A lot of decisions go into creating a new building, whether it’s being used for commercial or residential purposes — location, construction materials, local infrastructure, and design aesthetics, to name a few. One thing that influences every aspect of construction is the weather. How do weather systems affect the types of buildings we create?
Types of weather
Before we start looking into the influence weather has on construction, it’s important to know what kind of weather can affect the buildings we use on a daily basis.
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Wind, especially high wind, can cause damage by ripping shingles off a roof or even pulling the entire roof off the frame of the house. Rain can cause flooding on a large scale. On a smaller scale, a lot of heavy rain can cause the ground to become saturated until it can no longer absorb water, which can cause leaks into basements or even shift foundations.
Drought, on the other hand, can cause foundations to move or pollute the building’s water supply if the inhabitants rely on well water. Snow is heavy. Even sunny days can be detrimental to a building, drying out the home and causing materials to prematurely wear out.
This list shows why weather is such an important consideration in designing a new building. Buildings constructed in snowy areas have to be able to withstand up to 400 pounds of weight per square foot on the roof to compensate for the weight of snow. Buildings constructed in areas that get a lot of rain during the year are designed to compensate for the differing moisture content in the soil.
Construction techniques and blueprint designs will vary dramatically from location to location, depending on the typical weather of the region.
The problem of extreme weather
Builders might be able to design homes and businesses to compensate for regular weather conditions, but climate change has started to create new and more dangerous weather patterns that are harder to predict.
Look at the 2017 Hurricane Season, for example. Three massive storms struck the United States in quick succession — Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida and Maria in Puerto Rico. These storms were more extensive and stronger than nearly any storm in the past, and they were some of the most costly in recent history. It’s estimated that the cost for recovery after Hurricane Harvey will top US$180 billion.
Florida, which is often in the path of hurricanes forming in both the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, updates their building codes every three years to adjust for changes in hurricane intensity.
Some companies are also utilizing weathering testing of their materials before they’re used in construction. These tests subject the materials to simulated or natural weather conditions to see how they’ll perform over time in the real world. These tests are designed to accelerate the wear and tear that building materials experience once they’re in place.
It isn’t just rain that’s problematic. India has seen heat waves with extreme temperatures so high that they began to melt the asphalt on the roads, compromising the country’s infrastructure. Even Europe has experienced heat waves in the last two decades that were fatal. These countries have started to make the changes necessary to protect their cities and the people who call them home.
Bangladesh, for example, is always under threat from cyclones coming from the Pacific Ocean. It’s one of the world’s poorest countries, but that hasn’t stopped them from creating new storm-proof buildings that can be used to protect livestock from the rising waters.
What we can expect
As climate change continues to advance, it’s entirely possible that these extreme weather systems will continue to get worse. Construction companies and civil engineers have their work cut out for them to help us prepare for these new and potentially devastating occurrences.