Adapting Building Codes to Natural Disasters Saves Billions

New research shows that modern building codes have prevented around $27 billion in damage from natural disasters between 2000 and 2016, yet many cities still operate under decades-old regulations.

1 minute read

December 22, 2020, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

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Elevation requirements can prevent flood damage in low-lying areas. | Derek Bridges / Flickr

To adapt to the effects of rising sea levels, increasingly destructive wildfires, and longer storm seasons, many local governments have implemented updated building codes that recognize the realities of climate change and adapt building requirements to more adequately prepare for future disasters. These codes, which include increased elevation for houses in flood zones, wind-resistant roofs, and earthquake-safe construction requirements, save homes and businesses from billions of dollars in damage and make communities more resistant to the ravages of natural disasters. Yet recent research published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) shows that more than a third of new construction in the United States is happening in places with building guidelines that are more than 20 years old—or that have none at all.

While climate change arguments tend to get bogged down in partisan debates, agencies like FEMA have created "resiliency" initiatives as a way to garner bipartisan support for projects that boost infrastructure spending for weather-proofing homes and limiting damage from natural disasters. FEMA's Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program provides grant funding to local governments that want to update their building codes or strengthen enforcement of existing regulations. If implemented nationwide, FEMA estimates that updated building codes could accumulate up to $132 billion in avoided property losses by 2040.

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