The unusual number of significant natural disasters occurring over the past few years[i], coupled with ongoing concerns over the effects of climate change, has prompted discussions at every level of government on actions to increase the resiliency of communities, infrastructure, and buildings. Resilience plans, policies, and programs that have been put into place or are under consideration have the potential to significantly impact how and where new housing can be constructed, as well as housing affordability.
To date, limited research has been done to identify what market demand may exist for more resilient construction[i] [ii]. There also is limited data on what type of resilient construction practices—such as reinforcing garage doors or installing shutters to resist hurricanes and tornadoes, using fire-resistant siding in wildfire-prone areas, or anchoring appliances so they don’t tip over in earthquakes—are supported by home builders, as well as consumers’ awareness of the hazards in their part of the country.
In an effort to better inform decision-making regarding this issue, NAHB commissioned the Home Innovation Research Labs to conduct two surveys earlier this year: a national survey of home builder interest in resilience and a national survey of consumer interest in resilience.
Builder survey on resilience
Responses were received from 402 home builders across all four major US Census divisions. Builders were asked about their use of a suite of resilient construction practices, if those practices were mandatory or voluntary in their jurisdiction, and whether they have had a project in the last five years that qualified for a public or private incentive for mitigation.
Nationwide, builders were more likely to voluntarily consider practices to increase the wind resistance of homes and least likely to consider practices to increase resistance to earthquakes and wildfires. However, many builders in the West did use fire-resistant materials or landscaping practices to reduce damage to their homes from wildfires.
Nationwide, the practices most builders indicated they were either already required to follow, or use voluntarily, on their homes were:
- To both flash and seal all openings
- Use hurricane clips or straps
- Build more than 1 foot above base flood elevations
- Use pan flashing at windows, and
- Brace gable end walls or dormers to increase wind resistance.
Percent of Builders Using Enanced Resilient Practices
Either Mandatory or Voluntary
Nearly half the builders surveyed had a project that was eligible for a mitigation incentive in the past five years. Of those builders with eligible projects, 19 percent used a private retrofit grant program, 14 percent had projects eligible for FEMA grants, and 12 percent had projects eligible for state-mandated insurance discounts. A few builders had projects eligible for state retrofit tax credits or grant programs.
Consumer survey on resilience
Responses were received from 1,200 consumers across all four major US Census divisions and included both owners and renters; households living in single-family detached homes, townhouses, apartments and condominiums, and manufactured homes; and consumers of varying ages, education level, race/ethnicity, household income, and marital status.
The consumers were asked about their awareness regarding the significant hazards in their state and their willingness to pay for higher levels of resilient construction for homes. The results were compared against lists of states considered at significant risk for those hazards, established based on information obtained from building codes[iv], engineering standards[v] and the insurance industry[vi]. Other than for snowstorms, the results showed most consumers were not aware of the significant natural hazards in their state:
The survey asked whether consumers felt new homes built to modern codes are more resistant to natural hazards than homes built in earlier decades. Nationwide, three out of five consumers (60 percent) did believe new homes are more resilient. Only one out of five consumers (19 percent) said new homes are not more resilient, and one out of five (21 percent) were not sure. A higher percentage of consumers in the West (63 percent) felt modern codes result in more resilient homes, and over two-thirds of surveyed households in California (69 percent) believed the same.
Perception of Modern Codes
Do customers feel new homes built to modern codes are more resistant to natural hazards than homes built in earlier decades?
Consumers were also asked how much they were willing to pay to increase the resistance of a new home in their community to natural hazards, beyond the level represented by modern building codes. To give consumers a clearer picture of the benefits they would receive for their investment in resilient building strategies, the survey presented specific types of damage likely to be reduced.
Nearly a third to almost half of consumers said they were not willing to pay anything more to increase the resistance of a new home to natural hazards beyond the level required by modern building codes. The median amounts consumers were willing to pay for more resilient construction were:
- Floods—$1,000 more
- Tornadoes—$1,000 more
- Hurricanes—$600 more
- Earthquakes—$500 more
- Wildfires—$200 more
- Hail—$100 more
- Snowstorms—$0 more
Percentage of respondents who would pay more, by cost bracket, to minimize damage from natural disasters
|Amount respondents willing to pay||Damage type, by percentage of respondents|
|$1 – 999||12||13||17||13||11||12||10|
|$1,000 – 7,499||12||16||24||19||21||16||15|
|$7,500 – 14,999||11||10||4||13||11||11||8|
|$15,000 – 24,999||7||5||5||7||2||10||3|
|Median amount respondents willing to pay, in thousands of dollars||2||1||0.1||2||0.1||2||0.3|
Results of this question were often in accord with respondents’ income and perception of risk. Households with annual incomes under $50,000 were not willing to pay more than a few hundred dollars. Those aware of the significant risks in their area or in households with annual incomes over $100,000 were willing to pay more than the median amounts.
While federal, state, and private incentives exist, the builder survey results hint that builders may not be aware of these programs; as a result, they are less likely to use them. An opportunity exists to educate builders and their customers on federal, state, and private incentives for mitigation. One avenue is through initiatives, such as BuildSOS and Smart Home America, that offer a “one-stop shop” connecting consumers with experienced builders, insurance companies, and public or private grants for voluntary retrofits or “above-code” construction.
The consumer survey identified the need to better educate home owners and renters about the natural hazard risks in their area. The results also show a strong majority of consumers believe homes constructed to modern building codes provide a sufficient level of resistance to natural hazards. They are not willing to pay significantly more to voluntarily add beyond-code resilient construction practices to their home or purchase a new home built with beyond-code resilient construction practices.
Builders and industry professionals may wish to explore opportunities to provide education to increase consumer demand and therefore expand the market for resilient construction practices. Builders can also use these results to decide the best practices to include in homes in their markets or to encourage as part of remodeling projects. This information can help them decide whether to use resiliency as a market differentiator for their projects.
[i] NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2019). https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/
[ii] Michael Davis and Keith Porter (2016), “The Public’s Role in Seismic Design Provisions.” Earthquake Spectra, August 2016, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 1345-1361. https://doi.org/10.1193/081715EQS127M
[iii] Debra Javeline & Tracy Kijewski-Correa, 2019. “Coastal Homeowners in a Changing Climate,” Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 152(2), pages 259-274, January.
[iv] International Code Council (ICC), 2018. 2018 International Residential Code®. Washington, DC.
[v] American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), 2016. Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures, ASCE Standard 7-16. Reston, VA.