City of Windsor Creating a Climate Resilient Home

Situated in the City of Windsor, this case study describes the creation of a pilot demonstration house and media campaign to educate residents on available lot-level resiliency actions to flood-proof homes. Windsor has experienced an increased number of intense rainfall events due to climate change, resulting in a greater number of basements being flooded. The pilot house is intended to feature numerous flood resiliency improvements that will be featured as part of a larger basement flooding education campaign. The campaign aimed to include a series of YouTube videos documenting the installation and purpose of the flood proofing measures. Though the house was not open to the public by the time of this study’s publication, public awareness had already been increased due to media attention. This case study was authored by ICLEI Canada in 2018 and the project itself involved significant collaboration among various City departments.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Over the last 7 years, the City of Windsor has had an increasing number of intense rainfall events leading to a greater number of basements being flooded. In September 2016, more than 1,700 homes in Windsor, Tecumseh, and Lakeshore were damaged due to intense rainstorms. Similarly, in August 2017, over 6,000 basements were flooded as a result of extreme rainfall. The City of Windsor is trying to reduce these risks in several ways, including infrastructure improvements, however individual actions at the household level are required to also help mitigate the issue. In September 2017, the Windsor’s City Council approved a 100% subsidy program for homeowners to install up to $2,800 worth of flood prevention devices in their households. However, many homeowners are not aware of the various actions and tools available to flood proof their homes.

Identifying Actions

In order to educate residents on available lot-level resiliency actions to flood proof homes, the City of Windsor created a pilot demonstration house from an existing 1920’s home on a combined sewer system located at 1219 Pierre Avenue. The house includes numerous features that improve flood resiliency, including the installation of a backwater valve, a sump pump with overflow and alternative power supply, disconnected downspouts with rain barrel, grading of property, a rain garden, and an infiltration trench. YouTube videos showcasing the process were to enhance public awareness of the steps individual homeowners can take to minimize the risk of basement flooding, and co-benefits of removing stormwater from combined sewers. The house has become part of a larger basement flooding education campaign. The campaign includes a series of YouTube videos, documenting the installation and purpose of the flood proofing measures. There are also permanent displays for each measure onsite outlining their purpose, how they function, and any required maintenance. This project took place between January – December 2017.

Implementation

The project began in January 2017 with representatives from the City’s Building, Operations, and Communications departments. In February, the Windsor Project Lead applied for funding from the City’s Basement Flooding Subsidy Protection Program to secure additional funding. Installation of the sump pump and backwater valve were filmed by the City’s Communications departments in order to create educational videos for residents. In June 2017, ERCA completed the soil testing and design drawings for the infiltration trench and rain garden. Due to the small scale of the project and the busy construction seasons, the awarded contractor was not able to begin installation of the infiltration trench and rain garden until October. Native plant species are used in the rain garden, as they are highly adaptable to a variety of soil and light conditions. The rain garden helps to direct stormwater runoff away from storm sewers, and naturally filter it through the ground, thus reducing pollutant runoff. The rain garden also provides additional benefits, such as beautification, and providing habitat for important pollinators. As part of the public education aspect of the pilot site, the City installed signage on the property to identify and outline each flood proofing measure, which details their purpose, how they function, and any required maintenance. The City’s Communications department assisted with the design of the signs for the project. The final installation, including the excavation, and the preparation and pouring of concrete for the signs, was completed by a third-party contractor.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Several positive outcomes were achieved as a result of the project, including:

  • Increased awareness: Despite the House not yet being open to the public, due to accessibility concerns, the August 2017 flood events caused the project to already receive media attention.
  • Improved internal and external partnerships: The participation and support of various departments from the beginning of the project led to the expansion of actions that the City was able to install on site for the house.
  • Municipal leadership: The demonstration house is unique concept and project, with very little precedence in other Canadian municipalities. Ultimately, the Climate Resilient House will improve flood protection for homes throughout the Windsor area, as it will educate and empower homeowners to utilize the City’s Basement Flooding Subsidy Program and install lot level flood protection measures.

In order to measure the success of the LID feature, two water loggers were purchased and installed in both the infiltration trench and in the rain garden to measure infiltration. Field checks will be made regularly to see if field conditions have changed and to download data, and regular data analysis will be conducted to explore findings. The City will also be measuring how the ‘Climate Resilient House’ improves the uptake of the Basement Flooding Subsidy Program, which will be determined by the number of applications and building permits issued by the City.

Several key challenges were encountered during the planning and implementation of the project. These challenges include:

  • Unforeseen costs;
  • Change in leadership; and
  • Competing timelines.

One of the most significant delays to the project timeline was the inability to secure a third-party contractor to complete the LID installation due to the busy construction season, and small-scale nature of the project.

Next Steps

Due to accessibility concerns with a 1920s home, the focus of the home continues to be virtual. In addition to City videos, local media have visited and reported on the Site improvements. The City of Windsor recently completed “A Residential Guide to Flood Prevention and Recovery” using some of the lessons learned from the Climate Resilient Home.