Impacts of Climate Change
Changes in rainfall have an impact on the water balance and the groundwater level. Fluctuating groundwater levels can cause shifts or drops of the construction ground and lead to cracks in buildings and infrastructures.
Snow can also increasingly cause damage to buildings. Although the amount of snow in Germany will decrease in the long run, climate change will initially lead to an increase of snowfall in the short to medium term. Also the characteristics of snow will change. It will become wetter and thus heavier than, for example, dry powder snow. For that reason, the snow load on the roofs will increase, especially in the snowy regions of Germany. In the worst case, the accumulation and compaction of snow can cause roof collapses.
The rising temperatures entail several challenges affecting the construction industry. The summer temperature rise and increasing heat waves in the summer are of particular relevance for the building and construction industry. Since these climate changes affect the health and well-being of humans, they affect building design and technology requirements. In order to create a pleasant indoor climate, more cooling, shading, insulation and isolation is needed. If the availability of such measures is insufficient, the power consumption of climate control systems is expected to increase in summer while the heating demand will decrease in winter.
The heat stress in homes and workplaces is aggravated by the reduction of nocturnal cooling and the resulting reduced cooling of buildings. Especially in cities that can develop heat islands the construction industry has to ensure that the changing urban climate and air quality are taken into account and that appropriate measures preventing an excessive heating of the inner cities are taken.
The construction industry can benefit from rising temperatures due to a longer construction season. However, the high temperatures can adversely affect the health and productivity of the staff, so that special protective measures against heat and sunlight are necessary.
The changing climate conditions may also have biotic consequences. Due to the spread of pests, especially buildings with a high amount of wood are more likely to be affected by decay and fungal damages.
Extreme weather events
The increase in heavy rainfall, storms and heavy winds as well as thunderstorms with hail can entail severe problems affecting buildings and the entire construction industry. Heavy rain leads to structural damage in many different ways that affect different building components such as the roof, exterior walls, windows, the base area or the cellar. Sealed urban areas are likely to be affected by more frequent flooding if the existing drainage systems including roof and landed property drainage and sewerage are overloaded. In general, the surface water can accumulate during heavy rain and thus flood the basements. Also the overloading of the roof drainage can contribute to water damage to buildings. Furthermore, moisture damage to buildings and accelerated weathering of facades and other building components caused by driving rain are more likely to occur.
Thus, heavy rain causes direct structural damages to buildings. However, heavy rain can also indirectly damage buildings by causing floods and landslides. Ultimately, all this damage can even lead to a collapse of the affected building.
Increasing storms will probably lead to more damage to the outdoor installations of buildings such as satellite dishes, window blinds, windows and facades. This endangers residents and people in immediate proximity.
Also the increasing number of strong hailstorms and floods entails additional weather and climate-related risks for buildings.
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Adaptation to Climate Change
Technical measures for adapting buildings to climate change should focus on the building envelope, the design, the building’s location and its technical features. With the help of a customised architecture, building design, materials and technologies, buildings can be made more resistant to climatic conditions and weather phenomena. Adaptation measures in the building sector are becoming increasingly important especially for buildings on slopes, in areas with dilative soils or in flood-prone areas.
Construction measures can also address different impacts of climate change. In case of rising temperatures and heat waves in summer, a good heat protection can help to protect the occupants from heat stress. Examples are shading measures, insulation or a climate-friendly architecture. Such measures can prevent overheating of buildings without having to rely on technical building cooling as air conditioners, which increase the energy consumption considerably.
The following additional measures against heat can be adopted:
- An automated solar shading ensures optimum shading and thus prevents the heating-up of buildings.
- The use of natural heat sinks to cool the building, for example by using an automated night-time ventilation, reduces the need for technical cooling.
- Furthermore, also an optimised building orientation can prevent the heating-up of buildings.
- Controlled ventilation systems like those that are already being used in passive houses contribute to an energy-efficient and balanced ventilation of buildings.
Other structural adaptation measures can protect buildings from flooding. Exterior parts of the building can be secured with the help of barrier systems. As far as walls, ceilings and floors are concerned, it is advisable to construct layer sequences that are less susceptible to damage. When constructing new buildings in vulnerable areas it may be necessary to abstain from including basements in order to prevent them from flooding. Instead of establishing a general construction ban, buildings can be built on pillars.
Structural adaptation measures also prevent damage in case of other extreme weather events. Damage caused by heavy rain can be prevented, among other things, by reviewing the drainage plan, the sealing systems and exterior surfaces. In order to provide protection against hail damage, it is possible to use materials and designs with high resistance or apply suitable protective layers.
Legal, political and management measures
Legal, political and management measures have the purpose of establishing conditions that make it easier for the construction sector and building owners to implement the technical and structural adaptation measures described.
In that respect, a first step is to raise awareness and share knowledge on climate risks and existing adaptation requirements. For example, professional associations can organise trainings that can be included in the event programmes of chambers of engineers, handicrafts or architects. In addition, awareness should be raised among building owners, administrative authorities and tenants. This does not only increase the awareness of vulnerability in the building sector, but also increases the competence and acceptance for adaptation measures.
At the political level, adaptation needs should increasingly be addressed in construction directives and further developed on the basis of findings on climate change. Possible measures are minimum requirements for heat protection in kindergartens and schools or vulnerability assessments of building sites, which contribute to the adaptation of construction designs or restrict the development approval in particularly sensitive areas.
In addition, practical building and planning instruments should be further developed. Integrated urban development concepts can provide for climate adaptation measures for renovation, modernisation and new construction projects, for instance. At the same time, also strategies aimed primarily at improving the energy efficiency or at climate protection should be included. Against this background, it is important to promote research efforts in the areas of sustainability and energy efficiency of buildings as well as the transferability of the results into practice. Furthermore, available map material should be updated and the availability of information should be improved by monitoring climate influences, for example.
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