2006 Alexey Sergeev

If there’s a word that’s often neglected in the sustainable building conversation, it’s durability. Though lost among the talk of energy and resource efficiencies, low-VOC emissions, and even water conservation goals, durability is arguably a cornerstone of sincere environmental policy and practice

Maybe its because durability, like quality, is a tough term to define, especially to price-sensitive buyers who already expect that their homes will stand up to a stiff wind and mistakenly assume that building code compliance assures that it will.

Durability also doesn’t quite cover the related issues of life safety and property loss, specifically during and immediately after a dramatic natural disaster, such as a hurricane or a tornado. To that end, the term “passive survivability” made its way into the lexicon, but was quickly judged as too negative to gain any mainstream traction.

Enter resiliency, a word you should get to know and, more important, put into practice. In fact, the tools for designers and builders are already available and proven, from reinforced and grout-filled insulated concrete forms to continuous load path framing and properly fastened and sealed roof decks, among far more that delve as deep as pedestrian-friendly master plans and community gardens.

The important thing to remember is that resiliency (defined by some as adapting design and building practices to accommodate the effects of climate change, such as more frequent and ferocious natural disasters) and improving resource efficiencies and promoting healthy indoor environments in our homes are two sides of the same coin, not mutually exclusive.

“Resilient design strategies are largely the same as sustainable design strategies, but the motivation … is one of life safety,” wrote Alex Wilson in a recent blog on BuildingGreen.com.

Not only are resilient buildings more likely to survive and be restored to occupancy more often and faster than those that don’t survive a severe storm, thus reducing their impact on the environment, “functionally resilient buildings place less demand on community resources and allow areas to provide vital services, even after a natural disaster,” wrote Wilson.

To help housing professionals get a better grip on the concept and how to put it to work, the Portland Cement Association and Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative are hosting a series of one-day workshops in six different cities across the country this spring (see sidebar).

It’s also worth reading Wilson’s recent blog post on the topic at www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm/2012/2/28/Resilient-Design-Smarter-Building-for-a-Turbulent-Future, which also cites some relevant case studies of homes that already meet the definition and prove the connection between resiliency and environmental stewardship. The post includes a link to a comprehensive Resiliency Checklist as a reference to the high points of the concept.

Resiliency Workshops

Hosted by the Portland Cement Association and Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative, a series of one-day workshops will, according to the sponsors, “communicate the trends and specific criteria used to design and construct homes and buildings to improve community continuity and resiliency.” Dates and places are: April 12 in Springfield, Mo.; April 17 in Sioux Falls, S.D.; April 19 in Centennial, Colo.; May 15 in Pewaukee, Wis.; May 17 in Louisville, Ky.; and May 30 in Portsmouth, N.H.

Attendees can earn six Professional Development Hours, AIA-CES HSW Learning Units, or USGBC Continuing Education Hours. The fee is $95, which includes lunch. For more info and registration, go to www.nrmca.org/resilience