with SuDS’ design, implementation and adoption has been an issue in England and Wales. Water companies have thus been reluctant to take up schemes that suggest a large risk. By contrast, Scotland has seen many schemes implemented since 1993.

One idea is for new houses in flood risk areas to be jacked up on elevated concrete slab-and-pile foundations

Faced with the great challenges posed, Sir Michael Pitt’s official report on the 2007 floods urged better preparation and a more innovative approach to housing design. This has resulted in a refocusing on best practice in design and development and use of new materials to the industry standard BS85500 set in 2015.

Emerging solutions

The twin challenges of resistance and resilience are being tackled. On resistance, the aim is exclusion and dry-proofing – that is, preventing water getting in. For resilience, wet-proofing is the key – if water gets in, how quickly and effectively can houses recover to normality? One idea is for new houses in flood risk areas to be jacked up on elevated concrete slab-and-pile foundations, allowing underground water to drain quickly. Another idea is for a second basement, which would temporarily hold the water. In this way, standard houses could literally rise and fall in emergency conditions while appearing at all other times exactly like a static house.

Construction ideas include solid walls with external render along with cavity wall membranes. Products involving doors, windows, special kitchens, water-resistant wall and floor membranes that channel water towards drains and sumps that disperse water quickly are all being explored. For older houses this would obviously mean retrofitting.

Research is also taking place into resilient surfaces such as robust

boards, and the positioning of toilet and sink non-return valves, plus the placing of electrics and home appliances above expected water levels, are other items of key interest. Architect and Construction Products Association deputy chief executive Peter Caplehorn points to the progress being made: “We have a range of materials available in the construction industry which can be used in just about every part of the home to make it resistant to flooding,” he says. “We have floor finishes that can cope with complete immersion in water, wall finishes and plasters that don’t absorb water and doors and windows, which will take a fair amount of flooding.”


Such materials and products have been incorporated in projects such as the recently-launched Building Research Establishment (BRE) Resilient House. The project, in conjunction with industry partners, is taking place in a building within the BRE’s experimental Victorian Terrace at Watford. This refurbishment – employing simple solutions to stop water getting in, and being more resilient if it does – has the mass housebuilding sector in mind. Elsewhere, a ‘buoyant homes’ project on an island on the Thames at Marlow, Buckinghamshire has seen the emergence of Britain’s first amphibious house designed by London-based Baca Architects using technology pioneered in the Netherlands.

The site of the three-bedroom family home is in a designated WWW.ARCHITECTSDATAFILE.CO.UK

Flood Zone 3b within a conservation area and contains a ‘can-float’ basement, which rises in its dock-like foundations to avoid flood water. Following the completion of construction, the property was successfully test-floated at the beginning of this year. Baca director Richard Coutts says: “Marlow’s Amphibious House

is a case of technology and design coming together. It is proof that flood-conscious architecture is feasible, we call this Aquatecture. The Marlow House opens a new way of building with water, instead of against it.”

A similar project sees Berfield, a joint venture company owned by the Larkfleet Group and Floodline Developments, looking to build 24 ‘floating’ homes, among a wider development, on the edge of Theale Lake, south of the village of Burghfield, Berkshire. The houses will have three core components – a concrete basin, buoyant basement structure and guide piles – and are designed to float if the lake overflows. Inevitably, there are questions about resilience. Will older houses function normally with upgrading? Will resilient homes allow a return to normal? Would their features affect the design of a house? Will they prove too expensive and esoteric for volume house building?

Revising regulations

The case for resilience is also hampered by the fact that Building Regulations are currently more concerned with flood avoidance. Planning may require restrictions to be placed to ensure resistance or resilience measures, but these are not always followed through into the construction.

This has resulted in a very uncertain market for flood-resilient property even with new-build guarantees such as the BRE’s Home Quality Mark. The CPA’s Peter Caplehorn looks at it this way: “When you get on to things like insulation which people want for comfort and efficiency, it gets complicated because a home that is completely resilient to water begins to look like a prison.”

He feels mandatory regulations would help bring about a more robust approach. “We need to look at Building Regulations covering flood resilience because, between developers and local authorities, nobody wants to take on the investment, bite the bullet and get on with it.’’

Far greater investment is clearly needed. RIBA puts the UK’s

under-spend on flooding at £580m and urges the Government to adopt a joined-up approach to development in high-risk areas by looking beyond just ‘building now and protecting later.’ The cost to homeowners needs to be considered. Even if greater protection of homes added to property values, would homeowners in risk areas end up paying overall through expensive repair/insurance premiums? Traditionally, ‘no betterment’ clauses have prevented insurers from assisting in the finance of flood protection. Occasionally, insurers stipulate that homeowners must adopt measures and, in some cases, will not insure if the repairs to a property are not resilient.

From 2015 the Government-backed Flood Re scheme, run and funded by insurers, covers those in high-risk homes who might other- wise struggle to get affordable insurance. The worry is that the pressure for new housing might lead to further flood-prone homes which would outstrip the ability of even Flood Re to insure them. Uncertainties abound. But what seems clear, is that unless bold ideas on flood resistance and resilience are taken up there will be many more distressing scenes like those seen on the Somerset Levels a few winters ago. 


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