Disaster Relief Housing

Shelter needs after natural disasters come in three phases:

1. Immediate shelter: normally supplied by tarpaulins or light tents
2. Transition shelter: may be heavy-duty tents or more robust medium-term shelters.
3. Permanent buildings: Ultimately permanent shelters need to be constructed when the local economy recovers.

Immediate and transition shelters are typically supplied by aid agencies. Light wood frame is ideal for rapid provision of medium- to long-term shelter after natural disasters. However, there are challenges in certain climates for wood frame construction that must be addressed in order to sustainably and responsibly build them. For example, many of the regions which experience hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis also have severe decay and termite hazards including aggressive Coptotermes species and drywood termites. In extreme northern climates, high occupancy loads are common and when combined with the need for substantial thermal insulation to ensure comfortable indoor temperatures, can result in condensation and mould growth if wall and roof systems are not carefully designed.

The desire of aid organizations to maximize the number of shelters delivered tends to drive down the allowable cost dictating simplified designs with fewer moisture management features. It may also be difficult to control the quality of construction in some regions. Once built, “temporary” structures are commonly used for much longer than their design life. Occupier improvements over the longer term can potentially increase moisture and termite problems. All of these factors mean that the wood used needs to be durable.

One method of achieving more durable wood products is by treating the wood to prevent decay and insect/termite attack. However, commonly available preservative treated wood in Canada may not be suitable for use in other countries. Selection of the preservative and treatment process must take into account the regulations in both the exporting and receiving countries, including consideration of the potential for human contact with the preserved wood, where the product will be within the building design, the treatability of wood species, and the local decay and termite hazard. Simple design features, such as ensuring wood does not come into contact with the ground and is protected from rain, can reduce moisture and termite problems.

Building with concrete and steel does not eliminate termite problems. Termites will happily forage in a concrete or masonry block buildings looking for wood components, furniture, cupboards, and other cellulosic materials, such as the paper on drywall, cardboard boxes, books etc. Mud tubes running 10ft over concrete foundations to reach cellulosic building materials have been documented. Indeed, termites have caused major economic damage to cellulosic building materials even in concrete and steel high-rises in Florida and in southern China.

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