Flooding is becoming an increasingly pervasive problem for settlements and cities around the world, but that doesn’t mean that no-one is trying to do anything about it. In fact, there are some engineers that are looking at retrofitting entire cities to make them flood-proof, as well as city planners changing domestic building plans to account for hurricanes or other severe weather events.
On a somewhat smaller scale, a former associate professor at the University of Waterloo named Elizabeth English has set up the Buoyant Foundation project. Its goal is to promote the concept of amphibious buildings, in other words buildings that are designed for land, but that have the ability to self-adjust if there’s ever a flooding event in the location where they’re built.
The Buoyant Foundation Project was established in 2006, with its first prototype building launched in 2007. Located in New Orleans, the prototype house had a steel frame fastened around its underside. This frame had foam blocks affixed to it, which gave a sufficient amount of buoyancy for the house to float. The next item on the agenda was to sink posts at every corner of the house into the ground, to prevent it from floating away in the event of a flood.
Next, a flood tank was built around the house to test, and the engineers involved in the project began to pump in water from the nearby river. They managed to get it to float without it moving off its anchorage points (the posts).
A particular highlight of this technology is that the process was relatively cheap and easy to execute. What is required, however, is at least two individuals that are knowledgeable on construction, as well as some heavy equipment.
The system costs between $10 and $40 per foot to install, but this means that it’s still two to three times cheaper than putting a house on permanent elevation. What’s more is that you can’t really tell that the system is present, meaning that it’s discreet and leaves a house’s exterior almost untouched.
As with everything, there is a downside. This system is not ideal for areas that are susceptible to high-speed waves. Although it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s an excellent solution for use in certain circumstances.
In addition, there are enough circumstances that demand solutions out there, and these have contributed to the growth of the Buoyant Foundation Project. In fact, it has been tasked with producing low-cost versions of the system for vulnerable populations in Nicaragua and Jamaica. Discussions are also taking place with indigenous populations in coastal areas of Canada and Louisiana.
One particularly significant challenge is areas in high-risk flood zones necessitate that homeowners buy flood insurance, but the US’ National Flood Insurance Program automatically disqualifies anyone who has a home with amphibious foundations from being able to receive a subsidy.
The US’ Federal Emergency Management Agency has gone on the record to say that Buoyant Foundation Project’s system requires more research, and the project has also been met with plenty of resistance from other quarters. Nevertheless, individuals outside the US believe in what the project is trying to achieve, so it looks like the tide is turning in its favor.
BONUS - See how the system works in this next video: