Design and construct buildings to withstand reasonably expected storm events and flooding. One should assume that storm events will become more common and more intense in the future, and that regions prone to severe storms will expand in area. More stringent design and construction standards, such as the Miami – Dade County Building Code, should be adopted widely.
Most tall buildings, with their dependence on electrically powered elevators and their reliance on air conditioning, usually cannot be used in the event of power outages. The occupant density in tall buildings generally precludes providing a significant fraction of power requirements with onsite renewable sources, and in a development pattern with a lot of tall buildings, blocking solar access of other buildings is a significant concern. In Adapting Buildings and Cities for Climate Change, the authors recommend six to eight stories as a reasonable height limit.
High levels of insulation, high-performance glazings (with multiple low-emissivity coatings and low-conductivity gas fill), and airtight construction are critical in achieving passive survivability in buildings. High levels of energy performance of the envelope (superinsulation) are particularly important with smaller, skin-dominated buildings.
Reduce unwanted solar heat gain by paying careful attention to building orientation (situating buildings on an east-west axis with the long façades facing south and north), minimizing east- and west-facing glazings, specifying glazings “tuned” to the orientation (using low solar-heat-gain-coefficient glazings on the east and west, for example), using overhangs and other building geometry features to shade glazings, and selecting vegetative plantings that will shade the buildings (particularly the east and west façades).
In addition to reducing unwanted solar gain, design buildings to provide for natural ventilation. Even if the building is designed to operate with conventional air conditioning, provide operable windows, natural stack-effect cooling towers, and other features that can provide passive ventilation and cooling when necessary—even if using such strategies will result in higher-than-desired humidity levels in the building.
Particularly with smaller, skin-dominated buildings, provide passive solar design features, such as direct solar gain with interior thermal mass, thermal storage walls (Trombe walls), and sunspaces or other isolated-gain solar systems.
The following strategies can optimize daylighting design while minimizing unwanted heat gain: provide windows high on exterior walls; specify glazings with high visible-light transmission and a low solar-heat-gain coefficient; install lightshelves to reflect light deep into the space; install skylights with provisions to prevent overheating; paint ceilings and walls with high-reflectance paints; consider clerestory windows and light monitors to bring light deep into buildings; utilize light wells and atria to extend daylighting to lower floors of larger buildings; in buildings with very deep floorplates, consider light-scoop and mirror systems to improve daylight distribution in the interior space.
To provide hot water during power outages or fuel supply interruptions, install solar water heating systems that can operate passively (thermosiphoning or batch/integral-collector-storage) or that operate with DC pumps powered by integrated photovoltaic (PV) modules.
Capability to power a building with PVs is invaluable during outages. To be able to rely on PV power during a power outage for nighttime electricity necessitates battery storage, which increases system cost substantially (but may be justified for the value provided). Be sure to mount PV modules in a manner that will protect them during storms. Wire the building to isolate critical loads so that they can be PV powered when the rest are cut off.
The vast majority of gas- and oil-fired heating equipment cannot operate without electricity. Providing the capability to operate that equipment during a power outage—using either a generator or a PV power system—is clearly beneficial. To simplify switching over to PV operation during an outage, equipment should be redesigned to operate on DC power; even without battery storage, some operation of heating equipment would be possible during a 24-hour period.
In more rural areas, install low-pollution-emitting wood stoves, masonry heaters, or pellet stoves (with back-up power for fan) to provide space heating in the event of an extended power outage or fuel-supply interruption.
Provide water storage to serve the building during an extended loss of water. Ideally, store this water high in the building, such as on the rooftop, to facilitate gravity delivery. In cohousing communities and planned neighborhoods, shared water systems can be developed with gravity-feed to dwellings. Cisterns can be fed with rainwater and used during normal building operation for landscape irrigation and, depending on local permitting, for toilet flushing—as long as an adequate reservoir is maintained for emergency use. Such cisterns can also serve fire suppression needs.
Composting toilets and waterless urinals can be used in the event of water loss, and composting toilets can function even if the municipal sewage treatment plant shuts down. In a large building with conventional toilets, such as an apartment building, consider installing one or two high-capacity composting toilets in a common area for use if water supply is cut off or the sewer system fails.
Whenever possible, provide for local food production in the site planning for a building or development. Consider setting aside the best land for agricultural uses and planting food-bearing trees and shrubs in the landscaping mix.