Build a More Resilient Homestead

A longtime energy and resilience expert offers advice on how to make your home and land disaster-resistant.

The only certainty about the future is that we can’t predict it. We don’t know when there will be another major storm, earthquake, drought, or terrorist event. With the effects of a changing climate becoming more apparent, interest in resilience is growing rapidly — particularly in coastal areas that will be affected most by sea level changes and storm surges. Homesteaders who value independence and self-sufficiency are making their homes and properties more resilient. So what is resilience? The Resilient Design Institute defines resilience as “the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance.” In part, this means that resilience is about being prepared for climate change, though the goal of resilience should appeal even to those who don’t share that growing concern. Resilience is about keeping your family safe and secure, no matter what happens.

Flood Resilience

When you’re working toward a resilient homestead, the placement of buildings and gardens relative to flood risk should be a major consideration. My wife and I purchased our farm in southern Vermont shortly after Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on buildings, infrastructure, and farmland throughout the state. The property we found has about 10 acres of agricultural fields, all perched more than 150 feet above the West River. In an extreme rainfall event, we will get some soggy areas, but our sandy soil should do far better than the river-bottom land that was so affected by Irene.

To achieve flood resilience, we trenched on the uphill side of an old outbuilding that we’d just restored against a hillside. This trench captures moisture coming downhill during an intense storm or spring runoff when the ground is still frozen. Free-draining stone and drainage tile below should keep the building dry. We also put in similar drainage on our 1812 barn, which had suffered moisture damage in the past.

Read more here. (Quite long article)