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Shannon and Hans Gartner's cottage on an island in Fitzroy Harbour flooded in 2019. The building flooded in 2017 and 2019.Shannon and Hans Gartner/Handout

For years, Hans Gartner was tired of scraping the mud off the floor of his cottage.

In 2017 and 2019, his dwelling on Kedey’s Island in Fitzroy Harbour, Ont. flooded, leaving him to clean, disinfect and dry out what was left of it. And despite all the trouble it took him to redo it each spring, he couldn’t afford what he thought was the only alternative: a concrete foundation.

“In the flood of 2017, I raised the cottage myself by four inches and put in a new floor in the kitchen,” Mr. Gartner said. “So we were devastated in 2019, when the water level came even higher.”

He found a solution, however, after he saw a TV segment about Multipoint Foundations, located just 15-minutes away from Fitzroy Harbour. the Arnprior-based company specializes in foundations made of interlocking steel or aluminum frames that support structures and allow water to run below them with minimal degradation. The foundation can also adjust to movement in the ground beneath it, making it suitable for buildings situated atop permafrost.

Mr. Gartner’s cottage now sits atop a multipolar foundation to effectively deal with flooding. He said the cost – at around $30-35 per square foot for a single-story house – was less than half what concrete would have been, while the labour was about half.

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The Gartner cottage after it was reinforced with steel interlocking foundations which are adaptable to flooding and melting permafrost. By raising a building onto this foundation, it allows water to run beneath it freely and for the ground below it to move as the foundation adjusts.Shannon and Hans Gartner/Handout

Across Canada, building techniques and infrastructure that are resilient and adaptive to climate change are becoming recognized as increasingly important. Recent floods at the Red River in Manitoba, the Ottawa River in Ontario and the Fraser River in British Columbia, and increased temperatures in Northern Canada, have exposed weaknesses in the country’s existing infrastructure.

“Canada’s buildings and public infrastructure systems … are guided by codes and standards that have largely been developed based on historical climate data,” according to the federal government’s Climate-Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure Initiative.

“In many cases, this has resulted in assets that have not been designed to withstand the extreme weather events we are currently experiencing, let alone the enduring impacts of climate change.”

Peter Chabursky, business development manager for Multipoint Foundations, described the multi-point foundation as an “adjustable engineered steel foundation system that sits on grade.” For a basic house, he said the foundation can be put together in a single day, often by the homeowners themselves, if the site is already prepared. A bigger, multi-storey building or a retrofit to a pre-existing building would take a few more days and may require a construction supervisor on site.

Currently, Mr. Chabursky said the multi-point foundation has three main uses: buildings in Northern Canada that are vulnerable to thawing permafrost; social housing buildings on top of brownfields; and buildings in flood zones, such as Mr. Gartner’s cottage.

In the Northwest Territories, the Délı̨nę community’s daycare centre and the Tłı̨chǫ Nation’s government office building sits atop a multipoint foundation, as does Vancouver’s first temporary modular housing.

Al Douglas, president of the Climate Risk Institute, said climate-resilient infrastructure will need to play a major role internationally in supporting the world’s growing population. However, he added that there needs to be more green or natural infrastructure that has the ability to simultaneously absorb water, sequester carbon and support biodiversity.

“When we build cities, we harden the surfaces, and there’s nowhere for water to go,” Mr. Douglas said. “So we’re trying to re-engineer and implement these green infrastructure solutions to help accommodate larger amounts of water and try to prevent flooding.”

Increased public awareness of climate-resilient infrastructure could mean that more homeowners like Mr. Gartner will turn to new approaches for retrofitting their homes. Living by a river has brought him and his wife, Shannon Gartner, face to face with climate change, she said – and without their new foundation, the future of their cottage would be more uncertain.

“We now have a cottage we can sell. It’s got a waterproofing permit and it’s got value,” Mr. Gartner said.

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