Once, it might have been possible to believe that human activity’s adverse effects on our environment could be pushed off into a vague, far-off future. That future has now arrived. Climate change is changing the way we live.
But it doesn’t affect people equally. Unprecedented wildfires are ravaging the west coast, while the southeast has experienced a record-breaking storm season in 2020. Meanwhile, some states are fortunate enough to experience little more than a fraction of a degree greater in temperature fluctuation.
This has a direct bearing on anyone who’s looking to buy a home. For most of us, such an investment will be the largest purchase we ever make in our lives. And we’ll be shouldering the mortgage payments for decades to come. What should a prospective homeowner know about climate change?
Location, more essential than ever
There’s no denying that climate change is a global problem, and we all have a part to play in finding a solution. But as far as real estate is concerned, there are many residents for whom it’s just a minor consideration.
Live in California, and you need to know the guidelines for creating defensible space. Residents in Miami are concerned about the possibility of their city being submerged under rising sea levels. But not everyone lives in a location that’s prone to storms, floods, droughts, or fires.
Location matters more than ever. When you scout property listings, you consider things like crime rate or accessibility because you don’t want to have an unpleasant experience. ; The effects of climate change should be on that list, too.
And don’t limit yourself to past events. Remember, global trends indicate that patterns of extreme weather are only going to get worse. Even if we manage to bring emissions under control, it will take time for those patterns to normalize.
Research by the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science has made available projections for how climate change will affect our cities. The data currently available covers 540 cities in North America over the next 60 years. While things can certainly change between now and then, it’s a useful reference point to take into your considerations.
Dig a little deeper
However, looking at predictions and trends should only be the first step. All homes in a given area don’t fare equally over the years. If you’re seriously looking at a property, you’ll want to know the particulars.
You can inspect the property for signs of weather-related damage, but a decent renovation could cover that up. So talk to the neighbors like a good reporter. Those who’ve lived in the area for years will be able to paint a better picture of what it’s like. They might know details about a house that the current owner doesn’t know about or isn’t willing to divulge.
Consulting a local insurance or real estate agent can pay dividends in this area. They can dig up records on any previous home insurance claims for the property you’re eyeing. This is particularly useful for floods, which generally aren’t covered by homeowner’s insurance.
Finally, keep in mind that a home exists within a bigger context. Don’t just look at the property’s history and attributes. Find out what climate action plans exist at the county, city, and state levels. Give a careful appraisal of the local infrastructure and amenities. In the event of a disaster, will public transportation shut down, or can you reach hospitals and supermarkets?
Building for resilience
Many homes today haven’t been built to withstand a changing climate. ‘Built to code’ is hardly reassuring. It simply means that you’re buying a structure with the minimum acceptable resilience.
As weather extremes worsen over the years to come, surviving disaster will require far more than building to code. This can easily mean additional spending on your part, whether it’s pre-emptive or post-mortem.
Building more resilient homes isn’t just about surviving the times to come, though. In the bigger picture, our homes cost the planet arguably more than our automobile emissions. The building industry accounts for 40% of annual US energy consumption and nearly half of its CO2 emissions.
Buying a resilient house, or having a new one constructed above code requirements, might be the single most impactful way you can help in the push for sustainability. It will be able to last for years without incurring frequent maintenance or extensive repair costs. And keeping you safe and cozy all that time is definitely a nice bonus.