fit with climate change mitigation/energy efficiency? I see how it fits with adaptation, which is intrinsically wrapped around disasters. To that end you make a good point in your blog about disaster resilient buildings not really being disaster resilient if they are giving off a ton of greenhouse gases and essentially causing the disaster.

We've written a few things about insurers and mitigation.

This is the most detailed:

  • Mills, E. 2009. "From Risk to Opportunity 2008: Insurer Responses to Climate Change." Published by Ceres. [Summary] [PDF]

This is more recent but less detailed:

  • Mills, E. 2005. "Insurance in a Climate of Change," Science Vol. 308, Issue 5737, pp.1040-1044. 12 August [Online version] [PDF]

That said, only a few are talking about integrating the two sides.  Mostly talk at this point....

Thanks for starting this thread....

Cheers, ~ EM

The biggest catch is after a disaster strikes, most people are focused on just getting their lives back together again & mandating "sustainable" energy is not really going to fly. What generally does happen though is most of those areas do bump up their codes (if they are not their yet) to the newest to help make the buildings more durable & at the same time more energy efficient

Back to sustainable energy - many people who thought they had it were in for a shock when they had no power even with solar on the roofs due to the design. While this was bad for them, it was good overall as now towns, homes, etc... are making sure that if this happens again they can flip a switch & be able to use said power. It also has been a good time for many localities to see how they can harden up & incorporate solar, wind, etc... into their mix. You might want to contact John Robb who has been on a tear regarding resilient design & has had some good pieces on the info above

Do you know of any information that shows whether or not off-grid electricity has better performance during disasters compared to conventional electricity?

I am not sure what you mean by that question.

The biggest issue for most people is they have not designed their systems to work off the grid. For those after the Net-Zero or better, most are still grid tied as it is cheaper to go that route as compared to having battery backups as the sun doesn't shine at night, etc... For more on this - http://blog.sls-construction.com/2011/going-off-grid-21st-century-t...

As for the towns or bases that were able to decouple from the grid till it came back up - they outperformed that section especially if they had backup generators (this includes some houses). As for those with solar that couldn't uncouple at all - their was just as good as the grid (i.e. down). As for those that at least had a transfer switch, they at least had some power during the day, now as for whether it was enough...

You might also check into the Resilient Design Institute

I reached out to Alex Wilson but he is in Seattle at the Living Future conference.

It seems to be that there are two windows of opportunity to integrate energy efficiency into disaster management - in the pre-disaster mitigation/risk reduction phase and in the long-term post disaster recovery phase.

One issue is a lack of cross-disciplinary knowledge in the policy initiation stage and the way we design and evaluate policies. Sustainable energy policies are often times evaluated on the payback from the upfront cost and long-term energy savings. The non-energy benefits are hardly valued. This type of design and evaluation might hinder the convergence of efficiency and disaster policy.    

The policy implementation phase seems to foster convergence. Some of the same federal agencies provide both environmental and disaster programs, such as HUD. FEMA’s National Response Framework includes the DOE’s roles and responsibilities. The same contractor workforce, financing mechanisms, and homeowners are involved in disaster and energy retrofits.

Building codes seem to be the #1 policy mechanism that captures both. Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart from Florida proposed the Safe Building Code Incentive Act of 2011 during the 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 congressional sessions. This bill would have amended the Stafford Act (disaster policy) to provide an additional four percent of post-disaster funding to states that adopt 2009 or 2012 building codes before a disaster hits. Adopting these codes would increase building efficiency and disaster resilience. 

This web site has some very good information: http://www.disastersafety.org/ 

On the Gulf Coast there is www.smarthomeamerica.org which promotes the Disaster Safety programs linking the Fortified Programs into the durability issue of sustainable design. Insurance rates can be substantially lower when homes are built to various levels of Fortified Design. In Alabama, it has been shown to substantially lower the insurance costs of a home as does energy efficiency to make living there more affordable. Habitat for Humanity strives for Fortified Design in the Gulf Coast area.

I have reviewed the FORTIFIED programs and saw great information on requirements for disaster resilience but didn't see anything on sustainable energy requirements aside from anecdotes about its importance. Have you designed any homes to those standards?

You are correct J.C. that there is not anything particularly related to sustainable energy in the disaster safety, but esp. in retrofits with spray foam applied to the roof decking, I am told that some types of sprayed foam insulation get more credit than others in terms of obtaining the Fortified standards. Which closed cell foam brands I cannot tell you. I am just looking into this now due to workshops that I have attended. So anything that reduces the energy load is appealing to me since that is the first thing to do prior to adding sustainable energy such as solar or wind. On the many existing homes with hot attics often full of duct work in warm climates, it seems like a win win to do something that reduces the energy loads by then putting the ducts in the semi-conditioned space that would be created with spray foam at the roof decking. And if you are reroofing at the same time,it seems a perfect time to do some upgrades. I am amazed to see how just taping the seams of the roof sheathing can help in the event of roofs being blown off. The rain is then diverted to the exterior instead of through the seams into the home. Closed cell foam is  one more barrier it would have to go through. Enough, I am not an expert on this. Just starting to look into and recommend that our clients to the same.


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