Building for the climate of the future

In Norway today, it already rains 20 percent more than it did 100 years ago. Scenarios for climate change indicate that rainfall will continue to increase and that there will be more extreme weather such as storms and heavy rainfall. While 600,000 buildings are currently located in areas where there is a high risk of rot decay, this number will increase to 2.4 million between 2070 and 2100. Moisture is the cause of about 75 percent of damage to buildings.

There is no set definition of a climate-adapted building. In 2016, Klima 2050 partners began the process of specifying the meaning of the concept with the aim of agreeing on a definition.

Lack of definition
There is a lot of talk about climate-adapted buildings, but it’s not specific enough. And it’s not easy to agree on a definition of what a climate adapted building is. One reason for this is that weather and climate vary considerably in Norway, so what’s a good measure of climate adaption for Western Norway may not be good for Northern Norway, says Tore Kvande, Professor of building materials at NTNU and principal investigator in SFI Klima 2050. Kvande finds it interesting that while traditional Norwegian building culture was adapted to the local climate, nowadays we build more or less the same regardless of where we live. Regulations do not take into account differences between the climate in Oslo and Bergen.

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Adapting houses to different climates
Elisabeth Bjaanes, Chief technology officer at Mesterhus, agrees with Kvande that “one size fits all” is not a good long term solution. – Our goal is to be able to offer climate adapted homes at competitive prices,’ says Bjaanes. The 150 members of the Mesterhus chain, she says, are very interested in being able to build safe and climate adapted buildings. Mesterhus has now begun the process of developing a model of a standard house which can be adapted locally to different climatic conditions in Norway.

Currently, knowledge within the construction industry about the topic is limited, but Bjaanes maintains that Klima 2050 can change this. – The attempt to define a climate adapted building is a good starting point. It entails looking at and discussing many issues, but it is difficult to agree on a final definition. For us, while taking into account climate change adaptation and protecting against moisture, it is important to retain good living qualities, such as daylight and attractive design.

Models from Unikus
Towards the end of 2016, Unikus, which is part of Mestergruppen with architects and engineers, developed models of a possible climate adapted building. – To make things as easy as possible, we started with a model of a detached house, but much of what we learned can apply to other types of home, such as tower blocks. It is much easier to come up with specific content for ‘climate adapted’ when you work with a specific building, says Kvande. Now several other Klima 2050 partners are in the process of developing prototypes for climate adapted buildings.

 Designed by architect Tove Ovesen, Unikus

Designed by architect Tove Ovesen, Unikus

Stamp of quality
When standards for a climate adapted building are set, these will also make it be easier for firms to gain a competitive edge. In her Master thesis on climate adaptation of buildings, Torun Krangsås Vikan found that economy was often an obstacle, that climate adaptation was considered to be expensive. This negative impression can be countered by demonstrating clearly for contractors, builders and advisors what adaptation has to offer and what the long term benefits are. Climate adaptation must be promoted as a market advantage. The thesis concludes that adaptation must be user-friendly and that it may arouse more positive attention from the building industry by being identified as a stamp of quality.

Need for regulations
Bjaanes believes that it will be an advantage if demands for climate adaptation are regulated. – If more specific requirements for adaptation become part of the technical regulations, that will be a step in the right direction. Perhaps some Klima 2050 results can provide a driving force for new regulatory requirements, says Bjaanes. – And perhaps the ones that have a good climate adapted house can be rewarded with a lower insurance premium. Then it’s crucial that we have clear criteria for what a good climate adapted building is, continues Bjaanes.

Market advantage
According to Kvande, it is only a matter of time before climate adapted housing becomes a well-known concept and being able to supply such houses constitutes a market advantage. – In the beginning, no one knew what a Passive House was, so we advertised it as ‘a house with extra insulation’. Today many label a climate adapted building as ‘moisture robust’, but in the future there may be a market advantage in calling it climate adapted. Should it take a long time to develop a definition, Kvande does not see that as a problem. – ZEB, the research centre for zero emission buildings, worked for eight years on its definition. Similarly, work with our definition of climate adapted buildings can provide an impetus for constantly gaining knowledge and insight in the research and innovation.

 ZEB Test Cell

ZEB Test Cell