Building climate resilience into construction

- Ottawa, Ontario

Rusty railroad trestle bridge in early morning light

The battle against the dangerous effects of climate change on buildings and infrastructure is heating up. Increasingly severe events such as wildfires, rising water levels and unpredictable weather can jeopardize the safety of communities and the integrity of the structures they rely on.

To meet such climate change challenges head-on, the Construction Research Centre at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is conducting research on ways to adapt our built environment to make it more resilient to the impacts of climate events. With funding from Infrastructure Canada, the NRC will continue to assemble evidence-based knowledge, guidelines and tools to help keep infrastructure and communities safe for decades to come.

Resilience in the ecosystem

From 2016 to 2021, the Climate Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure (CRBCPI) initiative gathered new data and developed practical tools to help the Canadian construction industry meet future challenges. During that time, NRC researchers collaborated with more than 200 experts across governments, academia and industry to develop knowledge that will help inform changes in how the construction industry builds, operates, maintains and retrofits infrastructure and buildings in Canada.

"We are world-leading in our efforts to incorporate climate change considerations into design data through the CRBCPI initiative," says Marla Desat, Technical Outreach Officer at the NRC's Construction Research Centre. "Our experts are also contributing to international discussions on these topics, and our work was highlighted at the COP27 international climate change conference last year."

Building on the success of that foundational work, last year the Government of Canada announced the 5‑year, $35‑million Climate Resilient Built Environment (CRBE) initiative, which will continue to advance the concept of resilience through collaboration across the construction sector. The focus of the CRBE initiative is to develop even more tools and guidance on buildings and infrastructure, from design to decision-making in construction, operation, maintenance and retrofit.

"Our strong connections with collaborators have helped us focus on areas where more work is needed," adds Desat. "Through the CRBE initiative, we're expanding into high-priority areas such as resilient dams and nature-based solutions. Integrating nature can help us reduce urban flooding and the urban heat island effect in cities, caused by heat trapped by paved surfaces and closely packed buildings."

New projects underway include several studies on the impacts of climate change on dams, testing permafrost protection techniques in Tuktoyaktuk and Iqaluit, developing design tools to counter future moisture risks in exterior walls and expanding the NRC's National Guide for Wildland–Urban Interface Fires.

Most recently, researchers in Construction Research Centre's coupled corrosion lab have drawn attention to the hazards of galvanic corrosion on bridges. Atmospheric corrosion is well studied, but galvanic corrosion is a less obvious hazard. It occurs when two different metals are in contact with each other and in the presence of an electrolyte, like water mixed with road salt—a common Canadian occurrence! This cutting-edge research will help improve bridge durability.

For more information about CRBE projects, visit the NRC's webpage about our research on climate resilient buildings and infrastructure.

Resilience in action

By bringing the latest science to the table, CRBE researchers play a key role in sharing research and recommendations with those who can use it to improve resilience in the built environment—from code development committees and standards developers to designers and engineers. Researchers also share their technical expertise by participating in different national and international groups.

With a long-standing passion for contributing to a sustainable construction industry, the NRC's researchers are ensuring that the changes being made today to improve the climate resilience of buildings and infrastructure have staying power.

According to Marianne Armstrong, CRBE Initiative Lead, "Their future-focused recommendations will help prepare and protect our infrastructure for water, transportation, heat, electricity and more."

But it's not only the Construction Research Centre that's doing important work to protect the environment. Several other facilities are adding their expertise to the mix. Researchers from the NRC's Oceans, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre, Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre and Aerospace Research Centre are all supporting projects to advance climate resilience under the CRBE initiative. "Together, we're making great strides toward a more sustainable future."