Make your home a houseboat

These are no ordinary houseboats, they’re the real thing. 

It’s no wonder we’ve moved away from the term ‘global warming’ and have instead come to embrace ‘climate change’ as a better way of describing what’s going on with the weather. 

The former implies heat and sunshine, maybe even a coconut tree on O’Connell Street or vines instead of apple orchards in Armagh! 

The latter is much more to the point: we’re getting more of what we don’t want, which in Ireland means heavier rainfall and increased frequency of flash floods. 

Cadranell

IMFS – floatingstructures.com

How are we coping with this new reality? In the case of housing most of the climate change measures introduced to date have focused on prevention rather than dealing with the effects, but that strategy seems to be shifting. 

NI and ROI have ‘adaptation’ strategies in place, which they’ve recently made statutory. Hopefully that should mean more resources spent on a line of defence. We may need it as it seems, according to the ROI Environmental Protection Agency, we won’t be meeting our climate mitigation targets for 2020. But what if, instead of fighting the water, we embraced it? 

Rising sea levels putting cities at risk
While there hasn’t been much work done on living on water in Ireland, bar the occasional houseboat, other coastal countries have been exploring how to build homes on water and in areas that are, or will be, prone to flooding.

This movement has in most quarters been dubbed ‘aquatecture’ and goes one step further than the houseboat in that real homes are built – the difference is just that they float on water. 

Other buildings and even entire communities are now also starting to spring out of water. Some argue these structures should be mobile and be repositioned as the community’s, or even city’s, requirements change. 

Jostrom-1

IMFS – floatingstructures.com

Not surprisingly the Netherlands has in large part been driving this trend due to necessity, with their cities having been built below water level, relying on engineered defences to keep floods at bay. Floating structures have also been mooted as a solution for those countries which have built high density housing on riverbanks and other flood prone areas. 

How to float your house
The main difference between a grounded house and a floating one is obvious – the foundations. While both types are generally made of the same material – concrete – the waterborne version is of a specialised waterproof mix, with steel reinforcement, and shaped as a casing that contains rigid insulation to allow water to enter and give the house buoyancy. 

Instead of concrete, other floating house manufacturers use high-tech composite materials that are commonly found in aerospace and civil engineering applications, as well as in luxury yachts. 

Strobl-1

IMFS – floatingstructures.com

On water, the overall weight of the house is critical, as anyone standing in a boat will have noticed! Calculations are therefore also made to take into account appliances and other heavy items in the home, and oftentimes ballasts tanks are incorporated in the four corners of the structure so as to be able to add/remove them in case a side is floating a bit too high or low.

As a result, these houses are not kits: each one has specific design and engineering requirements. But it is possible to self-build by buying the foundations only and building your own house on top. 

Canadian company International Marine Floating Systems (IMFS) offers this option and they say clients can then either build their house in the IMFS yard by renting out space or build the house on water directly. It takes IMFS four to six months to build, off-site, the turnkey houses they sell.  

Balance-deau-Uitzicht-Pilot-waterwoning

Balance d’Eau www.balancedeau.nl

And in case you’re wondering, services are easily connected to the houses so you can get all of the modern conveniences a regular home has to offer.

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About Astrid Madsen

Astrid Madsen is the editor of SelfBuild & Improve Your Home magazine. She previously held the same role in an Irish trade publication, before that she worked at the National Standards Authority of Ireland. She graduated with a BA in Urban Studies from Columbia University in New York and holds an MBA from the Instituto de Estudios Bursatiles in Madrid. France of origin, she now lives in Portarlington, County Laois, where she's taken on the task of renovating a listed building! Email astrid.madsen@selfbuild.ie

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