Building for Climate Change: A Quick Guide for Homeowners and Builders

In 2018, the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission (SNBSC), with aid from the Province of New Brunswick’s Environmental Trust Fund, created a guidebook entitled Building for Climate Change: A Quick Guide for Homeowners and Builders. This guidebook was distributed to municipal town offices and other areas around the region in an effort to promote best practices for residential property owners to mitigate against climate risks. Climate risks experienced in the region include flooding, ice storms, tropical storms, and forest fires.

The actions identified in this guidebook include building upgrades and retrofits, landscaping strategies, best practices for builders and municipalities on how to develop more climate change resilient buildings and homes, as well as climate ready checklist for homeowners to rate the preparedness of their homes (existing or planned) for key weather-related impacts of climate change.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Municipalities in the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission (SNBSC) area include the Municipal District of St. Stephen, the Rural Community of Eastern Charlotte, the Town of Saint Andrews, the Village of Grand Manan, the Village of McAdam, the Rural Community of Campobello Island, the Rural Community of Fundy Shores, and the unincorporated Rural District of Southwest New Brunswick. All municipalities are located in the southwestern region of New Brunswick. As many of the communities reside alongside the Fundy Bay shoreline, they are subjected to a number of climate risks including coastal flooding (sea-level rise and storm surge events), inland flooding, increased precipitation events, changes to ocean biodiversity, temperature rise and changes to flash-freeze cycles.

SNBSC partnered with Eastern Charlotte Waterways Inc., a not-for-profit environmental resource and research centre, Local Service District representatives, and local municipalities to develop a Climate Adaptation Plan for the region to address and prepare for present and future climate change challenges. Following ICLEI Canada’s BARC framework, the plan, in part, consists of a vulnerability and risk assessment that identified and prioritized climate risks to the region.

The vulnerability and risk assessment for the adaptation plan considered climate risk projection models, ArcGIS data, infrastructure mapping and overlays, and previously identified vulnerable areas such as physical infrastructure, (including primary and secondary road infrastructure) wharves, residential properties, ferry terminals, and dam infrastructure.

These findings were then presented through a series of public engagement sessions across Southwestern New Brunswick to speak to community members about vulnerable infrastructure as well as vulnerable service areas including economic sectors, public health services, recreational activities, vulnerable populations, and disruptions to access of goods and services.

Identifying Actions

SNBSC conducted a review of best practices in building codes and standards that included jurisdictions in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, California, Australia, and more. This review also included materials published by the Institute of Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the National Fire Protection Association, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the International Code Council, and academic journals.

The actions identified in the best practice review were then compared against both the minimum standards of the National Building Code of Canada (2010) and the regulations and policies adopted by the Province of New Brunswick. This was done to identify gaps in the existing regulatory framework to simplify and increase the usefulness of the Guidebook.


Actions outlined in the Guidebook include measures to mitigate the effects of wildfires, flooding, extreme precipitation, and extreme wind and cover actions for building and retrofitting as well as landscaping to reduce risk to these weather events.

Building for wildfire includes increasing the resilience of roofs and siding by using non-combustible building materials such as clay, concrete, and fibreglass; avoiding materials in building such as vinyl or wood shingles; and how to protect attics and soffits or eaves. Landscaping strategies include creating fire-safe zones around the perimeter of your home, planting and pruning techniques to decrease fire spreading pathways, and implementing non-combustible breaks (such as walkways).

Flood resilience building outlines a variety of strategies to avoid flood-related damages and loss including avoiding building within the 100-year flood plain (basic flood elevation), limiting the use of vulnerable construction materials above basic flood elevation, and building flood vents to reduce floodwater pressure. Landscaping strategies include building on the highest point of the site, anticipating the flow of floodwaters, and adding stone or rock around the building above and below ground to avoid scouring (the erosion of materials from foundation walls and footings).

Building for extreme rain, snow, and wind events is intended to address both the increased frequency and duration of these events and also the increased likelihood of rain falling in winter months. While the building code already provide measures to mitigate damage from extreme weather, additional measures include deeper fascia boards, eave protection materials, designing structures with hip roofs as opposed to gable roofs, hurricane ties, and proper flashing techniques for windows, doors and decks. Landscaping strategies include the use of permeable materials for hard surfaces, lawn watering schedules, and tree planting strategies.

Additionally, the Guidebook provides homeowners with a do-it-yourself test to assess how climate-ready a home is in the event of climate risks.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Building better might actually cost less, as some of the suggestions made in the Guidebook can actually save money. Headwaters Economics, a Missouri-based non-profit research group, analyzed the cost of building a wildfire-resilient home compared to the alternatives and found that building a “fire smart” home may cost a little less than a typical home. The study, published in November 2018, compared the costs of constructing a single-storey, 2,500-square-foot, three-bedroom home, using readily available cost comparison data for multiple areas within the United States. The authors looked at the roof, exterior wall, deck, and landscaping. The study found, however, that retrofitting existing homes was a more costly venture. However, the information should encourage builders, designers and architects to give strong consideration to building techniques that afford resilience to various climate-related threats.

Further, many of the improvements in the guidebook are simple, cost-effective, and dual-purpose. A number of relatively inexpensive changes to standard home-construction techniques can dramatically increase a home’s capacity to withstand extreme weather events. A number of other cross-risk approaches exist, including but not limited to:

  • Anchored platforms resist wind uplift as well as flood forces
  • Minimizing roof overhangs reduces wildfire exposure risk as well as wind uplift
  • Brick or stone cladding is both fire-resistant as well as wind-resistant
  • The use of a drop chord or heel truss increases wind resilience, and ice-damming that may exacerbate loads during high-volume precipitation events, and may aid wildfire mitigation efforts.

Next Steps

The Guidebook suggests that planners, development officers, building inspectors and other officials undertake actions that will ultimately improve both planning practices and construction by urging local governments to enact regulations that mandate some of the best practices outlined in this document, such as:

  • Prohibit or adapt construction in areas regularly subject to flood
  • Mandating above basic-flood-level construction practice for new structures in areas susceptible to 1-in-50- year flood events
  • Prohibiting the use of combustible roofing in areas at reasonable risk of being subject to wildfires, if not prohibiting combustible roofing outright
  • Prohibiting the use of combustible siding in areas at potential risk of wildfires
  • Mandating the use of hurricane ties on rafter/truss connections to walls