Isabella O’Malley (Associated Press)
When Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle five years ago, the windows of Bonnie Paulson’s home in the small coastal community of Mexico Beach, Florida, showed her home on a stilt 14 feet above the ground. Despite standing there, boats, cars, and trucks piled up. . But Paulson’s house, with its round, ship-like shape, was able to withstand Category 5 winds that might have otherwise caused it to collapse.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Paulson said, recalling the evacuation order. Her home only lost a few shingles, and photos taken after the storm show nearly all of the surrounding homes standing completely in the wreckage.
Some developers are building homes like Paulson’s to be more resilient to the increasingly extreme weather conditions associated with climate change, while also being more environmentally friendly. For example, solar panels that are installed tightly so that strong winds cannot pass under the panels mean clean power that can withstand storms. Protected wetlands and native vegetation trap carbon in the ground and also reduce vulnerability to flooding. Recycled or advanced building materials that not only reduce energy usage but also reduce the need to create new materials.
Your personal home is one of the biggest ways you can reduce your personal carbon footprint. Buildings produce approximately 38% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions each year. Some carbon pollution comes from electricity, such as lighting and air conditioning, and some comes from the production of construction materials, such as concrete and steel.
Deltec, the company that built Paulson’s home, said that of the roughly 1,400 homes it has built over the past 30 years, only one suffered structural damage from hurricane-force winds. But the company is equally committed to making buildings greener, with features such as high-quality insulation that reduces the need for air conditioning, heat pumps for more efficient heating and cooling, energy-efficient appliances, and, of course, solar power. is focused on.
“The real magic here is that we’re doing both,” CEO Steve Linton said. “A lot of times when we talk about sustainable construction, I think resilience is like an afterthought. It’s like a feature on a list. We think resilience is really fundamental to sustainability. I believe this is a very important part.”
Other companies are developing entire regions that are hurricane-resistant and have a lower-than-average impact on climate change.
Pearl Homes’ Mirabella community in Bradenton, Florida, consists of 160 homes that are LEED-certified Platinum, the highest level in one of the most commonly used green building rating systems.
Home sites are set 3 feet above code to reduce vulnerability to flooding. The roads are also elevated and are designed to direct accumulated rain away from it and onto the ground, where it is absorbed. A seamed steel roof allows solar panels to be mounted snugly, making it difficult for strong winds to penetrate underneath. The house also has a battery that operates during power outages.
Pearl Homes CEO Marshall Gobuti said his team approached the University of Central Florida with a plan to build a community that doesn’t contribute to climate change. “We wanted it to be not only sustainable, but resilient. We wanted it to be completely different from everything else going on in Florida,” Gobuti said. “I can see a newly built house submerged half a mile away…The change in weather is putting us at risk.”
“I don’t want to spend every day worrying that something is tracking me in the Atlantic Ocean,” said Paulson, who is in Mexico Beach. In addition to greater peace of mind, she says her utility bills are now about $32 a month. That’s far less than the roughly $250 she said she paid for her previous home.
“I don’t really feel that people are accepting and adapting to environmental catastrophe,” she says. “We’re building the same old thing that was blown away.”
Babcock Ranch is another sustainable, hurricane-resistant community in South Florida. Billing itself as America’s first solar town, it has 680,000 panels on 870 acres that generate 150 megawatts of electricity. The community is also the first in the country to install large batteries on-site to store additional solar power for use at night or during power outages.
Sid Kitson founded Babcock Ranch in 2006. Because the roof is anchored to a system that connects to the foundation, the home can withstand hurricane winds. Power lines are buried underground so they cannot be blown down. Some homes have doors that open outward, so the increased wind pressure won’t cause the door to swing open, and the vents will help balance the pressure inside the garage.
In 2022, Hurricane Ian hit Babcock Ranch as a Category 4 storm. Little damage remained, Kitson said.
“We set out to prove that a new city and environment can work together, and I think we’ve proven that,” Kitson said. “Unless we build in a very resilient way, we’re going to be constantly repairing or tearing down houses.”
The development will sell approximately 73,000 acres to the state for wetland protection, and the development team will use the site to study how water naturally flows through the local environment and incorporate it into water management systems. It has been incorporated into.
“That water goes where it wants to go. If you try to challenge Mother Nature, you’ll lose every time,” Kitson said. Wetlands, reservoirs, and native plants can better manage water during extreme rainfall events, reducing the risk of flooding your home.
In the Florida Keys, Natalia Padalino and her husband Alan Klingler plan to complete construction of a Deltec home by December. Concerned about the future impact of global warming and hurricanes on the Florida Keys, the couple researched homes that were sustainable and designed to withstand these storms.
“We believe we are building something that will be a tremendous investment and will reduce the risk of significant catastrophic events,” Klingler said.
“People have been really open and accepting. They say if a hurricane comes, they’ll stay in our house,” Padalino said.
This story corrected the location of the Padalinos’ home base to the Florida Keys instead of the Panhandle.
Associated Press video journalist Laura Bergfeld in Mexico Beach and photographer Gerald Herbert in New Orleans contributed.
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