Extreme weather puts focus on climate change adaptation for buildings

Graduate Studies, Engineering

- Jennifer Kwan

Anika Bell, pictured at BC Housing’s Evergreen Terrace in Victoria, developed a climate-risk assessment tool during a co-op term at BC Housing.

Forest fires in British Columbia. Floods in Quebec. Hurricanes in Texas. While it’s difficult to say definitively that such events are caused by climate change, there’s little doubt that a warming world exacerbates such extreme weather—and that our society will need to be ready for more of them.

These are the kinds of issues on Anika Bell’s mind as she prepares to pursue her master’s of applied science at the University of Victoria in the new year. Bell’s previous research was featured in an infographic at the Livable Cities Forum in Victoria in September, where planners, policymakers and other professionals across Canada discussed ways to build cities equipped for current and future climate change impacts.

“Human influence on the climate system contributes to the frequency and severity of extreme weather,” said Bell, a former mechanical engineering intern with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) at UVic. “My research sought to find practical ways for public-sector building owners and managers, policymakers, and even homeowners, to prepare for, withstand, and recover from climate variability.”

Climate change affects the trends in temperature and precipitation that many regions in BC are already seeing and will see more of in the future: higher annual mean temperatures; increases in winter precipitation; drier summers. Such shifts can result in uncomfortably warm building interiors, and in some cases increase the risk of winter flooding and summer droughts. These changes must be factored into building design to reduce risks to infrastructure and to people’s health and well-being, climate experts say.

Bell’s research, conducted during her 2016 placement with the BC government’s Climate Action Secretariat (CAS), assessed the climate risks of three public-sector buildings in the province and focused mostly on how to incorporate adaptation solutions to prepare for the effects of climate change. Her research was then used to develop an infographic featuring different climate risks such as flooding, extreme heat and drought, and potential measures for adapting to each risk factor.

“The three building cases show adaptation can be implemented in all stages of a building’s life cycle, from design to post-construction,” said Bell, who completed her internship while studying mechanical engineering. Addressing mitigation, cost savings and adaptation could strengthen the business case for resilience, she added.

Bell also applied her PICS/CAS research to build a climate risk assessment tool that calculates a vulnerability score for resilience in social housing during a subsequent co-op term at BC Housing (BCH). The tool, which asks more than 100 questions on facility’s components such as roofing and conveying, is expected to be integrated into building assessment processes by BCH.

As well, some of Bell’s research recommendations have since been incorporated into BCH’s design guidelines and construction standards. CAS and BCH shared elements of Bell’s work with other government and related stakeholders who can use it to inform and educate their networks.

PICS executive director Sybil Seitzinger said the infographic is an example of the ways research can be used in practical terms in BC and beyond.

“We support initiatives that we hope can be used in real life, by a lot of people anywhere in the world, to find solutions to climate change,” said Seitzinger. “This handy, practical guide reminds us all that we must be thinking about climate resilience in the built environment.”


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Keywords: climate change, graduate research, research, engineering, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions

People: Anika Bell, Sybil Seitzinger

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