Climate Advocates Push Floating Houses to Defeat Future Hurricanes And Floods

Hurricane Ike damage at Port Arthur, TX - Pleasure Island near the docks.

Floating structures are not safer in a storm. Hurricane Ike damage at Port Arthur, TX – Pleasure Island near the docks. By Junglecat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

There have been a few stories in the press lately about climate proof floating houses. As someone who used to live next to a river, I’m concerned floating house advocates have no idea what they are talking about.

Climate change may lead to a rise in floating architecture

Published 5th January 2018
Written by
Trudie Carter, Dezeen

Climate change poses a serious question: how will our cities cope with rising sea levels? Some architects believe that floating buildings offer the answer, and have come up with a wide variety of designs to prove it, from simple prefab homes to entirely amphibious neighborhoods.

Leading the charge is the Netherlands, which has long been a pioneer of water-based living. With over half of its landmass underwater, the country has a well-established canal infrastructure, but is also now taking even more ambitious leaps to transform its cities.

In Amsterdam, a new breed of contemporary houseboats has been popping up all over the city. Among these is a slatted timber structure by Framework Architecten and Studio Prototype, which shows how floating homes can easily feature a story submerged below the water.

A more ambitious proposal is also planned for the Dutch capital — earlier this year, Danish firm BIG and Rotterdam studio Barcode Architects revealed designs for a huge housing complex that will float on the IJ lake. The 46,000-square-meter building will provide a gateway to IJburg, a whole neighborhood set on artificial islands.

Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/style/article/floating-architecture-dezeen/index.html

My biggest concern is the expense. Water is a very corrosive environment, far more so than most people probably realise. Concrete floats usually only last 20 years or so, because they are continuously getting knocked about by the water and objects in the water, and corroded by minerals in the water. Anything sitting on top of those floats is also subject to enhanced corrosion – floating structures tend to deteriorate much quicker than land based structures. Floating structures require expert inspection on a regular basis.

Not a solution for poor people – only rich people can afford to keep their floating houses well maintained and safe. Poor people can live in floating structures, can ignore the recommended inspections which they can’t afford, but the safety risks are substantial.

Attaching emergency floats to a house which normally sit on land is a recipe for disaster, unless the owners of those houses are knowledgeable about the issues and take charge of their personal safety. The floats will work, the rest of the house might break during a flood, as the floats exert new stresses on the house frame.

When a hurricane or storm hits, there is no guarantee your floating structure will survive any better than a fixed structure. Look at the aftermath of any hurricane (e.g. picture above), all the heavily damaged boats which have broken their moorings. Boats are tough – but there has to be a little give in the mooring to support easy vertical movement of the structure as it floats. The coupling has to be slightly loose, to minimise the risk the vertical movement will jam. This loose coupling leads to problems in harsh weather. High winds, especially hurricane force winds, and rough water cause the floating structure to repeatedly slam hard against its mooring. For big structures, each impact will exert 10s, even hundreds of tons of impact force on the mooring and the floating structure. This slamming action in extreme conditions frequently leads to mooring failure, expensive structural damage and / or complete destruction of the floating structure.

If flood floatation events are expected to be rare, the is a substantial risk of substandard construction work on mooring fixtures which likely won’t be tested for a decade or two after the house is built. A little extra sand added to the concrete to cut corners and save some money wouldn’t be noticed until the concrete mooring foundation is stressed by the flood, by which time it would be impossible to work out who was responsible for the failure.

If someone wants to live in a flood prone hurricane risk area, there is a much simpler, cheaper solution to flood risk than a floating structure; don’t buy a house on low lying ground on a floodplain.

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98 thoughts on “Climate Advocates Push Floating Houses to Defeat Future Hurricanes And Floods

    • Ding!!!

      And the rest of us foot the bill anyway with higher premiums even though we choose to live hundreds of feet above the flood hazard areas.

      • No, you don’t foot the bill. That’s why anyone who lives in the 100-year flood plain in the US has to be enrolled in the federal flood insurance program. FEMA produces the official maps. My town just went through the expense of a resurvey to reclassify dozens of homes to remove them from the official flood plain because the existing maps were wrong.

      • Let’s be clear on terminology.
        Flood plains have flood hazard zone determinations. It is the flood hazard zone and elevation of any improved property that determines the flood insurance. Like you, FEMA has redrawn the maps in my area and I went from an AE zone to an X-500 zone where flood insurance is no longer required for my mortgage. I have payed flood insurance for over 15 years due to a faulty map. Flood insurance is only required by federal backed mortgages although some lenders will require it even if they do not resell the mortgage to the feds.

        To recap:
        Flood plains are everywhere, it is flood hazard zones along with specific elevations on improved property that determine the need and price for flood insurance based on the likelihood of flooding causing a claim.

    • Let’s include tornado prone areas, earthquake prone areas, ice storm prone areas and any other place where weather happens. While we are at it let’s stop giving low/no interest government loans to anyone who suffers from anything natural.

      • Only when large numbers of homes are destroyed and the area is declared a federal disaster area.
        If it’s only a handful of homes that get destroyed, they get no assistance.

      • NO, the premiums they paid for homeowners insurance to their INSURANCE COMPANIES paid for the rebuilding.

        I live in one of the tornado alleys in Alabama. My friends homes that were destroyed in 2011 were rebuilt using money from ALLSTATE, STATE FARM, etc — not federal subsidies.

    • This is fine but I looked at a new home ten years ago that was near to but not in a flood zone. it now very firmly is thanks to, not climate change as claimed by the eco freaks but the policy of building up river on the flood plain but draining it. As a result of that drainage the excess water from this area increases the river levels at this point ten miles down river during flood periods by nearly two feet which I know does not sound a lot but even a foot of water in a bungalow is important as there is nowhere to move furniture to prevent damage.

      • Be careful it may be considered navigable waters in a few years. Have you seen any ants floating by on a leaf? :)

  1. There’s a famous picture of the Lynchburg Ferry after hurricane Ike. One of the Ferries was on top of the other.

    These are professional boats run by the state in custom-designed safe zones at a ferry that’s been running nearly 200 years.

    Think about what would happen to an average family in third ward if they lived in a boat like that?

    • If I recall correctly, during Katrina several of the large floating hotel/casinos in Biloxi/Gulfport MS came loose and crashed into the shore causing major damage to anything in their paths.

    • Floating houses have been around a very long time – they’re called “houseboats”. Work best in calmer areas like Seattle. Wouldn’t want to build one on Florida’s coast.

      • The part that never seems to get mentioned is the need for “services” power water and waste connections are all problematic if there are large or violent movements. Even in low lying areas keeping pumping stations and equipment dry and running can be difficult.

        James Bull

    • If you want to live in a boat, live in a real boat. Then, when bad weather is coming you can do what most boats(ships) do, Run Away.

      • I’ve always wondered why so many boats are destroyed and lying around in the aftermath of a big storm–are the owners unaware the storm is coming or they don’t have the fuel to get it to safety? I can’t imagine it’s cost effective to replace a boat every time a storm comes along.

    • Totally with you there. The usual rational response in the case of flood, cyclone/hurricane, tsunami etc is to head for higher ground. As a naval architect ( a branch of engineering) I can tell you that the engineering overhead of anything floating is a lot more than anything comparable on dry land. I live in a 130 yo house. A 130 floating house has a technical term applied to it. Its called a wreck.

  2. If someone wants to live in a flood prone hurricane risk area

    Eric – they’re aren’t proposing this as a fix for hurricane prone areas, they’re proposing it as an option to deal with sea level rise. Nothing to do with hurricanes.

    Of course at 2 or 3 mm per year, one could just add a few centimeters to a sea wall every decade or so. Or move inland. Or lots of other solutions. There is a real market for floating houses, there are several communities of them within driving distance from where I live, and they exist all over the world. There’s nothing new in this press release other than a bunch of architects jumping on the climate change meme in order to promote the work they were already doing anyway.

    • The average life expectancy of a building is 30 to 50 years. Any building will be ready to be torn down and replaced long, long before the water can reach it. Go ahead and tear it down, but rebuild a few hundred feet inland instead of where it currently is. (Or build up the foundation a couple of inches, then rebuild.

    • Thank you David,

      The proposed solution is to mitigate about a tenth of an inch rise in sea level and not about catastrophic damage from a storm that could give a sh!t about climate change or sea level rise.

      Good grief. The storm surge on the LA/MS coast of Katrina boggles the mind. See:

      http://www.wunderground.com/education/Katrinas_surge_contents.asp

      later post with horror pictures that the folks in NY and NJ could not dream of. The wimps.

      Gums…

      • Andy
        Thanks for prompting me on who the featured Yachtie is.
        I had ‘Titanic’ – but not Leonardo: – after a Mutant Ninja Hero Turtle, I guess.

        Thank you again!

        Auto
        [Not an aficionado of the silver screen!].

  3. You can affordably elevate a new house on pilings or similar, to get it as high as necessary above likely floods. (The space beneath the living area can be used as a car port.)

    Floating a house would be vastly more expensive, and vastly less effective.

    • How deep would the pilings need to be to avoid the possibility of the foundations &surrounding earth etc from being washed away in incoming /outgoing rapid water flow.The generated forces can be very high .

      • In Fort Lauderdale, the answer is up to ~80 feet of steel reinforced concrete on about a 5 foot spacing. That reaches just into ‘bedrock’ below the sand. Absolute requirement since Andrew. There are even special machines for making these pile footings.

    • The piling soulution is fine for slowly rising floods and far away from the coast to not have 20 foot waves beating on the home/cabin/camp.

      So we see this:

      Those of us here on the Gulf.Coast crack up when the NY/NJ folks and such talk about “super” storm Sandy. BEAM ME UP!

      Due to topography and slope of the sea floor and such, the Gulf communities have endured and survived storm surges of over 25 feet and winds over 150 mph. When I see that for Atlantic City I might have a sliver of sympathy.

      So a montage will show what REAL storms can do on certain venues:

      More later from personal experience with these beasts, and flood insurance subsidized by taxpayers aint the way to go.

      Gums…

  4. Climate warrior tip of the day: when slowly rising seas are high enough to be a problem—in about 500 years or so—move inland. But you’ll be dead by then anyway, so no problem.

  5. The Amsterdam ideas have nothing at all to do with water level , weather or climate change BS
    The problem is the cost of housing and the lack of land, these are in-land water ways with no tidal changes or even waves .
    How this is supposed to link to areas with both of these remains a mystery.
    By the way, the Netherlands stay dry by the very type of work that greens would be deeply opposed to now ,included the wide scale reduction of wet lands , for they require wide scale changes to the environment.

    • Yes but the REAL Noah got away with it – until it found a mountain. Of course only two of each species he selected made it!

  6. Piloti are a common and quite cheap solution do cope with flood. More so that floating building.
    A floating building is certainly NOT safe to cope with strong winds of a hurricane.

    So, people lacking common sense and knowledge push a stupid solution, while they believe in a non-existent problem. This part make perfect sense: garbage somewhere in their mind, garbage everywhere.

  7. Many people are apparently always going to want to live near (often too near) water. So storm/floodproofing structures isn’t all that bad an idea. But like Eric says, it’s not an easy problem to solve. Current floating house (i.e. boat) designs come up with structures that don’t last forever and therefore need to be either maintained or scrapped after some period of time. Better materials are probably possible. After all Roman cements have far better weathering characteristics than modern cement. And glasses and plastic are pretty much impervious to water although they may be fragile or damaged by UV light.

    So anyway, there are a number of solutions and floating houses aren’t likely to be the best/cheapest answer. One can design tall, sturdy structures with the living area elevated above storm water area (IIRC that’s done around Darwin). One can build mobile structures that can be hauled to safety (if the wheel bearings still turn after 20 or 30 years of disuse). Conceptually, one can build a waterproof vault for the essential stuff and just let everything else wash away.

    I don’t think any of those answers is all that good. Or all that cheap.

    • (Forget the global warming nonsense) Living near a large body of water and below sea level will always be a problem. The larger the group of people willing to take the risk the larger the problem.

  8. Eric,

    “Climate Advocates Push Floating Houses to Defeat Future Hurricanes And Floods”

    Climate advocates? What the . . Are you gonna label me a climate opponent next?

    I swear, I really think we would have won this battle years ago, if people like you would have just used rational labels for the combatants. You accepted that utterly self degrading label of ‘climate skeptics’ for years, and use cutesy upbeat sounding labels like “climate advocates” for the people (I believe have) high jacked science, and are figuratively speaking trying to crash it into our civilization . .

    It’s so disheartening to see this self destructive Orwellian gibberish here . . (and I really like your writing otherwise) . . It was a real ** out in the “trenches” all those years having to deal with being labeled a climate skeptic (aka moron) . . by our own geniuses no less ; )

    Is it some sort of journalism “trick” or something? An attempt at clickbaiting? What?

      • Perhaps it’s time to re-label, Climate Realists. I have never been skeptical of the climate- we have a climate, it changes, the changes cause problems, but I’ve never questioned the climate, or denied its existence. I’ve always wanted to understand it ,and how it functions, better.

      • Eric,

        “Shorthand for climate action advocates.”

        Then why not label them ‘climate action advocates’? . . You know, so people don’t think you’re referring to ‘climate skepticism advocates’? . . ; )

      • philohippous,

        the problem I see with ‘climate realists’, is that it doesn’t let people know which “side” it’s referring to . . the climate alarmists can simply coopt it, therefore. I suggest “climate alarm skeptics’, since it makes it quite clear WHAT we skeptical of, and it matches ‘climate alarmists’ perfectly.

        (Yes, Eric, I realize that will mean a few more keystrokes . . ; )

      • PS, Eric,

        Are you thinking ‘climate alarmist’ will be seen as disrespectful? I don’t see how, that’s what they are . . it’s a neutral term to me, unlike ‘radicals’ or ‘extremists’ or whatever. You can call me a corruption alarmist all you like ; )

  9. I wonder how many times I’m going to randomly ‘LOL’ at this one today…

    The way you make houses climate and hurricane proof is you build em 8 feet off the ground one mile inland surrounded by boulders and put all the wiring in the ceiling.

      • Hurricane Proof, Tornado Proof, Flood Proof, is fairly easy and straight foreward.
        Spherical (60% burried) No flat surfaces to trap Hurricane/Tornadic winds.
        Reinforced Concrete for strength and resilience
        Water tight Exterior doors and windows (flood comes your way just batten down the hatches and head to high ground)
        A 50′ diameter house would sit 20′ above ground and yield around 4500 sq’ living space.

      • That would be a nightmare in flooding, and with only one entrance and exit, it would never meet modern fire codes.

      • “Tom in Florida January 5, 2018 at 7:02 am

        But filmed in New Zealand.”

        Yes. I used to ride by some of the sets on the train to work and back every day. Rarely saw any actors or acting though.

      • @Patrick MJD

        Yes. I used to ride by some of the sets on the train to work and back every day. Rarely saw any actors or acting though./blockquote>

        It might be surprising if you had. Per the DVD extras, they built the Shire and then let it go for over a year so it would develop a more organic look. Only a couple of weeks of filming total involved, IIRC.

  10. If they are being proposed as a safeguard against flooding, then surely they would spend most of their existence on dry land and only float during a flooding episode. Sounds eminently practical to me. There would obviously be a price for this protection but there are already plenty of people willing to pay a premium for the benefits of living near water.

  11. I lived on my yachts for 15 years, much of it in cyclone areas. I went through 4 cyclones in that time.

    The only really safe place for any boat, [& I was responsible for 6 tourist boats for some time] proved to be well up a mangrove creek. This gets you out of most of the wind reduced by the friction through hundreds of acres of trees, & well away from any waves. The flood water is another problem. We would get the creeks running at up to 12 knots, a problem with boats with a hull speed of only 10 knots or so. It would be a much bigger problem with a barge like house boat.

    We had 5 men tending 8 boats, & only just managed to do the necessary work constantly adjusting mooring lines & such gear over 2 days.

    Some are suggesting elevation to avoid flood water. Not a great idea in a strong blow, wind speed increases considerably with height. One 2 story resort on a Great Barrier reef island in a moderate cyclone, but no more than a major storm in a higher latitude, had the ground floor survive fairly well, with minor damage. The upper floor, built with the same construction was mostly not there. It was quite comical, in a tortured way, to see the units totally gone, with just the toilet pedestals standing to show where the bathrooms had been.

  12. Hurricane Camille, 1969, put ships far enough inland they had to be disassembled. Floating houses is a stupid idea.

    • Hurricane Hazel in 1954 blew most of the houses on Garden City Beach, mostly just a sandbar on the ocean side of Murrells Inlet, S.C., back into the marsh. One enterprising character just jacked up his house where it landed and placed pilings under it. Several years later while fishing the inlet we passed a one-story house moving down the inlet, headed back to Garden City Beach. Someone had floated it by placing several 55 gallon drums under it. There was one guy standing on the roof hollering directions to another on the back porch who was steering an outboard motor mounted on the railing. I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my boat as we passed.

  13. Landfill is a better way to respond to sea level rise. At 2mm/year or less, that could be managed by a fleet of electric dump trucks which are charged at night by giant batteries which are charged during the day from wind and solar. We can adapt to climate change by fighting it at the same time. Elon Musk will announce this soon – probably on the first day of the second quarter.

    • “Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7 January 5, 2018 at 5:00 am”

      Much of San Francisco is built on landfill. Many buildings and structures collapsed due to liquefaction in quakes in the 80’s because they were built on landfill.

    • Griff
      I am sure you know of the devastating 1953 floods – killed hundreds in the UK – but thousands in the Netherlands, only about eight years after the end of World War 2 – during which the Netherlands suffered very badly.

      Auto.

  14. My friend Jeff had his second boat anchored off Geiger Key in the Florida Keys this summer before the big huricane. It was he’s second boat because the first sank when it’s bilge pump died when he was away for two days.

    And now after the huricane he’s on his third boat.

    Hearing about his last year has cured me of ever wanting to live the Key West sailboat lifestyle.

    ~¿~

  15. Seattle, Washington has houseboats, mainly on Lake Union, a small lake entirely within the city limits, for over a century. Google:
    Seattle Lake Union Houseboats
    and look at the pictures. When I was a child, houseboats were a limited source of low-cost housing. No longer. Houseboats do not have to look like boats at all (see pictures if you google), can be anchored very differently than boats and built to last every bit as long as a wood frame home on dry land (which isn’t all that long without major maintenance). Seattle also has a couple of floating bridges which float on the same kind of concrete boxes that Mr. Worrall criticizes, and have been floating for decades. So what makes a houseboat expensive are the three factors that make similar, land-based houses in cities expensive: location, location, location. Which is the same basic three factors that make dry-land city living untenable for the poor, too. I think that in SOME places, just some places, floating homes would be a reasonable solution if people really want to live there. But in other, storm prone ocean-front areas, the best solution is to just move farther inland.

  16. Folks, better ask some people who have spent substantial portions of their lives living aboard floating houses (called “boats” in many parts of the English speaking world). Boats run from bad weather whenever they can. I have driven mine deep into mangroves for protection from storms which would have swamped and sunk us for sure even moored in a “safe harbor”.

    Canals and inland lakes (if small enough) would be far safer — but what about all the infrastructure necessary for a modern home? Natural gas connections for heat and cooking, fresh water connections, sewage connections (huge problem for live aboard sailors and cruise liners alike).

    Idiotic idea in regards climate change — nice idea for an eccentric way of life — mine in the past for over 25 years.

  17. Sigh. On a related note – more solutions to solve the problem of the Emperor’s Clothes – anyone catch that idiot Matt Damon’s new propaganda piece (or see the advertising, because I was happy to hear that it tanked) – ‘Downsizing’ – shrinking people to doll-sized.

    This is the madness that has enveloped the progressive left, via environmental lunacy – fifty years ago this was mad-scientist stuff – ‘Dr. Cyclops’ – the sinister ‘Dr. Shrinker’.

    Now it’s progressive eco-fantasy. And don’t think for a moment that they’re kidding.

    They’ve really gone off the deep end this year – I shudder at the thought of any of these people returning to power.

    • It wouldn’t really work anyway. The only real way to reduce the size of something would be to reduce the size of the electron’s orbin in every atom. That is the only place to reduce empty space.
      The problem this creates is that Atomic Oxygen would still weigh the same as would Atomic Carbon, Hydrogen, Phosphorous such that a 6 ‘ tall 200# male would still weigh 200 lbs at 6″ tall

    • Part of the irony is that they call themselves progressive despite the fact that they are regressing deeper and deeper into this psychotic fantasy world with the turning of each page of the calendar.

  18. When I was about 15, we lived in Chesterfield, MO, on Wildhorse Creek Road. The creek was just that…a little rivulet a about six feet across and two feet deep. It was on the other side of the road from all of the properties, and really wasn’t noticed by anyone but naturists such as myself.

    One night, during a torrential rainstorm, there was a pounding on our front door. I went down and opened it to find my father, his suit drenched to the skin. He staggered in, and told us what had happened.

    He was driving home from work, after dark, in a torrential rainstorm, He rounded a curve, which was also the summit of a very small hill, and drove straight into a flood from the little creek. It came up to the windows on his car, and not only stopped the engine, but started carrying the car downstream. He managed to roll down his window, climb onto the roof of his car, and jump to higher ground – which, unfortunately, had a barbed wire fence surrounding it. How he made it over the fence, through the acres of pasture that lay ahead, and all the way home is still something I can’t imagine.

    That was a little bitty creek, that hadn’t (to my knowledge) ever flooded to that extent before or since. But it nearly cost my father his life.

    The dangers of living near or on water are quite high. Personally, I would love to live on a houseboat, as would my wife. But that’s not the same as living on a house that can float in a flood.

  19. Floating houses are great on a nice calm lake. However when hurricanes come storming through not so good. I lived through Hurricane Hugo many hears ago and when you see boats 5 blocks inland that are smashed floating anything does not seem a good idea.

  20. The next to last place I’d want to be in a hurricane is in a floating house.

    Last place would be the Richelieu Apartments in Pass Christian.

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