When Disaster Strikes, Better Building Pays Off

Building stronger, safer structures is not just good for your customers— it’s also more cost-effective in the long run.


A recent UC-Boulder study found that for every dollar spent on fortification for fires, floods, earthquakes, and hurricane winds, $6 were saved in property damage, human healthcare costs, and business interruption costs.


“This study shows it pays to build new buildings better and to fix existing ones, and everybody wins when we do so,” said Keith Porter, an engineering professor at UC-Boulder who authored the study. “We wanted to find out what would happen if the goal of codes were to protect human life and to have the most resilient building stock possible that still makes economic sense.”


Of course, the appeal of spending upfront to avoid greater costs down the line depends on who’s footing the bill. The study focused on government spending. Nevertheless, there are lessons for private builders, engineers, and contractors.


Private builders are in an influential position: by spending as little as $3.6 billion, as an industry, in the next year, they could save $15.5 billion in the future. The potential for payoff is particularly high in disaster-prone areas like California, where investing in exceeding code requirements can reap as much as eight times the initial investment. Of course, for many cash-strapped builders operating on slim margins, it may be hard to commit to short-term costs for long-term gain.


However, the benefits of better building don’t just extend to costs. Thoughtful investment can also save lives. 600 lives, to be exact, over the next 75 years, as well as over 1 million injuries. That’s the kind of math that adds up.