Governments across the world are waking up to the fact that extremes of weather are rapidly becoming the norm. In many countries, they are gradually changing construction legislation to take account of this fact.
Across the world, new laws are being passed that require both residential and commercial builders to work to higher standards. Buildings that can withstand higher summer temperatures, colder winters, as well as floods and high winds, are now essential. In some areas of the world, they also need to be built to withstand earthquakes, and other natural disasters.
For those of us who work in construction this presents challenges, but also means that we are working in interesting times. In order to keep pace with the changing needs of our customers we have to learn new skills, as well as develop innovative building techniques, and materials.
Take for example the issue of flooding. This is become a big problem in many countries. In Canada, the government estimates that the cost of damage caused by flooding in 2017 is in the billions of dollars.
Insurance experts say many Canadian homeowners aren't insured for flooding and could be left footing at least part of the bill. Craig Stewart, vice-president of federal affairs for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, told The Canadian Press that only about 10 to 15 per cent of Canadians have "overland flood insurance," an add-on to insurance policies that insurers started to offer after both Toronto and Alberta were hit with severe flooding in 2013. Without that add-on, Mr. Stewart says, most homeowners grappling with flood damage will be left relying on government assistance, which typically covers less than insurance would.
However, the construction industry, along with the environmental lobby, is urging the government to put together a comprehensive water management strategy.
Officials are working on updates to national floodplain maps to help local officials make better decisions about where to build. The work comes almost a year after the federal environment commissioner warned that the maps had not been properly updated in 20 years. Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi wants communities to release any maps or data about flooding concerns in their communities in order to help themselves and residents make better decisions about building in flood-prone areas.
Craig Stewart, vice-president federal affairs at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, considers Ontario a leader in prohibiting development on flood plains since the 1960s, while cities like Halifax and Edmonton have been good about releasing information to the public. But others have resisted due to financial and legal concerns. Mr. Stewart says finding better ways and places to build is a countrywide issue:
“We need to learn from our mistakes. We're in a completely different era now of frequent, severe weather events.”
In Quebec, Pascale Biron, a professor of geography, planning and environment at Concordia University, told The Canadian Press the province lacks a centralized, governmental body to oversee, track and maintain data on potential vulnerable flood risk areas. Instead, water management has shifted increasingly to municipalities. Since waterfront homes yield more taxes, politicians have an incentive to lobby hard to get residents to rebuild in the same spot, despite the risks. While there is a move toward getting more high-resolution elevation data, rectifying the situation doesn't require reinventing the wheel, Prof. Biron says:
“We can just use what's done elsewhere (like Europe) and apply it to Quebec. We have the scientists, we have everyone who can do the job. There's no reason why we're so behind. There's just a lack of political willingness to put the structure in place.”
Innovative new products, for example automatic flood barriers, are gradually becoming available. These are expensive, but consumers are so worried about the risk of flooding that they are increasingly willing to pay for this new technology.