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Reducing Our Carbon Footprint While Building Seismically Resilient Housing

New research wants to find the ‘sweet spot’ for one of the greatest challenges in the construction industry – balancing seismically resilient housing with reduced embodied carbon.

Dr Charlotte Toma from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, is leading the team exploring whether the carbon cost of designing seismically resilient structures can be justified in medium to high density residential buildings across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Toka Tū Ake EQC has funded this project as it directly aligns with its focus on improving the resilience of New Zealand’s homes and buildings in a world with significant climate challenges.

“Our focus on building a more resilient Aotearoa starts with housing that can withstand the impacts of natural hazards,” says Head of Research at Toka Tū Ake Dr Natalie Balfour, who explains that building more resilient structures on suitable land is an effective way to lower damage levels and reduce the social disruption caused by natural hazard events.

“We need to address future disaster resilience challenges, while also contributing towards a net-zero carbon New Zealand, so we are excited to watch Dr Toma’s project unfold.

“Investing in science and research and translating that into tangible outcomes is a critical part of what we do to inform key decision-making and make a difference for New Zealanders,” Dr Balfour adds.

Dr Toma has been investigating a risk-based, lifecycle cost-benefit analysis on multi-storey residential buildings in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.

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The research team is now conducting structural and non-structural estimations on what these redesigned buildings look like, focusing on how seismic performance objectives impact the embodied carbon during construction.

“Climate change mitigation within the building sector is happening, just not fast enough. We really need to push this kind of research or New Zealand won’t meet its net carbon zero targets by 2050,” says Dr Toma, adding that the building sector is responsible for 39 per cent of global carbon emissions.

“The study allows us to explore how lower embodied carbon alternatives could be implemented, while still achieving a higher seismic performance target.

The research will help find a balance between designing stronger buildings that would suffer limited damage but require higher up-front carbon costs during construction, and buildings with lower embodied carbon that could have a significant environmental impact if they need to be torn down or repaired after a seismic event.”

Dr Toma says there’s a push to make our homes more resilient and fortunately some scientists and engineers are focused on improving seismic resilience, as well as working towards more environmentally friendly techniques and net-zero carbon builds.

“Our aim is to provide evidence that improved seismic resilience can be achieved alongside a shift to embodied carbon considered design, and that sustainable design is not mutually exclusive of seismic resilience – providing a strong argument for legislation so we can start to see change happen.

“We owe it to our children – the next generation of New Zealanders – to see this happen,” says Dr Toma, who is one of 13 researchers funded through the latest Toka Tū Ake EQC Biennial Grants programme.

Toka Tū Ake EQC media contact:

Lisa Cooke

0273796576 | media@eqc.govt.nz

Caption: Dr Charlotte Toma, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.

More information about Toka Tū Ake EQC:

• The forerunner to Toka Tū Ake EQC was set up in 1945 to provide affordable natural hazard insurance to help communities recover. Today, our mission still reflects that same commitment: to reduce the impact on people and property when natural hazards occur.

• Toka Tū Ake EQC is a Crown Entity that operates under the Earthquake Commission Act 1993. We invest in natural hazard research and education to help communities to reduce their risks, and we provide natural hazard insurance cover for damage to residential properties caused by earthquakes.

• We have changed our name to Toka Tū Ake EQC to better reflect that our scope extends beyond earthquakes to deliver insurance and expertise for a range of natural hazards, including volcanic eruptions, hydrothermal activity, tsunamis, landslips, as well as damage to some residential land from storms and floods.Toka Tū Ake means the foundation from which we stand strong, together.

• In order to support us to build familiarity with our new name, please refer to us as Toka Tū Ake EQC.

About our biennial grants programme:

• Biennial Grants from Toka Tū Ake EQC have provided around $10 million in funding for more than 250 projects over the years.

• Every two years, experienced and emerging researchers are invited to submit proposals for Biennial Grant public good research (available for public use) as defined by the Earthquake Commission Act 1993 and the Toka Tū Ake EQC Research Investment Priorities Statement.

• If you would like to know more about our Biennial Grants programme, please go to https://www.eqc.govt.nz/resilience-and-research/research/all-about-funding/apply/

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