Q+A: Should floating houses be part of the solution to rising sea levels?

Sep 11 • Q+A • 2978 Views • 11 Comments on Q+A: Should floating houses be part of the solution to rising sea levels?

Three individuals, from various professional backgrounds, and from different parts of the globe, give answers to our question of the week.



Scott Holcombe is the Managing Principal of the New York-based Urban Waterfront Advisors, Inc. The firm’s focus is advising municipalities, homeowners and investor- developers on developing with flood-resilient floating foundations. Replacing rundown urban piers with floating-foundation parks and public-private structures is one of the firm’s specializations. Mr. Holcombe has over 40 years of commercial real estate experience in financing, acquisitions, development and consulting:


Absolutely! A house can safely rest at practically its same elevation. Floating foundations can amphibiously rest on the water surface, old existing piles or waterside terra firma, ready to vertically rise on corner piles as flood waters arrive. Low centers of gravity provide stabilization. Flotation redundancy make the structures unsinkable and these foundations are relatively maintenance-free. In extreme cases, a floating or amphibious house can potentially be relocated. Also, many existing houses can simply be craned up to accommodate floating foundations. Although, some people may not be too keen on the idea of floating on water, which is why they are more likely to click here to visit some homes based in a safe and relaxing community known as the River Islands.


Elevating houses on stilts has its place, but also drawbacks: the obtrusive sight of houses sitting up on 10-15 ft. stilts alters the appearance and character of a neighborhood, restricts accessibility (particularly for the handicapped), increases vulnerability to wind damage and the new elevated height still may not be sufficient for future flooding.


Industry standards need to be established and building codes, including FEMA’s, need to buy into floating houses.




Dr. Elizabeth C English is an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. She works on the development of amphibious foundation systems as a flood mitigation strategy that supports the preservation of traditional housing forms and cultural practices. She is the founder and director of the Buoyant Foundation Project, a not-for-profit organization based in Louisiana that is a leader in the development of amphibious technologies for affordable housing and for retrofitting existing homes. Dr. English is also the co-chair of the upcoming ICAADE2015 First International Conference on Amphibious Architecture, Design and Engineering:


Yes, certainly part of the solution. Yet, I am not convinced that building new, permanently floating structures on what is now open water is either appropriate or environmentally sound development of our lakes, rivers and coastlines.


Retrofitting existing structures to be amphibious, however, or replacing existing buildings with amphibious ones, is an innovative climate change adaptation strategy that shows great promise for alleviating increasing flood risk in both urban and rural contexts.


What is the difference between “floating” and “amphibious” housing? A floating house, such as a houseboat, lives permanently on water. In use, it is always floating. Amphibious houses, on the other hand, will float, but only when there is a flood. At any other time they sit on land-based foundations like any other ordinary house.


Certain types of existing buildings can easily be retrofitted with amphibious foundations, encouraging the preservation of established and historic neighborhoods and their architectural character and local culture. Amphibious construction is a proven, low-cost, low-impact flood protection strategy that provides better flood resilience and improves a community’s ability to recover from disaster.


So why fight floodwater when you can float on it? Read more at www.buoyantfoundation.org.




Mathias Tobias is Senior Project Manager for International Marine Floatation Systems, Inc. (IMFS). We have been building concrete floating structures for over 30 years, starting with the first strata development for floating homes in Ladner, B.C. Canada:


Floating homes (FH) should absolutely be considered as the number one solution for concerns about the rising sea levels. Floating homes built on top of concrete floating foundations with EPS (foam; Extruded Polystyrene) are a proven building foundation that can be properly engineered, insured, and most important are unsinkable! The FH ability to rise and fall with any tidal fluctuation makes it ideal for flood plain development or concerns about rising sea level changes. Unlike the standard New Orleans solution of building houses on high platforms in the event of a flood or sea level change, FH can remain at a reasonable grade height until in coming water causes the homes to rise as the water level increases.


Since water covers 71% of the earth’s surface, it seems natural that designers, engineers and builders would start to choose this form of home living as a normal extension of land. At IMFS we consider the surface of the water as real-estate, and since the major cities of the world all are surrounded by bodies of water it seems that the obvious choice would be to build on to the water as you would on to land.


Rising sea levels might well be the catalyst which makes people take notice of the great option that floating home living provides, including bringing us closer to our natural surrounding and how we interact with mother nature.



So what do you think?

Should floating houses be part of the solution to rising sea levels?

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11 Responses to Q+A: Should floating houses be part of the solution to rising sea levels?

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