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Climate change: New reports examine impact on New York state's building stock

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Mon, Aug 6th 2018 02:20 pm
Three-year project between UB, NYSERDA peers into the past, while providing strategies for the future
By the University at Buffalo
Much of the talk about buildings and climate change has focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What often gets overlooked is ensuring that buildings are prepared for future climate impacts. That's imperative, because with climate change will come more frequent, intense storms, along with other climate-related hazards.
Take, for example, Hurricane Sandy, which whipped through New York City and Long Island in 2012, causing more than $60 billion in damage, or the "Snowvember" storm two years later in Buffalo that dumped 7 feet of snow across parts of the region.
Many states prepare climate assessments that gauge the impact of climate change on numerous sectors, such as the economy, transportation and agriculture. However, none of these reports have examined how climate change will impact buildings, the places in which people spend more than 90 percent of their time.
New York has become the first state to do so. A three-year effort between researchers at the University at Buffalo and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has resulted in the publication of three reports:
  • A climate hazards profile
  • Regional costs of climate-related hazards for the state's building sector
  • A set of climate resilience strategies for buildings.
The reports were published online and are intended to provide information and strategies that can be valuable to everyone from architects and engineers to state and federal policymakers.
"The vast majority of our building stock has already been built. So thinking about how to rehabilitate or retrofit existing buildings is really important going forward," said Nicholas Rajkovich, an assistant professor of architecture in UB's School of Architecture and Planning and the principal investigator on the project. "Making sure our buildings are prepared and more resilient to future climate impacts is also very cost effective."
Rajkovich and his UB research team - which included faculty and students affiliated with UB's School of Architecture and Planning and the UB Regional Institute - began working with NYSERDA in 2015, after the state agency issued a request for proposals for a project aimed at taking a closer look at how climate change has affected buildings in the state.
"New York is a national and global leader when it comes to our efforts to combat climate change and advance a clean energy agenda that reduces emissions through greater use of renewable energy and energy efficiency," said NYSERDA President and CEO Alicia Barton.
"Our partnership with the University at Buffalo has allowed us to be one of the first states seeking to increase the resiliency and efficiency of existing building stock by projecting the impacts of extreme events and climate change on buildings, and we look forward to continuing our work together on this critical issue," Barton added.
Climate resilience is becoming a key issue in the built environment, one that has major economic and societal implications, Rajkovich said, citing a National Institute of Building Sciences report from earlier this year that found society saves $6 for every dollar spent on federal grants that improve resilience to climate hazards.
"We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the building stock in the U.S., so I think this deserves its own deep dive," said Rajkovich, who is also principal investigator in the Resilient Buildings Lab in UB's School of Architecture and Planning.
"It's exciting to have this opportunity with NYSERDA. Our hope is that other states will want to take a closer look at this as well," he added.
Fall Symposium Aims to Bring Attention to Issue
In addition to compiling the reports, the project also included interviews with practicing building professionals. Those conversations revealed architects and engineers are thinking heavily about reducing a building's greenhouse gas emissions, but not as much about climate impacts on the building stock.
"They weren't thinking as much about adaptation," Rajkovich said. "Our hope is that this project gets people to start thinking about this issue."
Toward that end, the research team is hosting a symposium Oct. 1 in Albany.

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