Natural Disasters

our climate is changing. why aren’t our homes? | by amanda southworth | Feb, 2024

While building my tiny house, I did an absolutely obsessive amount of research on materials, prices, and more. I took Internachi’s home inspector course to learn how to build better, and did everything I could to maximize my tiny house’s energy efficiency, resilience, and more.

I wrote in “the brutalization of becoming”, about how my dreams got crushed in the Bay Area and flattened me like a dropped egg roll on the side of the 5. What I didn’t publicly share was that I was, at that point, pretty much leaving the tech industry. I was absolutely done, did not have the stomach for it, and didn’t really feel tangibly as though my skills working on software for social good were tangibly turning into social good.

Here’s why I didn’t leave.

After I gave up on my tech industry ambitions, signed up to be a Data Entry specialist for Multnomah County’s Joint Office Of Homelessness to keep the lights on, and started the process of financial aid to become an EMT, I saw a post on r/wildfires.

In our call, Valkyrie told me the insane fact that we could actually protect homes from wildfires. After living in the SoCal mountains for my childhood, and then Oregon for a bit in adulthood, I heard A LOT about wildfires but not anything that we could actually do to prevent them from being worse than they already were.

The concepts of defensible space and home hardening were game changing to me. Defensible space is removing things that fire would consider to be fuel around your home, so that wildfire is less likely to spread to you. Home hardening is upgrading the materials outside and around your house to make it un-ignitable. The two combined create homes that are less likely to catch on fire, and spread wildfires as a whole.

Given the context of knowing the weaknesses of materials from my home inspection stuff, I began to see the world in an entirely new light.

After our call, I remember driving through neighborhoods and looking at houses. Similar to what fire sees, I tracked paths to flammability with my eyes. I saw how, after meeting her and learning about the state of the average American home, it became abundantly obvious that our homes are not prepared for climate change, in any sense of the word.

Because of that, not only did I join as the CTO, but we (me, Valkyrie, her boyfriend, and my 2 cats and one fish) all packed up our shit and lived in Oakland for the summer last year, and I’m part time commuting to NY for the foreseeable future for us to work on this. We spent most of our summer spending every day talking to fire officials, homeowners, government agencies, insurance companies, and anyone else who had anything they wanted to say.

It became increasingly clear they saw what I did: a world saturated with risk that we couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

While in Oregon, we faced a heatwave that killed a small number of people, because our homes had never been built with air conditioners. There was a very tangible wave that washed over me, of “our housing is not ready”.

Insurance companies know that our homes aren’t ready. That’s why they’re pulling out of markets and blanket uninsuring people.

When we did product research while in Oakland, we found people who knew they were in harm’s way, but had NO idea what they could do about it. Everywhere we went, homeowners said a version of “I vaguely know my risk but I don’t know what I can do about it”.

Often, when insurance companies issue a ‘no’, there isn’t concrete reasons or steps the homeowners can take to reduce that risk. Starting that research from scratch takes HOURS just to understand what needs to happen, let alone searching for grants, how to tackle the projects, or anything else.

Eventually, XPrize’s head of wildfire took our beta wildfire assessment on her home and failed.

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