Commercial properties are at an ever-increasing risk of being damaged in wet weather events, and it’s not just coastal states that are at risk. As the Washington Post highlights in their report on increasing risk levels, it is estimated that up to 53% of Americans will see their property at risk of damage due to gale winds by 2053. Hurricanes, storms and floods are creeping ever closer inland, essentially, and right now there doesn’t appear to be the preparation in place to address that fact.
The cost of storm damage is significant. From 1980 to 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that over $2.1 trillion in inflation-adjusted damages were inflicted on the contiguous USA due to these extreme weather events. That’s bigger than the GDP of all but 7 countries. While wider change is needed to help create a real sense of resilience across the entire country, there are steps that individual business owners can take to minimize storm risk to their property – and indeed, should.
The Balance of Nature
It’s important to look at just how your property works in its current state, and what risk factors are present that can contribute to potential storm damage. A good place to start is on the ground itself, and with the solid and natural surfaces that surround and frame your property. Nature can have a positive impact on the storm resilience of a property:
- Grass and soil act as a natural runoff for water, preventing it from pooling.
- Trees and plants in general will soak up water, and moist ground will accept and divert stormwaters quicker than dry.
- Complex root and soil systems make the ground sturdier, keeping properties and larger plants (such as trees) securely rooted.
However, nature can also have a detrimental impact, too:
- Tree roots can disrupt and break up solid substrates, changing how water runoff operates.
- Lawns can become waterlogged if the substrate root system is particularly strong.
- Stormwaters can cause environmental damage if there are fertilizers and such in the soil, including algal bloom.
There’s a lot to look at, then, when considering how the natural landscapes of the property will impact on the response to storm waters. An interesting place to look at is trees. They arguably have the biggest potential to impact on the survival of a property after a wet weather event.
Making Trees Work
Trees are some of the most well-known victims of storm action. Their tall stature protects the ground but also puts them in the way of a battering. According to NC State, millions have been felled by storms in recent years. Deep roots are essential to staying standing when storms reach high wind speeds – when close to the surface, they can easily topple over, and this is a huge risk to properties. It can be helpful to spade in trees and have them installed by professionals to that end. Maintenance is crucial, too. Trees with untreated fungal infections are likely to be weaker inside and more likely to fall, and will also do a worse job of protecting against flood waters. What you want is a well-tended and pruned tree, with a deep root system.
Conversely, trees that have been allowed to grow too broad, rather than deep, can start to create cracks in substrates. This can cause trouble for the business as those cracks will let floodwater in and direct it in locations that will ultimately be unhelpful to property resilience; for instance into the foundations or basement rooms. Conducting regular root checks and ensuring the tree doesn’t grow too tall (root systems typically double the height of the tree) is essential.
A well-maintained lawn and beds are an excellent way to promote the quality of a business and create a natural reservoir and storm barrier to help direct and use floodwaters. However, according to The Farming House, repeated rainy seasons without drainage, or a prolonged storm, will cause the lawn to grow lawn algae. This will damage the grass and also impact its ability to drain in the future. Ensuring that the lawn can drain properly, and undertaking lawn care to promote that mission, will help both the look of the business and its value as a method for controlling flood events.
The Building Itself
All of this planning around the building is conducive to the preparation of the building itself. Within that, there are a number of naturally impacted areas in which preparation is crucial to avoid long-term harm. Some of these areas of the property are fairly predictable, but others are less obvious. They include:
- Guttering – are they clogged with natural debris, and are they protected from plant life and shedding?
- Are storm drains and vents properly unobstructed, and is water already able to flow readily through the right channels?
- Is hardscaping around the property secured, and does it prevent water pooling?
One of the most important factors in the property is the gutter. It’s not as simple as putting a cover over the gutter; it is essential that it still is able to run water through itself while preventing leaf buildup. Some covers essentially force water to splash off the top of the gutter and away, which can either lead to water buildup outside of drains or the property becoming waterlogged.
According to gutter manufacturers K-Guard, there are solutions. Using gutter guards that combine a bit of rainwater flow by having a thin inlet, and then protecting against debris buildup by having a solid guard, is the way forward. This will ensure proper water flow, and also reduce overheads for gutter cleaning.
The longer-term view is to have trees and bushes properly pruned at regular intervals throughout the year. This prevents larger debris, such as branches, from becoming lodged in gutters. Furthermore, if there is a storm event, branches and other large pieces of the tree are unlikely to dislodge and cause direct damage to the roof if they’ve been pruned back well ahead of time. This also reduces the amount of debris available for mosses and other smaller plant life to build up on the roof, which can impact integrity.
Storm Drain Obstruction
Storm drains are an essential part of the resilience picture, and are expensive and important projects. According to CBS, Minneapolis is to receive a new $60 million commercial-residential storm drain project to ensure resilience within the city, showing the importance of such infrastructure. A blocked storm drain can lead to rapid and damaging flooding which will destroy the natural landscape of a business and impact the foundation of the building itself. To tackle this, regular maintenance on the drain is essential. Look out for roots intruding into the system of the drain. Remove leaf buildup and, as with the roof, look to maintain and prune plants that intercede with the entrance of the vent.
The impact of hardscaping
Hardscaping is an interesting question in the world of storm preparedness. On one hand, it can create direct drainage options that effectively funnel off water. On the other hand, it can create significant problems at a large scale (as New Orleans’ failed levee showed), and even at a smaller scale, consistent damage through poor design. According to Reuters, poor-quality hardscaping has caused excess damages totaling the hundreds of millions in Oklahoma communities impacted by tornadoes.
The other factor in hardscaping is commercial, of course – it can impart a professional look to the business. The aura that the business wants to give off is imparted by good-quality hardscaping, and it frames the natural areas of the business in a way that can’t be underestimated. As such, it’s important to strike a balance between utility and aesthetic design.
These factors certainly can dovetail and one simple way to achieve that is through heavy hardscaping. That is as simple as it sounds. Using dense, heavy materials in the hardscape, and focusing on a cohesive landscape that can’t be easily moved, is the trick. Use heavy rock, or metals such as iron. Use deep foundations – they can combine with the roots of trees and root systems to entangle and create a real solidity. Shy away from concrete on the surface – it can be impacted by weather, and is more flexible than perhaps it indicates.
Future-proofed storm drainage
For business owners who operate in high-risk zones, it may be worth looking into even more in depth and innovative stormwater management methods. As a roundup of stormwater management methods published by Michigan State University, a few key innovations and principles were highlighted. These include:
- The use of composite substrates, including mulch and wood chips mixed with gravel.
- The use of stepping stones and other porous rocks on the natural course of the floodwater.
- The use of rock infiltration pits to capture and filter waters.
The power of mulch
Mulching is already a great way to improve the external look of a property. It ‘finishes off’ natural areas, and provides valuable fuel for plants to spring up from in the future. It can also promote groundwater runoff as it prevents the growth of certain troublesome weeds and is a permeable layer.
A rock infiltration pit
An attractive and simple way to manage groundwater comes through rock infiltration pits. Fairly straightforward to establish, these require property owners to dig at least 10 meters downhill from the property, and fill it with smaller stones and a layer of larger rocks. These then collect water and disperse it evenly into the surrounding soils. This is a fantastic way of moderating stormwater, and in severe situations also provides natural channels.
There are interesting ways to innovate on this, too. According to the American Natural History Museum, it’s normal to look at sandstones to create that porous function. Consider, however, other rocks, including granite and dolomite. While not typically thought of as porous, they can provide the same level of capture in this situation that’s necessary to provide protection, and they can have a superior look depending on the wider design of your business and its outside landscaping. One important note is that these infiltration pits can become clogged with sediment over time, which will impede their ability to capture water. Bringing the substrate up every now and then will ensure that you keep the area working optimally and prevent issues occurring.
Preparedness is key as storms start to become more and more common, even outside of the states that typically bear the brunt of their summer wrath. As these weather systems creep up the contiguous states and start to impact new communities, that preparedness will pay off. Most businesses can build resilience by simply looking at where they can improve in cleanliness. Removing detritus, keeping plants in good order – pruned and tidy – and considering the impact of the natural landscape is important. Going the further step, and looking at how the physical layout of the property will impact storms is an important further principle.
For those property owners who want to build real strength against storms and want to pursue wider thoughtfulness in combating floodwater (given that it has to be a community-wide effort to really stem the tide), there are options. Rock infiltration pits and valleys provide the bulk of that, as does hardscaping that contributes to runoff rather than creating natural pools. In everything, quality is key, both in materials and presentation, and that in turn will improve the visual standing and wider reputation of the business.