Resilient Design: Designing Prospectively on the Prairies: Heating and Cooling

January 19, 2022

Designing Prospectively on the Prairies

Resilient Design 1: Heating and Cooling in Extreme Temperatures

Resilient Design is a new concept for many folks in the Design and Building industries, but it is an important concept that describes a range of design principles that create resiliency in buildings to protect against the recent and ongoing increase in natural disasters and extreme weather events across Canada and around the world. In a December 2021 article on Canada's natural disaster preparedness, CBC News notes that the Canadian Government acknowledges that climate change is resulting in an ongoing increase in natural disasters and other extreme events:

The rapidly changing climate is acknowledged - in the words of one government report - to be increasing "the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme events like heat waves, wildfires, and floods." The trend is expected to continue for several decades, even if climate-warping emissions are reduced globally.

Given this knowledge, Design and Construction professionals, as well as property owners, must begin to plan building projects proactively and prospectively, using projections for the probability of extreme events, rather than historical data from past events that no longer reflects our current climate. Current building codes often use terms such as "one-in-one-hundred-year event" or "one-in-five-hundred-year event" to describe the events that buildings must withstand, but these terms no longer accurately describe the extreme events that buildings need to be fortified against. Can an event be called a one-in-five-hundred-year event if it happens every year? Resilient Design means designing buildings and structures that can withstand the stresses of extreme events on a regular basis and over sustained periods of time.

Canadian Prairie Provinces have been lucky so far, in regards to climate resiliency and building design. In Manitoba, we benefit from hydroelectric power for most of our electrical needs. Hydro is generally affordable and less prone to shutdowns due to extreme weather events. But it is not an unlimited resource. The "heat dome" that struck Western Canada for much of the summer of 2021 had the potential to put significant strain on our power grids. In addition to the increased use of power caused by the extreme heat this past summer, the prairies experienced a significant drought. Drought, in turn, reduced the overall water levels in the reservoirs that provide continuous energy to power hydroelectric turbines.

As we look to the future, we can assume that the population of Manitoba will increase, resulting in an increased load on our power grid. A projected population increase, paired with the finite number of hydroelectric sites available in Manitoba and lowered generating potential in reservoirs, means that buildings need to be able to maintain temperatures over longer periods of time. Other parts of North America have experienced prolonged power loss due to exceptional loads on power grids and catastrophic events that result in system failures at generating stations. Designing prospectively on the prairies means that we must begin by designing buildings that can maintain temperature levels over more sustained periods of time, should they experience loss of power from the power grid.

Over the next few months, DGH will consider ways we, as building designers, can help you, as building owners, to develop solutions that will mitigate the potential for losses due to extreme events on the prairies. We will start by addressing extreme temperature events, which can be addressed passively through building envelope design and material choices, and actively through mechanical systems that can be powered through the efficient use of backup power sources.


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