The Current

How floating homes could guard against floodwater damage

Rising floodwaters and evacuation orders continue across Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick as rainfall persists and rivers swell. We examine how other jurisdictions have mitigated flooding, and discuss possible solutions.

'Humankind does the accommodation rather than trying to push the water around,' architect says

Instead of trying to control where floodwaters go, Elizabeth English says, homes should instead be retrofitted to float when water begins to enter them. (Tom Parry/CBC)

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Instead of trying to control or prevent flooding, residents should adapt their homes to withstand it, says an architect who develops amphibious homes.

"We need to let Mother Nature do more of what Mother Nature wants to do rather than humankind trying to control the water," Elizabeth English, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, told The Current guest host David Common.

In Canada, this spring's rainfall, compounded by melting snow, has led to states of emergency and evacuations in areas across Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick.

English, who runs the Buoyant Foundation Project, explained that most homes on flood plains, if properly equipped, would be unscathed in flooding like Canadians are experiencing today. 

Amphibious homes are retrofitted with "a hidden floating dock underneath" and vertical posts that guide the house up and down, allowing it to float on water, she said.

"It lets the water go wherever the water wants to go and the house gets out of the way. So it doesn't try to compete," she said. "Humankind does the accommodation rather than trying to push the water around." 

The vertical guidance system, she said, are posts that allow the house to slide up off of its foundation when water comes in, and then move back down to its original place once the water recedes.

This adaptive architecture is explored in the Netherlands, she said, but is not widely recognized in North America yet.

To discuss innovative ways to cope with floodwaters, Common spoke to:

  • Elizabeth English, founder of the Buoyant Foundation Project and associate professor of architecture at the University of Waterloo.
  • Nicolas Achim, who owns a business near Rouge River in Quebec, the dam for which is at risk of breaking.
  • Frans Klijn, a flood expert and senior specialist at Deltares, an independent research institute in the Netherlands.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written with files from CBC News. Produced by Alison Masemann, Sarah-Joyce Battersby and Danielle Carr.


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