building materials’ role in the growing demand for exurban living

I was reading Outside magazine when an article titled “How to Build Fireproof Towns” caught my eye.

The author, Marc Peruzzi, starts out by suggesting climate change is killing us in the form of raging fires, floods, warmer ocean waters, stagnant upper-level winds and more. He provides a compelling case against climate change, but this is not an article about climate change.

new locations, new considerations

Peruzzi explains why now is the time for Americans to reconsider where we live, referring to the millions of people who continue to move to more hostile storm and fire-prone areas due to their natural beauty. As Peruzzi puts it, “Lured by visions of sunrise paddleboard cruises and backdoor single-track access, the once counterculture notion of living the Outside dream has become mainstream.” One of the many fascinating facts and figures in the article speaks to research by Headwaters Economics of Bozeman, Montana. Researchers there have found that the fastest-growing residential areas in the United States are in what is called “The WUI,” which stands for wildland-urban interface. The WUI is where flammable landscapes meet residential communities and now accounts for one-third of U.S. homes.

This increasing interest in living alongside nature also means increasing human risk. Peruzzi continues, “In California alone, a 2014 study found that by the time this exurban trend flatlines, some 12 million acres will be developed and the number of homes built in very high-risk wildfire zones will increase by almost one million.” He argues that when adding in the appeal of coastal living in places like New Orleans, “it seems that a future marked by increasing levels of carnage caused by cataclysmic hurricanes and megafires is unavoidable.” Peruzzi suggests it may be time for us to think about banning development in “hard-to-defend” terrain, such as the remote areas of Colorado or Montana where isolated dream homes sit especially prone to natural destruction. Still, despite a seemingly grim outlook, Peruzzi goes on to make the case that we do not have to suffer the major loss of life and property in the inevitable hurricanes, megafires and other natural disasters our future holds.

situational change demands building material change

Focusing on adapting, Peruzzi advocates for large-scale manipulation of human settlements via basic geological engineering and traditional civil engineering. Detailing examples of successes and failures from around the world, he talks about the need for the use of relevant durable materials in building, common sense regulations, and better, smarter building codes. The building materials industry will no doubt play a large role in finding the right balance between living harmoniously with nature and being endangered by it.

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