In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael’s impact on the Florida Panhandle half a decade ago, Bonny Paulson’s house in Mexico Beach, Florida was surrounded by boats, cars, and trucks that reached up to the windows. Despite being built on pillars 14 feet above ground, the unique round shape of Paulson’s home, resembling a ship, withstood the strength of Category 5 winds that would have typically caused it to collapse.
Paulson stated that she did not feel anxious when she was told to evacuate. Despite the damage to the neighboring homes, her house only lost a small number of shingles and remained intact, as seen in photos taken after the storm.
Developers are constructing homes, such as Paulson’s, with a focus on enhancing their resilience to the growing occurrence of severe weather due to climate change. This approach also prioritizes environmental friendliness. For instance, solar panels are installed tightly to prevent wind damage and provide clean energy that can withstand storms. Additionally, the preservation of wetlands and use of native vegetation helps trap carbon and decrease the risk of flooding. The use of recycled or innovative building materials not only reduces energy consumption but also minimizes the need for new materials.
One way for an individual to decrease their carbon footprint is by making changes to their home. Buildings are responsible for approximately 38% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions annually. This includes the use of electricity for household items such as lighting and air conditioning, as well as the production of construction materials like concrete and steel.
According to Deltec, the organization responsible for constructing Paulson’s residence, out of the approximately 1,400 homes it has built in the past 30 years, only one has experienced structural harm due to hurricane-force winds. However, the company prioritizes environmentally-friendly construction techniques, incorporating superior insulation to minimize the reliance on air conditioning, implementing heat pumps for improved heating and cooling, utilizing energy-efficient appliances, and utilizing solar energy.
“The true brilliance lies in the fact that we are accomplishing both,” stated CEO Steve Linton. “Often, resilience is an afterthought when discussing sustainable construction, viewed as just another feature on a checklist. However, we firmly believe that resilience is a crucial aspect of sustainability.”
Some businesses are constructing entire communities that are both resilient against hurricanes and have a lower impact on climate change compared to the average.
The Hunters Point community, located in Cortez, Florida and developed by Pearl Homes, includes 26 finished homes and plans to construct an additional 30 by 2024. All of these homes are LEED-certified platinum, which is the top tier of a popular green building rating system.
In order to decrease the risk of flooding, the elevation of residential plots is elevated by 16 feet (4.8 meters) according to building regulations. Streets are also raised and constructed to divert rainwater away and onto absorbent ground. The homes feature steel roofs with tightly attached solar panels to prevent strong winds from getting underneath. Additionally, they are equipped with batteries that activate during power outages.
Marshall Gobuty, CEO of Pearl Homes, shared that his team proposed a project to the University of Central Florida to construct a community that does not add to the problem of climate change. He expressed his desire for the homes to not only be sustainable but also resilient, standing out from the typical developments in Florida. Gobuty stated that he has witnessed nearby newly built homes already experiencing flooding, highlighting the urgency of addressing the changing weather conditions.
Paulson, a resident of Mexico Beach, shares a similar sentiment as she expresses her desire to not constantly worry about monitoring any potential threats from the Atlantic. Along with a sense of security, she is also pleased with her current energy expenses of only $32 per month, significantly lower than the $250 she used to pay in her previous residence.
She expressed her concern that the population is not taking the environmental catastrophes into consideration and making necessary changes. She added that we are still constructing the same structures that were destroyed.
Babcock Ranch, located in South Florida, is a resilient and eco-friendly community. It prides itself on being the first town in the United States to be powered solely by solar energy, using 680,000 panels over 870 acres (350 hectares) to generate 150 megawatts of electricity. Additionally, the community was an early adopter of large on-site batteries to store excess solar power for use during nighttime or power outages.
Babcock Ranch was established by Syd Kitson in 2006. The houses have a stronger ability to withstand strong winds from hurricanes due to their roofs being attached to a foundation-connected system. To prevent power outages, the power lines are placed underground. Some homes have outward-swinging doors to prevent them from being forced open by wind pressure, and vents are utilized in garages to regulate pressure.
In 2022, Babcock Ranch was hit by Hurricane Ian, which was classified as a Category 4 storm. According to Kitson, the storm caused minimal damage.
“Kitson stated that our goal was to demonstrate the compatibility of a newly developed town and its surrounding environment, and I believe we have successfully accomplished that. Without implementing strong and durable construction methods, the constant need for home repairs or demolitions will persist.”
The company sold approximately 73,000 acres (29,500 hectares) of its property to the state in order to preserve wetlands. On the remaining land, a team conducted research on the natural water flow in the area and integrated it into their water management plan.
According to Kitson, water will always follow its natural course and attempting to defy nature will result in failure every time. The presence of wetlands, retention ponds, and native plants can effectively control water flow during heavy rain, minimizing the likelihood of homes being flooded.
Natalia Padalino and Alan Klingler, residents of the Florida Keys, aim to complete construction of their Deltec home before December. Worried about the potential effects of global warming and hurricanes on their area, the couple conducted thorough research on homes that are both eco-friendly and able to withstand these natural disasters.
According to Klingler, we are creating a product that will be a fantastic investment and decrease our vulnerability to potential disasters.
Padalino stated that individuals have been very welcoming and willing to listen. They have expressed their plans to seek shelter in their location if a hurricane were to occur.
The Padalinos’ residence is now accurately located in the Florida Keys instead of the Panhandle. Additionally, this article has been updated to reflect the correct name, number of homes, and elevation of the Pearl Homes development, Hunters Point, based on new information provided by the company.
Laura Bargfeld, a video journalist for the Associated Press, and Gerald Herbert, a photographer in New Orleans, made contributions to this report.
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