Extreme weather puts focus on adaptation for buildings


- Jennifer Kwan

Anika Bell at BC Housing’s Evergreen Terrace in Victoria. Photo: Robyn Meyer.

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 began her master’s degree in applied science at UVic. Her previous research was featured in an infographic at the Livable Cities Forum in Victoria in September, where planners, policy-makers 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,” says Bell, a former mechanical engineering intern with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), led and hosted by 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.
Anika Bell, UVic graduate student in applied science

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; and 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 PICS internship placement with the BC government’s Climate Action Secretariat, 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,” says Bell. Addressing mitigation, cost savings and adaptation can strengthen the business case for resilience, she adds.

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

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

Sybil Seitzinger, executive director of PICS, says the infographic is an example of the ways research can be used in practical terms in B.C. and beyond.

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


In this story

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

People: Anika Bell, Sybil Seitzinger

Publication: The Ring

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