Building Resilience in Boston: Best Practices for Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience for Existing Buildings

This report was prepared for the Boston Society of Architects and the Boston Green Ribbon Commission Climate Preparedness Working Group, and discusses how to better incorporate climate change, preparedness, and resiliency into Boston’s building practices. The report addresses Boston’s population and built environment and, specifically, their vulnerabilities such as variations in the age and construction of the city’s building stock and the populous communities built on infill land and in other low-lying areas.

A compilation of strategies is provided which informs building owners about ways to improve the resilience of existing buildings as related to vulnerability and risk from natural hazards (including extreme temperatures, rain and coastal flooding, high wind, and sea level rise and storm surge). This report only focuses on enhancing the resilience of existing buildings “because newly designed buildings can easily adapt to new building standards, but adapting existing buildings takes more effort and different strategies.”

The report includes a review of national and international research, publications, planning documents, and related materials to establish the state-of-knowledge and identify best practices related to the improvement of existing buildings to better withstand climate change impacts. 11 building types are discussed, with small-scale housing of one to three stories comprising almost a third of Boston’s square footage. Mid-size residential properties are the next largest percentage of floor area, followed by high-rise commercial and government buildings.

Other key factors for building resilience include construction type and age. In terms of age, 50% of Boston’s housing was built before 1940 and 65% of its commercial stock before 1930. This diversity means any one type of hazard is unlikely to devastate the entire city, as different varieties of structures have different vulnerabilities. However, resilience planning will require a larger array of protections for the many different building types.

Many of the adaptation strategies for buildings identified in this study improve resilience for several hazards at once and also provide additional benefits during normal conditions. An example of this type of strategy is to increase the shading on a site to reduce stormwater flow, lower ambient temperatures, and lessen wind impacts as well as improve air quality and quality of life.

A section of this report describes municipal strategies for spurring efforts to upgrade existing buildings is illustrated with examples from cities across the U.S. and internationally. These strategies include mandatory building retrofits, mandatory actions for new construction and major retrofits, incentives for voluntary actions, financing mechanisms and grants to facilitate upgrades, and education and outreach programs.



Publication Date: August 7, 2013


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