Climate Change Coalition

New Report Predicts Rising Tides, More Flooding

“Including tidal inlets, Virginia has a 3,315 mile ocean coastline with one of the world’s largest naval complexes on that coast.  Both are soon to be awash in tidal flooding but the “why” of the flooding can only be discussed within the military, not in Virginia state offices.” – Mary Smythe, CCCDC Co-Chair

Some of the worst flooding during this past weekend’s East Coast storm happened during high tides.

Shoreline tides are getting progressively higher. A soon-to-be-published report obtained by NPR predicts a future where flooding will be a weekly event in some coastal parts of the country.

“The numbers are staggering,” says oceanographer William Sweet, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Today’s storm will be tomorrow’s high tide,” he says, referring to how high coastal water rises. “A storm [such as we experienced] along the East Coast of the United States this weekend, that will be a high tide at some point in the future, whether that’s two or three decades or eight decades, we’ll see, but it’s coming.”

This new report sets out to give communities a clear guide to prepare for coastal flooding. “We find that minor flooding starts on average about a foot and half above high tide,” says Sweet. “Moderate flooding starts about 2 1 /2 feet above high tide, and major flooding starts about 4 feet.”

That’s what people can expect now; it gives them a margin of safety, and for the most part communities have been built to handle that. But here’s the thing: As high tides get higher, that is inexorably reducing the margin of safety.

In fact, even without a storm, high tides already are flooding cities like Miami and Norfolk, Va. And now NOAA’s latest calculations portray a future where this kind of “sunny day” flooding will become a lot more frequent.

NOAA’s calculations of future high tides assumes two “intermediate” forecasts of how much sea level will rise — from 1 1/2 feet to 3 feet by 2100. It by no means assumes some of the more severe scenarios should the ice sheets in Greenland or the Antarctic melt. Even with intermediate rise, by 2050 cities on the Atlantic would see high tides flooding the streets 25 to 130 times a year. By 2100, it could happen almost every day. These frequencies will be influenced by weather patterns like El Nino and prevailing winds, but over time they’ll occur more often from rising tides alone as sea level gets higher.

NOAA has also found the rate of increase in tidal flooding is accelerating in about a third of the places it has tracked. “The problem is going to become chronic rather quickly,” says Sweet. “It’s not going to be a slow, gradual change.”

It’s already becoming chronic in Norfolk. Emily Steinhilber studies coastal issues at Old Dominion University in Virginia. She also lives close to flood zones. “It’s definitely a topic a conversation,” she says. Steinhilber says, for example, that the city’s largest hospital is hardening its campus against flooding. The city just passed an ordinance requiring new construction to be built higher off the ground.

But Steinhilber says the root cause of all this — global warming — isn’t always discussed. “For the most part, everyone is aware that sea level is rising and they know that we’re kind of in the bull’s-eye,” she says, “and the background of ‘Why’ is not really part of the conversation.”

Others are having that conversation, such as the U.S. military. Retired Navy Rear Adm. Ann Phillips says military leaders are aware that warming means sea level rise. That’s especially worrisome for the Navy. “We can’t use historical data to plan what’s coming because it won’t work,” she says.

Well over 100 military installations that are close to coastlines have reported flooding recently. According to a report from the Center for Climate and Security (which Phillips helped write), tidal flooding will increasingly threaten equipment, fuel depots, ammunition warehouses, housing and docks. Now, Phillips says, these new tidal flooding numbers from NOAA lay out a difficult future for the Navy, which can’t just retreat from coastlines. “Yet another report that sea level rise is accelerating [with] recurrent flooding just makes the sense of urgency that much more acute,” she says.

Cities like Norfolk and Miami, as well as the military, are planning on building sea walls, raising buildings and fortifying themselves, but they’re in a long race with a relentless rising tide that is picking up speed.

The NOAA report, titled “Patterns and Protections of High Tide Flooding Along the U.S. Coastline Using a Common Impact Threshold,” is due to be released this week.

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Image: Flooding in Boston’s North End during a nor’easter storm on Friday. A new government report suggests floods will become more common over the next century.

David L. Ryan/Boston Globe via Getty Images

Mission of the Climate Change Coalition

Save the Date! 5th Annual Climate Forum

Swallowed by the Sea

As CCCDC Steering Committee member Dick Smythe always says, it is the poorest nations and their people who will suffer most from the changing climate.  When poverty is coupled with low-lying land bordering oceans, tragedy becomes inevitable.

You doubt climate change? Come to this island — but hurry, before it disappears.



Zainal Abedin stands near the spot where remnants of his family home on the Bangladeshi island of Kutubdia sit underwater. CreditThomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

KUTUBDIA, Bangladesh — Anyone who doubts climate change should come to this lovely low-lying island, lapped by gentle waves and home to about 100,000 people.

But come quickly, while it’s still here.

“My house was over there,” said Zainal Abedin, a farmer, pointing to the waves about 100 feet from the shore. “At low tide, we can still see signs of our house.”

Already much of Kutubdia has been swallowed by rising seas, leaving countless families with nothing. Nurul Haque, a farmer who lost all his land to the ocean, told me that he may have to pull his daughter, Munni Akter, 13, out of eighth grade and marry her off to an older man looking for a second or third wife, because he has few financial options left to support her.

“I don’t really want to marry her off, because it’s not good for girls,” he said glumly. “But I’m considering it.” He insisted that if it weren’t for the rising waters and his resulting impoverishment, he wouldn’t think of finding a husband for her.

Nurul Haque, a farmer whose land was consumed by the ocean, is considering marrying off his 13-year-old daughter, Munni Akter, because he’s running out of ways to support her. CreditThomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

One of the paradoxes of climate change is that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — who contribute almost nothing to warming the planet — end up being most harmed by it.

Bangladesh is expected to be particularly badly hit by rising oceans because much of the country is only a few feet above sea level.

“Climate change is destroying children’s futures,” noted Justin Forsyth, the deputy executive director of Unicef. “In Bangladesh, tens of millions of children and families are at risk of losing their homes, their land and their livelihoods from rising sea levels, flooding and increased cyclone intensity.”

Forsyth said the average Bangladeshi produces just one-tenth of the global average in annual per-capita carbon emissions. In contrast, the United States accounts for more than one-quarter of cumulative carbon emissions since 1850, more than twice as much as any other country.

If Munni is pulled out of school and married off, she’ll have plenty of company. Unicef data suggest that 22 percent of girls in Bangladesh marry by the age of 15, one of the highest rates in the world.

“Climate changes appear to be increasing the numbers of girls who are forced to marry,” a three-year academic study in Bangladesh concluded.

On the mainland, gravel is carried to cement mixers, to be used in concrete blocks that will be placed along the coast to hold back the rising sea. CreditThomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

A year ago in Madagascar I met a family ready to marry off a 10-year-old girl, Fombasoa, because of a drought linked to climate change. And there are increasing reports that poverty linked to climate change is leading to child marriage in Malawi, Mozambique and other countries.

In Kutubdia, climate change is not the only issue. The seas are rising, but in addition, Kutubdia itself seems to be sinking.

The upshot is that the island’s shoreline has retreated by about a kilometer since the 1960s, farmers say. Even when land is mostly dry, occasional high tides or storm surges bring in saltwater that poisons the rice paddies. Thousands of climate refugees have already fled Kutubdia and formed their own neighborhood in the mainland Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazaar.

A similar injustice is apparent in many poor countries. “Climate change contributes to conflict,” noted Neal Keny-Guyer, the C.E.O. of Mercy Corps, the aid group. He observed that a drier climate is widely believed to have caused agricultural failures, tensions and migrations that played a role in the Syrian civil war, the Darfur genocide and the civil war in northeastern Nigeria.

Mokbul Ahmed, standing on a Kutubdia beach fortified by concrete blocks, points to where he had lived and farmed. CreditThomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

Aside from reducing carbon emissions, Keny-Guyer said, Western countries can do much more to build resilience in poor countries. That can include supporting drought-resistant or saltwater-resistant crops, and offering microinsurance to farmers and herdsmen so that a drought does not devastate them. Mercy Corps is now developing such microinsurance.

The evidence of climate change is increasingly sobering, with the last four years also the hottest four years on record since modern record-keeping began in the 1880s.

We’re also coming to understand that climate change may wreak havoc, changing ocean currents, killing coral reefs and nurturing feedback loops that accelerate the warming. It turns out that 99 percent of green sea turtles hatched in the northern Great Barrier Reef are now femalebecause their sex is determined by temperature.

Most of the villagers I spoke to both in Madagascar and in Bangladesh had never heard of President Trump. But the outlook for their descendants may depend on the actions he takes — and his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord is an unhelpful surrender of American leadership.

Americans were recently horrified by a viral video of a starving polar bear, whose condition may or may not be linked to climate change. Let’s hope we can be just as indignant about the impact of climate change on children like Munni.

Structures were recently added along the island’s coastline in an attempt to prevent the further encroachment of the ocean. CreditThomas Nybo/Redux, for Unicef

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Climate Change Is Altering Lakes and Streams, Study Suggests

By: Carl Zimmer


The Sorpe reservoir in northwest Germany, one of four freshwater reservoirs observed in a recent study that found that carbon dioxide absorbed in lakes, rivers and streams can affect entire ecosystems.CreditMauritius Images GmbH/Alamy

To scientists who study lakes and rivers, it seems humans have embarked on a huge unplanned experiment.

By burning fossil fuels, we have already raised the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 40 percent, and we’re on track to increase it by much more. Some of that gas may mix into the world’s inland waters, and recent studies hint that this may have profound effects on the species that live in them.

“We’re monkeying with the very chemical foundation of these ecosystems,” said Emily H. Stanley, a limnologist (freshwater ecologist) at the University of Wisconsin — Madison. “But right now we don’t know enough yet to know where we’re going. To me, scientifically that’s really interesting, and as a human a little bit frightening.”

Scientists began taking continuous measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the 1950s, and today they have more than six decades of consistent readings. In the 1980s, oceanographers followed suit, developing carbon dioxide sensors and deploying them across the planet.

Over the past three decades, they’ve chronicled a steady rise of carbon dioxide in seawater. The increasing concentration can harm marine life in many ways.

It lowers the pH of seawater, for one thing, making it more acidic and interfering with the chemistry that coral, for instance, use to build their calcium skeletons. Ocean acidification also thins the shells of oysters and other animals.

Many marine organisms rely on chemical changes in water to find food and avoid danger. “Many fish are not able to detect their predators anymore,” said Linda C. Weiss, an aquatic ecologist at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. “They can even get more bold.”

Dr. Weiss first came to appreciate the impact of ocean acidification in 2010, when she spent time at a marine research station in Australia. The experience left her wondering if lakes and rivers might face a similar threat.

Her first step was to look for historical data about carbon dioxide levels in fresh water. But a literature search brought her to a surprising conclusion. “I discovered there was no information,” she said.

Traditionally, scientists who have studied inland waters have focused on different questions. They’ve been more concerned, for example, with sulfuric acid and other pollutants in acid rain, along with the impacts of runoff from farms and yards.

Now that researchers have grown concerned about carbon dioxide levels, they’ve been developing ways to reconstruct their history.

The level of carbon dioxide in a lake depends on such variables as its temperature and how much organic carbon it contains. If those factors have been tracked in the past, scientists can use them to get an estimate of a lake’s carbon dioxide level, too.

Dr. Weiss and her colleagues used this method to figure out the carbon dioxide levels in four reservoirs in Germany from 1981 to 2015. They reported Thursday in the journal Current Biology that the amounts tripled in that time.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” said Dr. Weiss. “But the speed of acidification we find is quite fast.”

The researchers wondered what effects this fast rise in carbon dioxide might have on freshwater life in decades to come. So they ran experiments on the humble water flea.

At top right, a water flea with its protective crest; at bottom right, a water flea with “neckteeth.” These defenses may be blunted  by chemical changes in the water. Credit:Linda Weiss and Sina Becker.

At top right, a water flea with its protective crest; at bottom right, a water flea with “neckteeth.” These defenses may be blunted by chemical changes in water. CreditLinda Weiss and Sina Becker

These tiny, shrimplike creatures filter algae and microbes from water. They are devoured in turn by small fish, which are eaten by bigger fish. If rising carbon dioxide were to affect water fleas, Dr. Weiss reasoned, it could influence the entire lake ecosystem.

Water fleas use a bizarre but sophisticated defense to escape predators. They can sense chemicals given off by fish in their vicinity, and in response they make themselves harder to eat.

Some species grow a massive crest on their head, while others sprout spikes. Dr. Weiss and her colleagues found that high levels of carbon dioxide caused water fleas to make smaller crests and shorter spikes.

Rather than the acidity of the water, carbon dioxide itself seems to be affecting the water fleas. When the researchers lowered the pH with hydrochloric acid, the water fleas responded normally to predators.

Dr. Weiss hypothesized that carbon dioxide interferes with the nervous system of the water fleas, blunting their ability to look out for predators.

Caleb T. Hasler, a biologist at the University of Winnipeg, said that the new research addressed an unanswered question: the amounts of carbon dioxide that might harm freshwater life.

“This paper is really important because it starts to show where those levels might be,” he said.

Dr. Hasler’s own recent research hints that water fleas may not be the only freshwater animals to be altered by carbon dioxide. He and his colleagues studied minnows swimming in water rich with carbon dioxide and found that the fish don’t respond as quickly to alarm signals released by other minnows.

In another study, the team studied two species of mussels. One species relaxed its muscles in water high in carbon dioxide, so that its shell gaped open. The other species clamped its shell shut, so that it could no longer filter food.

These sorts of changes may send ripples out across entire freshwater ecosystems. Mussels are vital for filtering food and keeping water clear, for example. If water fleas do a worse job of escaping predators, their population may decline, leaving less food in the long run for fish.

But it’s not certain that inland waters around the world are building up carbon dioxide at the rate that Dr. Weiss and her colleagues observed in the German reservoirs.

In November, Dr. Stanley and her colleagues published a study of carbon dioxide levels in lakes in Wisconsin. Between 1986 and 2011, they detected no significant change at all.

The mismatch points to the complex chemistry varying from one lake to the next. While lakes and rivers all absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, some also draw in the gas from surrounding soils.

The chemistry of some inland waters causes a lot of carbon dioxide to be converted into other compounds. Some lakes and streams may support a lot of underwater plants that take up the gas, for instance, while others may have microbes can release more of it.

Making matters even more complicated, the carbon dioxide levels in any particular body of freshwater can change drastically over time with swings in temperature and other conditions.

“You can have lakes where the carbon dioxide increases tenfold at night,” said Dr. Hasler.

In decades to come, as carbon dioxide levels continue to climb in the atmosphere, Dr. Stanley speculated, the picture will only get more nuanced.

“I honestly don’t know where we’re going,” said Dr. Stanley. “I’ll probably put my money on increased variability from lake to lake. They’re just going to be more extreme.”

Dr. Weiss agreed that it wasn’t possible to draw big lessons from the preliminary data. “I think this study we’re publishing is like a door-opener,” she said. “I hope there will be other scientists who will follow.”

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Americans oppose drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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Americans oppose drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The tax bills that were recently approved by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives each contain a provision allowing drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The bill now heads for reconciliation by the two chambers, an up or down vote of the final bill by the House and Senate, and then to President Trump for his signature.

How do Americans feel about opening up ANWR to drilling for oil? And how much do opinions differ across partisan lines?

In our most recent nationally representative survey, conducted in late October, we found that a large majority of American voters (70%) oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Those strongly opposed outnumber those who strongly support the policy by more than 4 to 1.

Further, majorities of Democrats (84%), Independents (64%), and Republicans (52%) oppose drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Only 18% of Republicans “strongly support” the policy.

For more information about the survey methodology, please click here.

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15,000 scientists in 184 countries warn about negative global environmental trends

osu-tag.png      11/13/2017

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Human well-being will be severely jeopardized by negative trends in some types of environmental harm, such as a changing climate, deforestation, loss of access to fresh water, species extinctions and human population growth, scientists warn in today’s issue of BioScience, an international journal.

The viewpoint article — “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” — was signed by more than 15,000 scientists in 184 countries.

The warning came with steps that can be taken to reverse negative trends, but the authors suggested that it may take a groundswell of public pressure to convince political leaders to take the right corrective actions. Such activities could include establishing more terrestrial and marine reserves, strengthening enforcement of anti-poaching laws and restraints on wildlife trade, expanding family planning and educational programs for women, promoting a dietary shift toward plant-based foods and massively adopting renewable energy and other “green” technologies.

Global trends have worsened since 1992, the authors wrote, when more than 1,700 scientists — including a majority of the living Nobel laureates in the sciences at the time — signed a “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. In the last 25 years, trends in nine environmental issues suggest that humanity is continuing to risk its future. However, the article also reports that progress has been made in addressing some trends during this time.

The article was written by an international team led by William Ripple, distinguished professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. The authors used data maintained by government agencies, nonprofit organizations and individual researchers to warn of “substantial and irreversible harm” to the Earth.

“Some people might be tempted to dismiss this evidence and think we are just being alarmist,” said Ripple. “Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences. Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a wide-spread public debate about the global environment and climate.”

Progress in some areas — such as a reduction in ozone-depleting chemicals and an increase in energy generated from renewable sources — shows that positive changes can be made, the authors wrote. There has been a rapid decline in fertility rates in some regions, which can be attributed to investments in education for women, they added. The rate of deforestation in some regions has also slowed.

Among the negative 25-year global trends noted in the article are:

  • A 26 percent reduction in the amount of fresh water available per capita
  • A drop in the harvest of wild-caught fish, despite an increase in fishing effort
  • A 75 percent increase in the number of ocean dead zones
  • A loss of nearly 300 million acres of forestland, much of it converted for agricultural uses
  • Continuing significant increases in global carbon emissions and average temperatures
  • A 35 percent rise in human population
  • A collective 29 percent reduction in the numbers of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish

Ripple and his colleagues have formed a new independent organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, to be a collective voice on environmental sustainability and human well-being. Scientists who did not sign the warning prior to publication can endorse the published warning by visiting

Co-authors of the article include Ripple and Christopher Wolf at Oregon State University and Eileen Crist of Virginia Tech in the United States; Mauro Galleti of the Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil; Thomas Newsome of The University of Sydney and Deakin University and William Laurence of James Cook University in Australia; Mohammad Alongir of the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh; Mahmoud Mahmoud of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency in Nigeria.

The BioScience article is publicly available online.

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Rebuilding After the Hurricanes: These Solar Homes Use Almost No Energy

Builders of prefabricated, zero-energy homes built for storm resilience have seen a spike in calls, particularly from the Florida Keys and Virgin Islands.

A quarter of homes in the Florida Keys are estimated to have been destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Modular-home builders have been drawing interest in their net-zero-energy, solar-equipped houses in the aftermath of this summer’s hurricanes. Credit: Vermod

The scope of the damage to mobile home parks and older neighborhoods along America’s hurricane-ravaged coasts is enormous. More than 15,500 homes were destroyed in Texas alone, and the count hasn’t even begun in Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands.

The homeowners who plan to stay face a choice: They can rebuild what they had before, knowing the warming climate will bring more devastating storms, or they can build for energy efficiency and resilience. The decision often comes down to cost, but an innovative type of post-disaster construction is creating new options.

In the Asheville, North Carolina, offices of Deltec Homes—one of several builders of prefabricated, energy efficient houses—the phones have been ringing insistently with questions about the hurricane-resistant, net-zero-energy homes the company manufactures and ships around the world. The homes are designed to reduce energy loss and are built ready for solar panels to allow customers to go off-grid and still power up when the grid goes down in a storm.

The company has seen a rise in interest in the past month, from the Virgin Islands and the Florida Keys in particular, company President Steve Linton said. “It’s an insane jump,” he said.

Nearly a decade ago, net-zero-energy homes were rare, usually custom-built for wealthy homeowners who wanted to incorporate energy efficient appliances and rooftop solar panels. Now, that’s starting to shift: within the last year, the zero-energy home market has grown 33 percent, said Shilpa Sankaran, executive director of the Net-Zero Energy Coalition.

“That’s a tiny fraction of new home construction, but in terms of growth, we’re seeing the kind of numbers solar saw in its early days in 2011 and 2012,” she said.

For that market to really take off, net-zero homes have to become cheaper—particularly in low-income communities, which are disproportionately affected by extreme weather. That’s a challenge companies like Deltec are trying to meet by designing modular, prefabricated, net-zero homes that reduce energy usage, cut costs and can withstand extreme weather and power outages.

“Nobody wants to see a repeat of damage that’s been done [by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria], and scientists said certainly it was worse because of climate change,” Sankaran said. “If that’s the case, not only do we need buildings that won’t exacerbate the problem, but also ones that last longer.”

Vermont’s Zero-Energy Storm Recovery

Prefabricated, zero-energy homes became a go-to storm response in Vermont after Hurricane Irene in 2011.

The storm’s remnants dumped as much as 11 inches of rain in some areas and flooded hundreds of buildings. Mobile home parks were the hardest hit: more than 500 were damaged or destroyed. While they only make up 7 percent of Vermont’s housing stock, mobile homes comprised 15 percent of those damaged during the storm.

After the floodwaters receded, a group of local developers and affordable housing experts launched Vermod, a company that designs and builds affordable zero-energy modular homes, to help low-income communities recover from the storm.

“That storm was a really valuable catalyst to action for these issues simmering in the back of people’s minds, but weren’t taking precedence,” said Phoebe Howe, program coordinator for Efficiency Vermont, an organization that worked with Vermod to finance and design the homes.

Vermod designed zero-net-energy homes after Hurricane Irene for to replace mobile homes destroyed by flooding. Credit: Vermod Homes

Vermod designed zero-net-energy homes after Hurricane Irene for to replace mobile homes destroyed by flooding. Credit: Vermod Homes

Using eco-friendly materials and energy efficient appliances, the company built modest, modular net-zero energy homes to replace 75 mobile homes around the state. An average two-bedroom, two-bathroom home costs around $115,000 if the buyers qualify for certain incentives and tax credits, Howe said.

Last year, Vermod revamped an abandoned mobile home park, building net-zero homes that it rented out to 14 low-income families. It’s also helping a developer in Delaware work on a similar modular home project.

The case for going net-zero is convincing for many lower-income people, who can spend up to 35 percent of their budget on home energy expenses, Howe said. The bigger issue is convincing developers to shift their business models.

Howe said Vermod’s projects are easily transferrable to other states; they’re primarily funded through U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grants and various housing trust funds. For areas like the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where entire communities are destroyed and parts of the grid are down indefinitely, that model could be a way to rebuild in a cheaper, more climate-friendly and resilient way.

Tricks to Energy Efficiency in Pre-Fab Homes

With so much need for new housing, net-zero-energy homebuilders are increasing their outreach to hurricane-damaged regions.

Deltec is trying to establish a bigger presence in hurricane-prone areas like coastal Texas. In Lawrence, Kansas, a company called BuildSmart is seeing a higher demand for its prefabricated wall panels, in part because many local builders are leaving to work on projects along the Gulf Coast. Other developers of zero-energy, prefabricated homes have cropped up in the last few years, from California to Minnesota to Florida.

One of Deltec's designs has rounded walls for hurricane resilience. Credit: Deltec Homes

One of Deltec’s designs has rounded walls for hurricane resilience. Credit: Deltec Homes

Prefabricated homes are manufactured in a factory then assembled on-site. In this controlled indoor setting, builders avoid weather that could harm building materials or slow construction time. Windows and corners can be made to fit together more precisely, boosting energy efficiency. And there’s potential to manufacture homes by the hundreds, rather than one at a time.

Cost Comparison for Zero-Energy Modular Homes

Deltec’s prefabricated zero-energy homes have thick walls that reduce the amount of energy lost through windows and cracks — where 25 to 40 percent of a typical home’s energy is wasted, Linton said. Usually, they’re built with passive solar and energy storage systems attached, or wired and oriented to be solar-ready for when a customer can afford to make the jump off-grid. The net-zero collection uses two-thirds less energy than a typical home, with the remaining third provided by solar or other renewable energy production.

“It’s built at a standard that’s going to essentially last for hundreds of years compared to decades for a stick-built home,” Linton said, adding that he hopes the recent hurricanes “wake people up to the realities of what we have to design against.”

Encouraging a Shift to Zero-Energy Homes

To catalyze the growth in energy efficient housing, there’s been a recent push for zero-energy building codes at both the state and city levels: California’s goal is to have all new residential buildings be net-zero by 2020; Massachusetts is requiring all new buildings to be 100 percent net-zero-energy and existing buildings to cut emissions by half by 2030.

Meeting these ambitious climate goals will take an economic and cultural shift, industry experts say. For instance, banks have to be willing to offer home loans to cover the upfront costs of net-zero-energy development, said Joe Emerson, founder of nonprofit Zero Energy Project. Better incentives for rooftop solar and cheaper energy storage will also help make net-zero-energy homes an affordable option.

“It’s absolutely possible to do this in coastal regions and hurricane and earthquake regions,” Sankaran said. “It’s not rocket science, it just needs to be part of the process.”

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