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Amphibious houses are buildings that rise and fall when the level of groundwater as the areas surrounding them are flooded. In the UK, flooding is a major concern for authorities as one in six properties in England are at risk of flooding from rivers, sea and surface water, with many others susceptible to various sources of flooding, according to The Flood Hub.
Amphibious houses, which are seen by many as a solution to living in a flood-prone region, look just like regular houses.
However, they are built on a displacement unit which is made on top of waterproof concrete, that becomes buoyant as the flood comes in.
The house is fixed in a dock with four columns that prevents it from floating away with the flood, ensuring that it only moves up and down.
These kinds of houses are found in some parts of the US and in the Netherlands, where one town includes 46 semi-detached houses that can rise up to five metres during floods.
In the UK, BACA Architects have already created amphibious houses along the river Thames, about ten metres from the waterfront.
They designed their first amphibious house on a flood-prone river island near Marlow in Buckinghamshire, which can rise up to 2.5 metres above the ground during a flood.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, the founder, Richard Coutts, said: “The amphibious houses sit within what we call a ‘wet dock’, that can flood with the groundwater from the river.
“At the edges of the wet dock are four columns that are called ‘dolphins’, these are secured to the sides of the wet dock.
“They allow the amphibious houses that sit within it to rise and fall with the flood water.”
Last week, many homes in the UK were hit by Storm Barra, which battered the country with floods and strong gusts.
Speaking about the storm, Mr Coutts said: “Amphibious houses would be resilient against much much stronger. We’re talking about a once in two to three hundred years extreme storm event.
“This is a design solution that is resilient and adaptable to climate change and is fit for the challenges of the next century.”
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Aside from designing homes, Mr Coutts has also campaigned for the need for resilience measures within the UK building regulations.
He said: “At the moment there is resistance to having basic flood resilience measures adopted within UK building regulations.
“The Government argues that housebuilders are calling for deregulation in order to build more affordable homes.
“We agree with that, but many houses are built in areas that are susceptible to flooding, or will soon become more susceptible to flooding over the next century.
“If your house is located in one of those flood zones, and it was a new build, we argue that at the very least it should have some basic flood resilience measures.
“These would only add an additional 5-10% to the price of the building, but given that the insurance claims are in the order of £22,000 per dwelling, this would be a very proactive intervention by the Government and save many homes.”
Fortunately for people who already own homes in flood-prone areas, it is possible to turn an existing home into an amphibious one.
The Buoyant Foundation Project worked alongside local experts and community members in Vietnam to retrofit four houses in the Mekong Delta region and make them amphibious.
Similar endeavours are also taking place in Canada, Jamaica and the US.
However, not everyone is a fan of amphibious houses.
Edward Bouet of Unda Consulting, who are UK flood risk experts, is sceptical of floating houses.
He said: “I do not believe that amphibious homes excuse the construction of new residential properties in areas of high flood risk, or an otherwise inappropriate location.
“The principal aim of flood risk planning policy is to direct new residential development to areas of low flood risk – this should remain.
“However, amphibious homes do have the potential to allow construction of ‘safe’ replacement dwellings in areas where existing properties are a dangerous or unacceptable level of flood risk.
“In addition, amphibious homes are not necessarily suitable for all types of flooding.
“There are significant differences in the nature and duration of tidal (sea) flooding as opposed to fluvial (river) flooding.”
Mr Bouet suggested they be used for the former, but warned their role in the latter could be more problematic as residents could be trapped in their homes for “months at a time”.
“Tidal flooding usual has more predictable maximum flood depths and durations (i.e. a single tidal cycle), whereas fluvial flooding can often have substantial and unpredictable durations.
“For instance, many residential homes on the Somerset Levels in 2014 were flooded for months at a time.
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