Housing

Creating safe and affordable homes is reaching a crisis point

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VIDEO13:5813:58
Here's why building safe houses in the U.S. is so costly and why cutting...
Key Points
  • Potential buyers rarely wonder "what the flood plain is here, or do they look around and see this beautiful forest and say, 'Oh my God, it's going to be on fire in two years?'" American Institute of Architects consultant David Collins said.
  • More than a dozen severe weather storms last year each dealt more than $1 billion in damages across the U.S.

Existing home sales last year reached their highest levels since 2006. However, increasing numbers of climate disasters across the country have sparked concern about how safe homes are.

Potential buyers rarely wonder "what the flood plain is here, or do they look around and see this beautiful forest and say, 'Oh, my God, it's going to be on fire in two years?'" American Institute of Architects consultant David Collins said.

Last year was the worst fire season in U.S. history. In California, five of the state's six-largest fires began within a two-month window. Overall, more than a dozen severe weather storms each dealt more than $1 billion in damages across the U.S.

Jack Cohen, a research physical fire scientist, advocates for home construction that better stops the spread of wildfires by including nonflammable construction materials and ensuring nothing exists between houses that an ember can engulf in flames.

"We need to define the problem as a structure ignition problem, not a wildfire control problem," Cohen said. His Home Ignition Zone research is supported by the National Fire Protection Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA has a financial incentive in protecting America's homes and encouraging local groups to follow the building codes set by the International Code Council.

Acting U.S. Fire Administration chief Tonya Hoover said the approximately 2,000 communities that have adopted the council's building codes have saved the U.S. an average of $1.6 billion in annualized losses from flooding, hurricanes and earthquakes.

However, building homes that can withstand natural disasters are expensive and keep people, including the more than 500,000 homeless counted in 2019, outside.

"A thousand dollars added to the price of a new home, at any time, in any way, ... will eliminate 153,967 households from being able to buy that home," said Greg Ugalde, immediate past chairman of the National Association of Home Builders.

Watch the video to better understand the challenges America faces in providing both safe and affordable houses.

Correction: This report was revised to correct that the National Fire Protection Association is an independent nonprofit organization.