The amphibious home: don’t be afraid of the water

This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times, January 26 2014

If you have spent a good part of the past month bailing water out of your  sodden home, this could be the news you have been waiting for. At an  innovation park in Watford, engineers are busy building a house that can  defend itself against floods — and dry itself out should water get in.

The Building Research Establishment has commissioned Aquobex, a flood-risk  consultancy, to build a demonstration home incorporating the latest defences  — including barriers that rise out of the ground, a floodproof garage door  and other innovations to minimise the damage from water seeping in. Among  these are fittings and flooring that absorb the minimum amount of moisture,  as well as rapid drainage channels — meaning the interior dries out within  four weeks of a flood, compared with a year for most properties.

Aquobex

How the building will look: visitors will be able to see the defences react to flooding

About 5m homes in England — one in six — are at risk of flooding, with more  than 2,500 properties affected since the start of December, according to the  Environment Agency. This number will only rise as housebuilders increasingly  target sites on flood plains. “Flooding is an ever-increasing risk,” says  John Alexander, managing director of Aquobex. “By showcasing relatively  simple measures that can be incorporated into new and retrofit projects, we  hope to encourage designers and builders to think about resilience  measures.”

Aquobex, together with the architecture firm Baca, is constructing the  prototype for completion in the autumn, at a cost of £400,000. Called the  Aquobex Resilient Property, the hybrid building is divided into three zones:  a house, a business and a shop. It will be open to the public, with live  demonstrations showing visitors how each type of property can be protected.

To simulate flooding, a large glazed tank will be built around the perimeter  of the property, which will have water rapidly pumped into it. As the level  rises, flood barriers will automatically be triggered. Water-resistant  glazing, door guards and a specially designed garage door will also keep the  floods out, while one-way drains stop water from backing up in the  lavatories. To demonstrate how interiors can cope if water does get in, the  kitchen has been made fully floodable, with water-resistant units.

The idea was conceived last year, when Aquobex and Baca met at an industry  seminar that dealt with flood-risk management.“The Aquobex Resilient  Property is only a first step in improving the safety of peoples’ homes and  property from flooding,” says Richard Coutts, director of Baca. “We hope  that this will be the first of several innovative properties that can combat  flooding and adapt to climate change.”

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