Houses that can float, to survive climate flooding

There are tons of houses worldwide in coastal areas, and as climate change proceeds, they'll see more and more flooding. Those owners can't all afford to move.

So the Buoyant Foundation Project is developing an ingenious adaptation concept: Instal floaty material to underside of the house, so when floods arrive the house rides up above the waves — settling back down when the water recedes.

It's super clever resilience engineering, retrofits existing buildings (instead of requiring new construction), and is relatively cheap to boot. The New Yorker's web site reports:

A typical New Orleans shotgun house sits slightly above the ground, resting atop short piers; the researchers could, they thought, fasten a steel frame to the underside of a house and affix a set of foam buoyancy blocks. Then they could sink posts into the ground and attach them to the corners of the frame, allowing the house to rise up off the piers without floating down the street.

English and her students built a full-scale prototype of the system, and in the summer of 2007 they put it to the test. They borrowed some corral panels from the College of Agriculture and built a temporary flood tank around their model amphibious home, pumping in water straight from the Mississippi River. The tank filled with two, three, four feet of water, and the house began to rise. By the time they stopped pumping, it was hovering about a foot above the piers. "It was a religious experience when it lifted off," English recalled.

The system was simple and cheap; it could be installed by two reasonably handy people without heavy equipment for between ten and forty dollars a square foot. It left a building's appearance and structure almost unchanged, and it was more resilient than permanent elevation, which can cost two or three times as much and make a building more susceptible to wind damage. "This is not a one-size-fits-all solution," English said, noting that the system would not provide adequate protection against high-speed waves. "But it's an excellent solution for some circumstances.