When Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle five years ago, boats, cars and trucks piled up against the windows of Bonny Paulson’s home in the tiny coastal community of Mexico Beach, Florida, even though the house rested on pillars 14 feet above the ground. But Paulson’s house, with its round shape somewhat reminiscent of a ship, withstood Category 5 winds that would otherwise have brought it down.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Paulson said, recalling the warning to evacuate. Her house only lost a few roof shingles, and photos taken after the storm show it standing amid the rubble of almost all of the surrounding homes.

Some developers are building homes like Paulson’s with the goal of making them more resilient to the extreme weather that is increasing with climate change while also being more environmentally friendly. For example, solar panels installed so tightly that strong winds cannot get under them provide clean electricity that can survive a storm. Preserved wetlands and native vegetation that sequester carbon in the soil and also reduce vulnerability to flooding. Recycled or advanced building materials that reduce energy consumption and the need to produce new materials.

Bonny Paulson stands in front of her home in Mexico Beach, Florida on October 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Laura Bargfeld)

A person’s home is one of the biggest opportunities to reduce their individual carbon footprint. Buildings produce approximately 38% of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions each year. Some of the CO2 pollution comes from powering things like lights and air conditioning, and some comes from producing building materials like concrete and steel.

Deltec, the company that built Paulson’s home, says only one of the nearly 1,400 homes it has built over the past three decades has suffered structural damage from hurricane-force winds. But the company places just as much emphasis on green building, with higher-quality insulation that reduces the need for air conditioning, heat pumps for more efficient heating and cooling, energy-efficient appliances and, of course, solar power.

“The real magic is that we do both,” said CEO Steve Linton. “I think resilience is often an afterthought when you talk about sustainable building, where it’s just one feature on a list… We believe that resilience is really a fundamental part of sustainability.”

Some developers build homes with the goal of making them more resilient to extreme weather while also being more environmentally friendly. (November 7) (AP Video: Laura Bargfeld and Chris Carlson. Produced by: Teresa de Miguel)

Other companies are developing entire neighborhoods that are both hurricane-resistant and less likely to contribute to climate change.

Pearl Homes’ Mirabella community in Bradenton, Florida, is comprised of 160 homes, all of which are LEED Platinum certified, the highest level of one of the most widely used green building rating systems.

To reduce the risk of flooding, the properties are raised 90 cm above the norm. Roads will also be elevated and designed to direct accumulating precipitation to the ground where it can be absorbed. Steel roofs with seams allow solar panels to be fastened so tightly that strong winds have difficulty penetrating underneath, and the homes have batteries that step in in the event of a power outage.

FILE – Buildings and homes are flooded following Hurricane Laura near Lake Charles, Louisiana, August 27, 2020. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Pearl Homes CEO Marshall Gobuty said his team approached the University of Central Florida with a plan to build a community that doesn’t contribute to climate change. “I wanted them to be not only sustainable, but also resilient. I wanted them to be so different from anything happening in Florida,” Gobuty said. “I see newly built homes half a mile away that are under water…we’re in a crisis because the weather is changing.”

That resonates with Paulson in Mexico Beach, who said she doesn’t want to “worry about tracking something in the Atlantic every day.” In addition to greater security, she says she now enjoys energy costs of about $32 a month, well below the roughly $250 she paid in a previous home.

“I don’t really have the feeling that the population is aware of the environmental disasters and is adapting to them,” she said. “We’re building the same old things that were blown away.”

Workers build a house in Marshall, North Carolina, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023 (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Workers build a house in Marshall, North Carolina, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023 (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Babcock Ranch is another sustainable, hurricane-resilient community in South Florida. Billing itself as the first solar-powered city in the United States, it generates 150 megawatts of electricity with 680,000 panels on 870 acres. The community was also one of the first in the country to have large on-site batteries to store additional solar power and use it at night or during power outages.

Syd Kitson founded Babcock Ranch in 2006. The homes are better able to withstand hurricane winds because the roofs are attached to a system that is connected to the foundation. Power lines are laid underground so that they cannot fall over. In some homes, doors swing outward to keep them from popping open when pressure builds up from the wind, and vents help equalize pressure in garages.

In 2022, Hurricane Ian hit Babcock Ranch as a Category 4 storm. It left little to no damage, Kitson said.

“We wanted to prove that a new city and the environment can work hand in hand, and I think we proved that,” Kitson said. “If you don’t build to be particularly resilient, you’ll constantly be repairing or tearing down the house.”

Emily Francois walks through floodwaters next to her flood-damaged home after Hurricane Ida on September 1, 2021 in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The project sold about 73,000 acres of its land to the state for wetland protection. On the property where it was built, a team studied how water flows naturally through the local environment and integrated it into their water management system.

“The water will go where it wants to go. If you try to challenge Mother Nature, you’re going to lose every time,” Kitson said. The wetlands, retention ponds and native vegetation are better able to manage water during extreme rainfall events, reducing the risk of flooded homes.

Back in the Panhandle, Natalia Padalino and her husband Alan Klingler plan to complete construction of a Deltec home by December. Concerned about the future impact of global warming and hurricanes on the Florida Keys, the couple researched homes that were both sustainable and designed to withstand these storms.

“We believe we are building something that will be a phenomenal investment and reduce the risk of a major disaster,” Klingler said.

“People were really open and receptive. They tell us that if a hurricane comes, they will stay with us,” Padalino said.


Associated Press video journalist Laura Bargfeld in Mexico Beach and photographer Gerald Herbert in New Orleans contributed.


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental reporting is supported by several private foundations. More information about AP’s climate initiative can be found here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Source : apnews.com

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