On Friday, the Philadelphia Business Journal released an article covering the new building construction code in the city of Philadelphia, a measure that we are the first on the East Coast to implement. As a response to climate change, a push towards accessibility, and energy efficiency, Philly will aim to be a modernized building example when these updates will become active in October.
Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Dave Perri emphasized that, “Increasingly over the years, changes to the building code have been the driver to advance other critical societal goals — such as accessible features to insure use by people of all physical abilities, energy-efficiency improvements, and resistance to floods and climate change.”
For all commercial building plans submitted for permitting before April 1, 2019, there isn’t a requirement for the plan to be assessed with these guidelines, however anything following will need to conform with the new code. There is some conversation regarding the cost implications to builders as a product of the 30% increase in requirements for energy efficiency. Mayor Kenney ensures that this saves owners on utilities and even insurance.
Although the specifics aren’t yet defined for the public, some of the potential inclusions are building features I’ve researched in the past in exploration of building components resilient to environmental extremes.
One common denominator between all “indestructible” homes I’ve seen is clear: concrete. More and more homes in areas with high wind events (such as Florida) are integrating standards in their building codes establishing acceptable materials and installation procedures for wind resistance.
When a building is constructed in a special flood hazard area (SFHAs), FEMA (Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration) has comprehensive flood protection measures that cater to vulnerable regions (and even those not categorized as ‘dangerous’ from a flooding perspective). In these areas, there are materials that are ranked by levels of resistance to floodwater damage. Whether flooring, walls, or ceilings, a good rule of thumb is any material that is absorbent is a no-go in a flooding prone area.
In both extremely cold and hot climates, the thermostat keeping interiors at an opposite temperature than outside can be damaging to building durability if proper insulation isn’t in place. There are many energy efficient HVAC systems that integrate a high level of thermal insulation to spare both energy and costs. In the winter months, snow formations on roofs and ventilation can take a toll on buildings not designed to handle the elements. I’ve heard of structures coined “Russian Sky Domes” designed to withstand extreme weights of snow and ice per meter. For those who battle extreme winter weather, the round shape of these unique buildings can prevent long-term snow laying and lead to more economical heating bills. Although rounded roofing isn’t a likely requirement in Philly, there are similar considerations for cooling and heating efficiently that are worth pushing for.
Given the climate of a building’s location, there are certain building materials and techniques that work in the favor of a project’s success.
During building design and planning stages in active weather climates, a recognition of high strength/high density material is key. When there is a drop in density, there is a direct reduction in structural capacity. When materials are more porous, there is more room for heat transfer and less temperature regulation. This is appropriate in certain settings with a combination of porous insulation to allow air circulation where needed. Through the use of the proper materials and installation techniques catered to the climate, there is sufficient strength and more fitting heat flow.
Wherever your construction project is located geographically, weather trends are an important consideration to scrutinize when assembling building architecturals. It’s exciting to see Philly as a pioneer in these advancements and anticipate other innovative cities to soon follow suit.