Construction on the Coast of the Pacific Northwest can be a challenging endeavor due to a variety of factors, including weather, fewer qualified contractors, and distance to supplies, to name a few. However, with every challenge is opportunity.
In today’s blog post, we will explore some of the challenges that construction crews face when building on the coast and the solutions that have been developed to overcome them, as well as the opportunities that exist.
Weather-Related Challenges and Solutions in Coastal Construction
One of the biggest challenges of construction on the Pacific Northwest coast is the weather. The region is known for its rainy and windy climate, which can make it difficult to work outdoors or properly execute on elements such as concrete pouring and painting. Heavy rain can cause soil erosion, and high winds can make it dangerous to work at heights. Additionally, extreme storm events can cause significant damage to buildings and construction sites.
Astoria, located on the Northern coast of Oregon, experiences average rainfall of around 70” per year. Even during the driest month of July, Astoria still averages .8” and 8 days of rainfall. To mitigate these weather-related challenges, builders on the Pacific Northwest coast use a variety of techniques.
Evaluating the site for potential hazards, including:
- Unstable soil
- Steep slopes
- Unstable or damaged trees
Mitigating these risks before starting construction work makes a big difference in the safety and efficiency of the site. Managing these hazards may include installing drainage systems to prevent soil erosion or using retaining walls to stabilize slopes. Safety practices can also include removing hazardous trees or limbs before engaging in other construction activities.
Using materials that are specifically designed to withstand the region’s climate. For example:
- Utilize concrete in lieu of wood for exteriors.
- Install special coatings and/or sealants to protect against moisture and other weather-related damage.
- Ensure steel is galvanized, stainless, or otherwise protected from moisture to prevent rust from occurring.
- Installing flood-resistant insulation; Closed-cell foam insulation and other water-resistant insulation materials help minimize moisture absorption.
- Using marine-grade plywood, which is treated with water-resistant chemicals, making it more resistant to moisture damage.
Contractors must also utilize extensive temporary protection measures, which may include creating tented spaces, or using out-of-the-box scheduling strategies to erect shell structures prior to pouring interior slabs.
Adapting Construction Plans: Balancing Environmental Concerns with Building Needs
In addition to weather-related challenges, construction on the Pacific Northwest coast also faces unique environmental challenges. The region is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, many of which are protected by state and federal laws. Builders must take care not to disturb these species or their habitats during construction.
To address these environmental challenges, builders may work with environmental consultants and other experts to develop plans for minimizing the impact of construction on the local ecosystem. This may involve installing erosion control measures, such as silt fences or straw wattles, to prevent soil from washing into nearby streams or wetlands. Builders may also need to modify construction plans to avoid sensitive areas or to provide alternative habitats for displaced wildlife.
Logistical Challenges and Solutions in Rural, Coastal Locations
In addition to environmental challenges, construction on the Pacific Northwest coast also faces logistical challenges. The region’s remote location and rugged terrain can make it difficult to transport materials and equipment to construction sites. This can increase costs and slow down construction schedules. These challenges will largely depend on the size and complexity of the work, as well as materials required.
To overcome these logistical challenges, builders may investigate and implement a variety of transportation methods. For extremely large materials, barges or helicopters may be used. Road transportation is the most common option for deliveries, but coordination for off-loading, road expansions and other modifications may be necessary.
Ideally, contractors work with local suppliers and trade partners to minimize transportation costs and ensure the timely delivery of materials. It’s also critical to evaluate the transportation challenges during the preconstruction process to identify alternative building methods.
Innovations in Coastal Construction: New Techniques and Technologies
Some builders are embracing the region’s unique challenges as an opportunity to innovate and develop new construction methods and techniques. For example, exploring and using modular construction techniques, which involve constructing building components off-site and then assembling them on-site. This approach can help to minimize the impact of weather-related delays and reduce transportation costs.
Other builders are using advanced materials and technologies to create buildings that are more resilient and energy-efficient. For example, some buildings on the Pacific Northwest coast are designed to be “net-zero” energy buildings, which generate as much energy as they consume over the course of a year.
Other building techniques and sustainability strategies include:
Site Selection and Planning
Choosing sites that have minimal ecological impact and avoiding areas with high erosion or flood risk. Integrating natural features such as wetlands and wildlife habitats into the design to preserve biodiversity.
Using high-performance insulation, energy-efficient windows, and energy recovery ventilation systems to minimize heat loss and reduce energy consumption. Installing solar panels, wind turbines, or geothermal systems for renewable energy generation.
Employing rainwater harvesting systems, gray water recycling, and low-flow fixtures to reduce water consumption.
Implementing native landscaping to minimize maintenance needs.
Using locally-sourced, recycled, or low-impact materials to reduce the carbon footprint of construction. Examples include using reclaimed wood, recycled metal, and low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and finishes.
Implementing construction waste management plans to minimize waste generation and promote recycling or reuse of materials.
Indoor Environmental Quality
Ensuring adequate ventilation and air filtration to reduce indoor air pollutants. Using low-VOC materials and finishes to minimize off-gassing and improve indoor air quality.
Constructing Resilient Buildings
Another coastal challenge is the risk of an earthquake or tsunami. The primary source comes from the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ), a 600-mile-long fault line that stretches from Northern California to British Columbia, Canada. The CSZ is where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is being forced beneath the North American plate. This subduction process builds up tremendous stress over time, which can be released suddenly as large earthquakes.
Reducing these risks often starts with seismic building codes, early warning systems, tsunami evacuation routes and public education and preparedness. Oregon and Washington’s building codes both include robust measures for seismic resilience in new structures, which creates a baseline framework for seismically resilient buildings.
Additionally, passive survivability features in buildings are elements that help maintain habitable conditions during and after a disaster, even when active systems such as electricity and heating are not available. Passive survivability features can include:
Passive Solar Design
Orienting the building and designing windows, walls, and floors to maximize solar heat gain during the winter and minimize it during the summer, ensuring a comfortable indoor temperature without relying on active heating and cooling systems.
Designing windows, doors, and vents to promote cross-ventilation and air circulation, reducing the need for mechanical ventilation and air conditioning. Using passive ventilation strategies, such as stack ventilation or strategically placed vents, to promote air circulation and manage moisture levels. In wet climates, proper ventilation is crucial to prevent condensation and maintain a healthy indoor environment.
Incorporating materials with high thermal mass, like concrete or brick, to help maintain stable indoor temperatures by absorbing and releasing heat slowly.
Designing windows and skylights to maximize natural light and reduce reliance on artificial lighting.
Collecting and storing rainwater for non-potable uses, such as flushing toilets and irrigation, reducing the need for municipal water supply during emergencies.
Use high-performance insulation materials to minimize heat loss through the building envelope. Properly insulating walls, floors, and roofs helps to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures and reduce heating requirements.
Seal gaps and cracks in the building envelope to prevent drafts and air infiltration. Airtight construction helps to retain heat and reduce the risk of moisture-related issues, such as mold and condensation.
Thermal Bridge-Free Construction
Minimize thermal bridges by carefully designing the building’s structural connections and using insulating materials. Thermal bridges are areas where heat is transferred more rapidly between the interior and exterior, reducing energy efficiency.
By incorporating passive building measures in new construction, structures in cold and wet climates can achieve improved energy efficiency, occupant comfort, and reduced environmental impact.
Overall, construction on the Pacific Northwest coast presents a unique set of challenges that require careful planning, collaboration, and innovation. By working together and using a variety of techniques and technologies, builders on the coast can overcome these challenges and create structures that are both durable and environmentally responsible.