Passive survivability

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Resilience as a Driver of Change

Whether or not you believe that climate change is happening, implementing resilient design strategies will make you and your family safer — and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Posted on May 7 2014 by Alex Wilson

Readers of this column have heard me argue in the past that resilience can be a motivation for taking actions that will not only make us and our families safer, but also help to mitigate climate change. Let me lay out that basic argument again.


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Image Credits:

  1. Alex Wilslon

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It Takes a Village to Be Resilient

Surveying residents of Dummerston, Vermont, about emergency generators, wood stoves, and access to water

Posted on Aug 15 2013 by Alex Wilson

The Dummerston Energy Committee, on which I serve in my home town, is conducting an energy survey.

Partly, we are conducting this survey to understand how our town uses energy — both in our homes and in our vehicles. We have a goal in Dummerston, articulated in our Town Plan, to reduce nonrenewable energy consumption 40% by 2030, and we’re trying to establish a baseline from which to measure our success in achieving that long-term target.

But we’re also conducting this survey for another reason that may be more important: to gauge how resilient our town is.


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Image Credits:

  1. Alex Wilson

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Gas Lines Point to a Need for Resilience

Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the vulnerability of our dependence on gasoline for transportation and emergency generators

Posted on Nov 8 2012 by Alex Wilson

By now we’ve all seen the photos of houses buried in sand along the Jersey Shore, burned-out homes in Queens, and submerged subway stations in Manhattan. Those spectacular images were in the first wave of news from Superstorm Sandy last week.


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Image Credits:

  1. AP
  2. Sean Malone
  3. Lucas Jackson, Reuters

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Designing Homes and Communities That Can Survive a Disaster

The Resilient Design Institute highlights an important element of sustainability

Posted on Oct 4 2012 by Alex Wilson

Some 27 years ago, following a five-year stint as director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (which was then based in Brattleboro), I launched my own company focusing on information about environmentally responsible design and construction.


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Image Credits:

  1. Hydro Quebec

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Designing Houses and Communities To Be Smarter and More Resilient

Resilient design is about making smart choices, such as where we build and how we protect against damage from flooding

Posted on Dec 29 2011 by Alex Wilson

As we look to create homes and communities that will keep us comfortable and safe in a world of climate change, terrorism, and other vulnerabilities, there are a handful of strategies that I group loosely under the heading of "smarter design." Some of these strategies come into play more at the land-use planning scale, or are relevant only in certain locations that are at risk of flooding, but all are worth thinking about when planning a new home.

Where we build


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Image Credits:

  1. Charlie Boswell

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Resilience: Designing Homes for More Intense Storms

A big part of resilient design is creating homes that will survive intense storms unscathed

Posted on Dec 21 2011 by Alex Wilson

Anyone who was in Vermont in late August of this year and witnessed the raging floodwaters from tropical storm Irene gained an intimate view of the vulnerabilities we face from intense storms and flooding. Hundreds of miles of roadway were heavily damaged, dozens of bridges washed away, and some communities were cut off for weeks.


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Image Credits:

  1. Lars Gange and Mansfield Heliflight
  2. Simpson StrongTie
  3. Dave Gatley, FEMA

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Building Resilience for a ‘Close Encounter’ with Disaster

Can you make your life more resilient in case of disaster? Yes, and it may be greener, too.

Posted on Apr 18 2011 by Tristan Roberts

Sometimes being a practical person isn’t that fun. Last night my wife and I were watching the classic 1977 movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Leading up to the climactic scene, the protagonists are racing to the location where they expect aliens to appear, while outrunning the U.S. Army and the United Nations. To do this, they must escape the authorities and their cattle cars, drive a station wagon off-road through Wyoming, and spend several hours scrambling up the dry, rocky landscape around Devil’s Tower.


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Image Credits:

  1. Tristan Roberts

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Green Building Priority #9 – Create Resilient Houses

Number 9 in my list of the top-10 green building priorities is to create resilient houses that will protect occupants in a changing climate or during extended power outages, loss of heating fuel, or water shortages.

Posted on Sep 21 2010 by Alex Wilson

Climate change is underway, and some of the impacts of that change will affect our homes. We need to account for that in the design, construction, and remodeling of our homes.


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Image Credits:

  1. Ken Dewey, Applied Climate Sciences Group, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

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Passive Hot Air from Everyday Materials

Wall-mounted solar collector provides fast payback

Posted on Jun 17 2009 by Michael Maines

At the Unity, Maine, headquarters of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), engineer Jay LeGore has harnessed the power of the sun to replace about 200 gallons of propane a year.


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Image Credits:

  1. M.Maines

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Making Houses Resilient to Power Outages

Posted on Dec 23 2008 by Alex Wilson

The ice storm a week-and-a-half ago illustrated, all too clearly, the vulnerability of our homes. Hundreds of thousands of homes in New England lost power in the storm, which deposited up to an inch of ice on trees the night of December 11th, and tens of thousands were still without power a full week later, despite heroic efforts by utility crews. This illustrates why all houses should be designed and built to achieve “passive survivability,” an idea that, nationally, I’ve been advancing for the past three years.


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