Houses that can float, to survive climate flooding

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The video makes me want to play Duke Nukem 3D again.


Can’t afford to move, but can afford to build floating Farnsworth Houses?


I’m crying and laughing at the same time.


The houseboat makes a comeback!


The article really talks about two use-cases:

  1. Retrofitting houses with floatation devices
  2. New construction that incorporates floatation systems

I think the first option is foolishness. She dreams that two “reasonably handy” people can disconnect an existing home from its foundation, sink telescoping piers under the house, install the floatation system to include reinforcing the underside of the house with steel beams, disconnect the house from existing local infrastructure like sewer, gas, water supply, and electric, then reconnect it with flexible, extensible fittings that don’t exist, and do it all without heavy equipment. And do all that without heavy equipment at low cost. This is the sort of thing we daydreamed about in design school, but there’s a disconnect between that and the way things are.

The second part already exists, and people are doing it. It’s an interesting approach, but I’m not sure why that’s better than stilts.

I’ll be interested to see how her projects in Vietnam go. They’ve understood how to live with variable water levels for thousands of years, so I’m not sure this first world university professor swooping in from North America will meet such easy success. Let’s hope for the best.


I prefer my house on stilts at least it does not float away with the flood water. Yes flood water can sometimes be fairly stagnant, but it can also be fast flowing with accompanying wind.


that’s cool but they should really make it so it can survive all forms of flooding, not just climate change floods.

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Even if it were practical to build/convert to one of these.

Floating houses have one very real problem that a house on stilts doesn’t. They can blow or float away.

The coastal flooding we’re getting (live in a place that’s getting a whole lot more of it). Isn’t a calm little trickle of friendly water that’s going to gently lift your house over time. It comes in with violent storms, huge storm surge and waves. It arrives suddenly and violently. And most of the buildings lost aren’t lost to water damage (that can be fixed easily). They’re washed away or blown down by high winds. The same is true of the large floods we see more inland. Its associated with catastrophic weather, and arrives suddenly. Rivers overflowing. Damns breaking etc. Its not calm, float on it water. Its wash away anything not bolted down water.

They’ve effectively decided to apply the theory behind floating docks to houses. This is identical to how floating docks are built. For one floating docks are expensive to build. Especially compared to non-floating docks. 2nd they need very frequent maintenance. The connections get loose, broken. The foam (or often plastic air tanks these days) floats/pontoons tend to break down and become water logged. Causing the docks to ride low in the water, flip in high currents, or just not float anymore. And the big one they are the first thing to wash off or become swamped in inclement weather.

Stilts are a solution to this so old school it predates school. Its a relatively cheap addition to new construction. Don’t tend to wash off. Dont malfunction such that you’re suddenly sunk. And so forth. And frankly in a lot of areas you’re not going to see people retrofitting houses in coastal areas, particularly the non-wealthy. You’re going to see housing re-built after its destroyed. And more often people relocating further in shore or to the high ground.


People have been working out flood management systems for centuries, and have some pretty good ideas. The best idea so far seems to be flood insurance.

Private industry can’t offer it; only the government can, because insurance isn’t so good at catastrophe. One decent flood could bankrupt most insurers, and it’s no good filing a claim with a bankrupt company.


Yes, but do they have a plan to keep people’s bomb shelters afloat?


So yes the house can rise up easily, how about all the connected infrastructure like electricity and plumbing?


Not to mention the added bonus of getting access to insurance cut off if you’re mapped in a bad flood zone and too stubborn/ignorant to move.

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That’s crass. When I lived in Philly there was a community house housing people displaced by Katrina. Some of those people stayed there for several years. Not because they were too stubborn to leave. But because when they left. And they had nothing to return too. They lacked the wealth to move anywhere else.

I know many people still living with family or in rentals, charity/government provided housing after Sandy. These people lost their home. Which represented the vast majority of the wealth they had. Without the house there is nothing to sell, and no money to acquire something elsewhere. If your property is truly located somewhere where leaving is absolutely necessary its value is (or should be) depressed.

Moving takes money. And opportunity to find work where you’re going. I doubt very much many of the farmers here will be able to find work that applies to their skill set if they leave our island. Which would be very important if they couldn’t sell off their farm land after its destroyed or if flood risk tanks its value. And the entire city of New York can not pick up and leave (it being a significant chunk of our Archipelago and the most densely populated part of the US).

Its not about stubbornness or ignorance. A lot of people don’t have the privilege of moving. And there are pretty big practical obstacles to picking up whole communities and moving them inland in one go. Expensive ones.


I did include the quantifier “if”.

I used to work as a map analyst for a few years, and know about areas like NYC and Chicago where public works and planning have been sufficient enough over the years to effectively deal with storms and runoff, and the opposite, places like Lake Travis near Austin, Texas where many people care too much about living on lakefront property that floods almost every year.
Sure, there are people who were born into their situation, but also quite a few who are just stubborn. Those are the ones I lump in with California Beach Living People, who try to block public access to the shoreline.

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Those people typically aren’t put out by these sorts of things. We’ve got areas like that. They simply get their insurance payout and rebuild on taller stilts. Or sell the plot at a profit for some one else to do so. And they don’t typically live in an area full time. Don’t typically stick around for disasters, having multiple homes in multiple areas. And the homes they do own are on valuable chunks of property that currently retain their exorbitant values despite additional risks and expenses.

The people who see the disproportionate harm from this are the poor and the working class. Who also disproportionately live in areas with the largest risk of serious flood/storm damage. Whether because the riskier places were disproportionately where these communities were forced into historically. Or because of lack of infrastructure and government support failing to mitigate the dangers. Its the exact dynamic we saw in Katrina. Poor black neighborhoods were destroyed. And often never rebuilt. While wealthier white communities had far less damage, and were repaired/rebuilt much, much quicker.

A lot of those people who are too stubborn to leave? They don’t have another option. The other group are often too well off to care much if their house floats away.

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But you seem to be willfully ignoring the fact that I was not talking about those people.
Many poor know exactly what their situation is, and I don’t understand why you are trying to make it sound like I am targeting them instead of the other group. I NEVER claimed they deserved it.

I’m confused that multiple people in this thread don’t seem to realize that these aren’t just like, houseboats, they have sunken extending pylons that raise and lower as the house raises and lowers, not just like ‘I’ll sail away on the next tide’. It seems like a combination of flexible stilts and flotation and is a reasonably clever hybrid solution based on existing tech.

On the other hand, I totally agree with @hungryjoe when he says that retrofitting is a pipe dream. This sort of work for any reasonably sized house is going to be extensive and require some large engineering reviews to ensure your house doesn’t just crack in half first time it goes up. The other immediate thing I thought of was water/sewer/gas/electrical; I don’t think it’s COMPLETELY unreasonable to have extensible systems for those (flexible hose exists for gas, you could coil/spring up electrical cables), but sewer immediately struck me as ‘oh that’s never gonna work’. I could see a system wherein you have a quick disconnect or something like that wherein the flotation systems can safely disconnect from utilities and then be reconnected manually.

I suppose even wrecked mains is better than a wrecked house, though.


“between ten and forty dollars a square foot.”

So, $10,000 to $40.000 for a modest 1,000 sq ft. home. Does this include modifying the electrical, gas, water and sewer connections so they don’t just snap off or short out or spew raw poop into the water?

I’ll just check the seat cushions for the spare change. However I was under the impression New Orleans was more than a bit poor in many if not most flood prone areas.


And there’s all that’s wrong with the “design establishment”, that they live in a zero reality zone. I was kicked out of design school for making things that actually worked, rather than fantasy bullshit. I was outraged seeing in ID Magazine an award for a “superconducting electric bike”. WTF???

Here on NY Harbor after Sandy there were all sorts of ridiculous suggestions from “serious people” for solving the flooding problem. One “serious group” suggested building islands and marshes in the middle of the harbor, apparently never actually looking at a depth chart to see it’s 50’ deep there and an economically important shipping channel.

Another perennial stupid suggestion is a footbridge over the Hudson from Jersey City. There’s no convincing some people it would be cheaper to helicopter foot and cycle commuters. Not to mention it’s lack of structural integrity as drawn and it’s not high enough nor wide enough between piers for shipping. Cruise ships pass there! The fact that anyone would put this kind of work into an idea while not understanding the externalities is mind boggling. Same with the OP article.