Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Floodproof House

Some 90% of humankind lives within 10 miles of the ocean. Historically, that's because only sea-ports gave one access to the world market, and those living further inland had to be content with what goods could be hauled by wagon. Now that trains and trucks exist, people still prefer living by the sea because the beach is fun, and there's a near guaranteed supply of water in the form of rain. (One would be unwise to try to drink the ocean. Too saline.) Another 9% lives near rivers for similar reasons.
However, there's an obvious downside to living near water: storms. Some forms of weather can raise the levels of water until it's quite inconvinient to the nearby humans. The water gets in your house and promptly ruins everything it touches, usually because mud and/or pollution come with it.
Looking at houses, they look rather water-tight. There are no obvious gaps in construction, and you can spray the average American home with a hose without anyone inside noticing. This is deceptive. Water changes shape to fit its container, and so tiny gaps in nail holes, cracks made by mechanical stress or termites, provide just enough space for water to sneak inside. However, the primary defense that American homes have against floods is basically being built on each a little tiny hill, which slopes down to the street, encouraging water to flow down the street instead. Past that, nothing really.
I can engineer a waterproof house. It would have certain disadvantages. One could not open the windows, and it would get dangerously stuffy inside, as it would breathe only from the attic. However, it would also not be ruined by hurricanes, flash floods (as occurs near rivers during heavy rain), or other storms. Occupants could wait out even the worst storm in reasonable comfort. (Warning, electrical power, phone service, and internet service not guaranteed.)
I would do it by sealing things, as is done in bathroom construction. A plastic or rubber gasket would surround the entire house, extending into the windows, which fit on with a watertight flange, and are sealed with a thick layer of calk. There would be zero space for water to enter, and therefore, even in the worst flood, the interior would stay dry. The windows would have to be rated for significant pressure, lest they rupture during a hurricane (high speed winds and pressure differential outside and inside), or a major flash flood (water is heavier than air, again resulting in a really big pressure differential). Also, for breathability, I would make the house tall. At least two, and probably three stories. Let's go with 3. Only the 3rd story's windows open, and that's where your house gets fresh air from. A venting system circulates it to the lower floors. (The regions most at risk of flooding tend not to have earthquakes. Usually.) A decorative siding would be pasted onto the seal to give this house the look of a home (and not an avant garde scupture.)


The Chinese guy said...

Its already been done, idiots built on flood plains in the UK in the 1990s (and then had the gall to call it global warming). Such houses are defended by pumping the cavity walls with this sort of riot foam stuff which hardens into a nasty plastic type thing. Then the door gets a barrier put at the bottom. And bingo it is water tight.

Heh my dad's HK place is also water tight too, it is also airtight and several people living next door in similar homes have suffocated when they close the windows to keep the mozzies out

Mad Engineering said...

Is this like how in the US, people built houses in drained swamps and then got all furious when the dam inevitably failed and their house flooded?
Because I can't tell you how many stupid places we live in. Here's some examples:
Malibu, CA: Beautiful, beach side town that falls into the pacific ocean every time it rains. (It's built on unstable sand constructs that slide every time they get wet.) Somehow manages to stay insured and come back every time.
Galveston, TX: Town built on a sandbar island, which sinks beneath the waters of the gulf of Mexico every time a hurricane comes nearby, or the ocean rises, or there's a big storm surge.
Los Angeles, CA: Surrounded on three sides by mountains, trapping the brown smoggy air until the wind blows towards the ocean. Yeah, building roads for a gazillion cars in these conditions was such a smart idea.
Phoenix, AZ: Yes, let's build a big city in a super-hot desert where there's no water to speak of whatsoever!
Southern Florida in General: Swamp. Was drained with pumps and held back by dams. The dam inevitably fails. Somehow home insurance keeps paying for it.
New Orleans, LA: Technically beneath sea level, kept dry by only an elaborate pumping system. Should be rebuilt on the other side of the lake where it won't be routinely destroyed, but won't be.

....the list goes on and on. I guess we Americans don't react well to being told that no, this is not a smart place to have a city.

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