Posts tagged ‘stilt houses’

May 3, 2012

Thing: Houses on Stilts and Homes that Float

It used to be nice to live near the water, but now with the issue of global warming, which is causing rising currents, it isn’t quite as desirable. With rising sea levels and an unprecedented amount of natural disasters that have caused flooding in lowland regions around the world, architects are looking to save the residents of the more waterlogged areas from further loss of their homes and livelihoods. In this post, we’ll take a look at the similarities and differences between two types of shoreline dwellings – stilt houses and floating homes – and how each fares in the struggle to combat the ever-present issue of rising tides.

A stilt house, also called a pile dwelling since it sits on numerous piles embedded in the ground or lakebed, appears to almost hover over the water or soil. Stilt houses have been around for thousands of years; some pre-historic pile dwellings date back to 5,000 BC, according to the UNESCO World Heritage site. Pre-historic people built these types of houses for much the same reason as in modern times: to stay dry in an area surrounded by water.

These structures typically rest 10-12 feet off the ground to allow for high tide, and are designed to avoid flooding and water damage. These types of dwellings are particularly common in southern United States, Thailand, and the Philippines.

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Stilt houses in Bora Bora

Stilt houses have several advantages, including lower flood insurance costs in areas where flooding is prominent, simple construction, and freedom from unwanted pests, which can’t get into the raised house. Some stilt homeowners also have the luxury of storing things – such as cars – under the house if they’re on dry ground.

Stilt houses do, however, also have a few disadvantages including the fact that piles are, let’s face it, not that pretty. These houses must also be well maintained, lest a harsh flood break the piles down and send the home floating away from its legs. The inflexibility of such a home is not ideal, since it has to contend with natural conditions.

We rated stilt houses based on their general performance in the face of natural disaster as well as in day-to-day life.

  • Protection against disaster: 4
  • Accessibility: 2
  • Flexibility: 2
  • Cool factor: 3
  • Cost: 4
  • Overall rating: 3

Similar to stilt houses are floating homes, which have been growing in popularity over the last few years. A floating home is essentially a house on a raft that is semi-permanently moored to a dock. The idea of floating homes was developed in response to rising sea levels and is prevalent in areas prone to frequent flooding around the world. These types of dwellings are very similar to their more common cousins on land, but they float instead on the gentle waves of the water.

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A contemporary floating home in Seattle

Leading the way in the design of these water dwellings are the Dutch, whose country rests among the lowest land elevations in the world at just a few feet above sea level. Their country stands to suffer greatly as water levels rise and submerge the region beneath the waves. In response to this, the Dutch have engineered accessible and affordable amphibious homes – and other types of buildings. They even built a floating pavilion in Rotterdam for the Rotterdam Climate Initiative to show the benefits of floating structures. And their work doesn’t stop there. Many Dutch architects have brought floating homes to low-lying regions around the world including to Indonesia, China, Thailand, and the Maldives.

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Floating home in Dubai

Like stilt homes, there are advantages to owning a floating home. For one, they have no ugly piles holding up the house, and they’re more accessible. There’s no lawn to care for (in most cases), and the structure is more flexible, rising with the water instead of fighting against it. The flexibility of these homes was confirmed when a community built on the River Maas in the Netherlands in 2005 survived major floods in 2011 – floods that caused people in many other areas to evacuate.

Here is our rating of floating homes:

  • Protection against disaster: 5
  • Accessibility: 4
  • Flexibility: 4
  • Cool factor: 5
  • Cost: 3
  • Overall rating: 4

So which type of water dwelling would we choose if we lived by the shoreline? Why, a floating home, of course! Despite the drawbacks of it being potentially costly, floating homes are prettier, cooler, and more flexible when it comes to rising water levels. That would make us feel safer and more comfortable if we lived by the coast.

It looks like just one question remains: which would you choose?

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