Built for climate change

Built for climate change

By Anna Schughart Interiors change quickly. New families are moving in, children who have grown up are moving out, new wallpaper is being hung, new tiles are being laid, and even the occasional wall is being broken through. The exterior of a house, on the other hand, often remains the same for decades. Maybe it's time to replace the roof or a window pane – but on the whole, the exterior often remains unchanged. But what if conditions change, if the climate behaves very differently than it did when a house was built?? Or you want to build a house today that is well equipped for the new challenges?

The climate is changing – heat, hail, heavy rain and squalls are the accompanying phenomena. This also increases the risk of flooded cellars, broken windows and broken roofs. How best to protect your home from?

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– Hail: Already in 2017, natural forces caused damage amounting to 2.9 billion euros – around 90 percent of which was due to storms and hail. In the wake of climate change, homeowners should therefore protect their homes against more severe hail events, says Bernhard Fischer of the German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR). Roof hatches, for example, should have sufficient hail resistance – even if it costs more. "Because replacing them later is, of course, a losing proposition."Anyone who buys an older house can improve the hail protection by, for example, replacing the roof dome windows, which may not be so nice anyway, with hail-proof windows.

2.9 billion euros in damage caused by natural forces last year. For the most part, they were caused by storms and hailstorms.

Even normal house facades with polystyrene insulation and a layer of plaster can be destroyed by hail. When building and renovating, care should be taken to ensure that the facade cladding, among other things, has sufficient impact resistance. A clinker facade also has better protection. And of course, the roof is also affected by hail: Large hailstones can penetrate the roof tiles. A green roof can be a good alternative here – it is protected against hail damage and also contributes to biodiversity. Automatic systems can ensure that the sun protection is retracted in the event of a storm warning – and thus remains undamaged. When the hail is over, the sun protection extends again.

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– Storms: When it comes to wind, the gusts that are most dangerous are those that blow short and jerkily. When they hit the roof from one side, there is suction on the opposite side. That can lift the tiles and thus cover the roof. Above a certain pitch and if you live in a high-risk area, for example, it therefore helps to lash the roof tiles down with staples. "The flatter the roof pitch, the more vulnerable the roof tiles are to wind gusts," Fischer explains. If, on the other hand, the roof tiles hang steeply on the roof truss – as in the case of a 45-degree roof – they do not need to be specially secured with staples. By the way, bracketing can also be done retrospectively: "If you don't want to cover the entire roof in the process, however, it is also possible to bracket only the edge areas or, say, every third row," says Fischer.

"When it comes to insulation, the assumption is that we need to protect ourselves against cold winters. But it can also be a heat shield."

Bernhard Fischer, Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development

Even elements attached to the facade can be torn off by gusts of wind. Therefore, one should check whether they are still well secured even in higher winds. In addition, it has been shown again: Clinker facades are better protected. "There's usually little that happens, unless something is thrown against the facade," Fischer says. Windows can be protected by lowering the shutters. A wind sensor can ensure that the blinds are raised automatically.

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You should also storm-proof your garden. Especially when buying a house with trees – or already living in one – it is important to check: Which trees are safe during a storm, which are not? Are there rotten branches that could break off? If you are planning a new garden, you should also consider the distance between the trees and the house.

– Heavy rain: Heavy rain is a problem because it falls very locally and, unlike floods, does not announce itself in the long term. As a rule, therefore, there is no warning time to get ready. It will be some time before heavy rain can be predicted very accurately, says Fischer. Therefore one would have to prepare structurally.

In heavy rain, water does not flow in an orderly fashion past the house through the sewage system, but flows toward it on the surface. Fischer recommends that home builders and owners not only ask themselves through which openings water can enter the house, but also familiarize themselves with the terrain: Does it run toward the building, where are possible water flow paths? If one knows that, "then there are already simple protection mechanisms". For example, you can raise the terrain a bit so that the water runs past the house into the garden. It's also helpful if not everything around the house is asphalt, but there are seepage areas.

On the house itself, you can install a small elevation, for example at the outside cellar entrance or the light wells, which prevents water from the sidewalk from flowing over the stairs. Basement entrances and light wells should also have a drain that is connected to the drainage or drainage network. If standing water in front of the door cannot be prevented, then pressure-tight doors can keep the water from entering the building. The exterior wall can be protected from water with waterproof concrete or a bitumen sealant. However, one should already think about this when building – because retrofitting is possible, but much more time-consuming and expensive.

A simple, effective precaution and also an important point with insurance is a backwater valve. If it's missing, water can flow into the house from the sewer system. "This is how very high damage occurs in the basement area," says Fischer.

– Heat: The summer of 2018 has shown that high temperatures are not just fun – especially if the roof is not insulated. "With insulation, the assumption is always that we need to protect against cold winters," Fischer says. But in fact, he says, insulation can also be a heat shield in summer. "This can also be easily retrofitted."Bright or reflective facades are a good way to prevent overheating. Also a facade and roof greening can contain the heating up of the dwellings. An exterior sunshade ensures that solar energy doesn't enter the house in the first place.

Insurance protects against financial fiasco

Construction measures are one thing, but just in case, you should also be well insured. "It is very important to protect your house against natural hazards," says a spokeswoman for the German Insurance Association (GDV).

She recommends adding other natural hazards to homeowners insurance, which already covers windstorm and hail by default – such as flooding from heavy rain and high water, snow pressure or landslides. Homeowners should therefore familiarize themselves with their insurance and check which risks they are already insured against and whether any are missing. "There may not be a catastrophe every year, but the intervals between years with high losses are getting shorter."


The fear of strangers

The native does not know the stranger, but he recognizes at first glance that he is a stranger," Karl Valentin once said. This quote has lost none of its topicality: The growing fear of immigration is closely linked to the fear of "the foreigner". Today, it benefits not so much the fearful as the populists.

Where do these fears come from? It is not the actual crime that scares people, but mainly the discussion about it. In a study by the Ruhr University on fears of big-city dwellers in connection with crime, 19 percent of the respondents said they thought it was likely that they would be the victim of a robbery in the coming year, but in fact only 0.3 percent had been victims the year before. Such differences can only be explained by false perception, and this is essentially shaped by media and conversations in the social environment. The irrational fear of immigration is above all an expression of an uncertainty in society as a whole, which is fed by many factors: the political situation in Europe and beyond, the financial crisis, the insecurity of old-age provision (pensions, health). People have the feeling that politics is incapable of solving the problems. The fact that refugees are often blamed for this insecurity is also due to the fact that many people see them as disturbing their usual idyll: Refugees make it clear that we live in a bubble of prosperity that can burst at any time.

Prof. Thomas Feltes is head of the Department of Criminology, Criminal Policy and Police Science at the Faculty of Law at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany.


Smart lock scares away thieves

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These days, if you want to make sure your beloved bike doesn't get lost, you can either help yourself to a finger-thick U-lock or invest directly in a smart bike lock. Instead of using a conventional key, the bike can be locked, unlocked and located via a smartphone app. If a stranger tampers with the bike, it scares him away with an alarm sound. There is one catch: most manufacturers rely on a Bluetooth connection. And hackers can use them to gain access to the smartphone.