Resilient-construction investments warrant first, life cycle cost sharing

Without referencing specific materials, a new National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) report offers proposals that could reveal how portland cement-based products outshine alternatives in building and infrastructure. A Roadmap to Resilience Incentivization builds an economic and stakeholder equity case for robust construction methods, informed by a prior NIBS report’s compelling payback math—$1 invested equals $5 saved—for building above code provisions or normal standards. Representing resilience thought leaders from a broad coalition of public and private organizations, Roadmap authors observe:

  • Disaster liability reflecting likely costs from limited resilience across the built environment and infrastructure has reached $100 billion annually and rises 6 percent per year, or 10 times the rate of population growth.
  • Model building codes “provide a minimum level of protection and resilience to owners, occupants, and communities [and] do not aim to ensure that buildings survive disasters.” Instead, they “optimize affordability over efficiency,” adding $16 billion a year to the country’s long-term disaster liability. Budgeting $4 billion annually for above-code or standard design levels—equating to a 0.3 percent increase in the $1.3 trillion construction business—could avoid that liability.
  • “By aiming for less than resilience, current building codes actually cost downstream owners, tenants, and the broader community many times what they save the developer or first owner,” Roadmap contends. “Few owners demand new construction above code because they enjoy only a small part of long-term resilience benefits but bear all of the up-front cost.” Absent owner demand, authors suggest, developers compete with existing construction, hence “$1 more cost means $1 less profit.” Code strengthening or incentives to adopt above-code design can remove the “resilience roadblock.”
  • Incentivization of resilient new construction and building or infrastructure retrofit should be the target of a national initiative where stakeholders develop principles and guidelines. The initiative would require proof of concept at city or county levels, incentives responding to local interests, hazards, risk attitudes, resources and politics. The local experiences could be standardized and scaled up to make incentivization benefit the entire nation.
  • Incentives could be built into mortgages, insurance policies and tax policy. The result would be disaster liability mitigation costs shared more equitably among finance, insurance, real estate, and government infrastructure stakeholders. Incentivization spans financial instruments that transfer co-benefits back to the people who pay the initial cost of resilience. Total cost of ownership is ideally below the cost of owning a non-resilient building.

“Owners pay extra to make a building resilient, while lenders, insurers, taxing authorities, and others enjoy free co-benefits: greater safety, lower default risk, lower insurance claims, and more stable business and tax revenues” Roadmap authors conclude. “If owners bear the costs while others enjoy most of the benefits, it should surprise no one that market forces do not produce resilient buildings,” authors conclude.

Roadmap was produced under NIBS’ Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council (MMC) and its Committee on Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (CFIRE). It engaged representatives from academia, the Natural Resources Defence Council, International Code Council and Insurance Information Institute. In addition to the latter two, MMC/CFIRE members supporting the next phase of piloting resilience incentivization are American Institute of Architects, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Green Building Council and U.S. Resiliency Council.

Cement and concrete interests promote the concept of resilience up and down public and private construction channels. Roadmap proposals look like a good opportunity to show how cast-in-place or precast concrete and concrete or clay masonry products are indispensable in resilient construction, thanks to their unmatched ability to withstand exposure to extreme temperature, wind, gravity and seismic loads from ordinary conditions and natural or manmade disasters or impacts.