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Growth & Jobs | Invest in your house - Local engineers advise Jamaicans to mitigate effects of climate change

Published:Tuesday | July 9, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Local engineers and design experts are advising Jamaicans to pay closer attention to how they design their homes to assist in alleviating the impact of adverse weather conditions as a result of climate change.

In recent years, the Caribbean has been seriously impacted by the changes in global climate patterns, which have resulted in a rise in sea levels, stronger hurricanes, longer dry seasons and shorter wet seasons. The unbearably high temperatures have also had most Jamaicans complaining about the “scorching heat”

Civil engineer Carvel Stewart, says that unpredictable weather patterns brought on by climate change will continue to affect how and where people in the Caribbean build their homes.

Stewart stated that Jamaicans have learned their lesson about the importance of proper engineering and design in construction from past disasters, including Hurricane Gilbert and the 1907 earthquake.

He noted that in terms of location, coastal areas have always been an issue, with or without the effects of climate change, and pointed out that climate change has exacerbated the situation.

“You now have a rise in sea levels, and it’s crazy because they say you have an average rise of about an inch per year. That will be horrendous if it continues like that for a long time,” Stewart said.

Certified architect Leighton Whyte agreed, pointing out that when buying a house, it is always good to assess the area to determine if it has any issues with drainage. “Persons also need to check to see that the house they are considering is constructed using the best materials possible; and that the techniques used in construction are approved,” he outlined.

“For example, the roof structure, ideally should be secured using hurricane straps if it is a timber construction. If it is concrete, then you want to check to see that the roof itself is still in good condition that the steelwork or the concrete itself, has not been compromised or exposed.”


Whyte said that persons must also check the soil condition around the house itself to ensure that it is not depleted and exposing the foundation. “If that’s the case, then it is safe to say that the integrity of the structure has been affected,” he advised.

Stewart, who is also a past president of the Incorporated Master Builders Association, said home buyers and builders’ must also avoid areas that may not necessarily be flood-prone but where the soil type is subject to landslides.

He also explained, “If there is to be construction on slopes, then additional engineering precautions should be put in place, such as retaining walls, while some type of soil stabilisation technique must be used.”

As it pertains to the high temperatures, Stewart said that there are design and engineering techniques available to mitigate the effects of the heat.

“Some constructions have insulated walls, which can provide some reprieve from the heat. Then there is the business of how you shade in the design of the structure in order to reduce the heat,” he pointed out.

Stewart also highlighted the advantages of cross ventilation, which includes designing the house to allow for proper airflow.

“You should also build with the house orientation in mind so that the sensitive areas are not positioned in the east/west direction. Sensitive areas may refer to your bedrooms; therefore, if those are positioned north/south, then you will have less of a heat impact either in the morning or the evening,” he explained.


Stewart pointed out that there are also materials that can help to ‘deflect’ the heat. “There are certain types of glass, which reflect more of the heat than what gets inside the house. There is also double glazing, which works by trapping air between two panes of glass” he said.

However, Stewart admitted that these design elements are often more expensive than traditional construction practices. “Consequently, many persons will come up with designs and start a project but don’t continue because they are afraid of the cost. The truth is that while they may be more costly, they certainly provide far more protection and insurance from the elements,” he maintained.

Petal James, head of mobile banking at JN Bank, further advised potential homeowners that employing the proper design and engineering techniques in the construction of their properties will provide increased benefits in the long term.

“Apart from the fact that it is contributing to your comfort and safety; it also provides added security in the event of a natural disaster. It also impacts the resale value of your home as these engineering upgrades or design features will increase the value of the property,” she noted.

James said that persons who have already bought a house or completed construction but want to increase the ability of their home to withstand the effects of climate change should consider using their home equity to finance additional upgrades.

“Home equity is the value of the homeowner’s interest in their home. In other words, it is the property’s current market value minus any liens that are attached to that property. This value fluctuates over time as payments are made on the mortgage and market forces play on the current value of that property,” James explained.

She noted that a homeowner has the ability to leverage their home equity in the form of collateral to attain a home equity loan.

“A property owner is, therefore, allowed to borrow a lump sum against their current home equity for a fixed rate over a fixed period of time,” she said. “Home equity loans can be used to finance a wide range of activities, including home repairs, university tuition or medical expenses.”