When purchasing a new home, construction, size, aesthetics, and price are all worthy considerations. But there’s another factor that’s becoming increasingly important: What are the local risks from climate change? If the location where you’re moving is drought-prone, the availability of water needs to be a critical consideration when buying a home.
Water is the foundation of all life on Earth, yet many of us take it for granted until it is in short supply. In areas stricken by severe drought, there are insufficient water resources to support the population, especially if that involves watering the lawn, washing the car, and taking long showers. Despite water covering 70% of the earth’s surface, only 3% is suitable for drinking.
Growing Risk of Drought
Although Americans might associate the Southwest U.S. with limited water resources, severe drought can impact many other parts of the globe. Many cities around the world recently experienced severe drought, including London, England; Cape Town, South Africa; Beijing, China; Santiago, Chile; and Sao Paolo, Brazil. Those living in drought-stricken areas are exposed to numerous health risks, including shortages of drinking water, low water quality, and air pollution.
“A city can’t live without water,” said Claudio Orrego governor of the Santiago Metropolitan Region of Chile, as reported by The Independent. “And we’re in an unprecedented situation in Santiago’s 491-year history where we have to prepare for there to not be enough water for everyone who lives here.”
What Causes Droughts?
Drought is when abnormally dry weather creates a water shortage and is the culmination of many factors. Climate change is creating more severe weather, such as hot, dry summers that can increase risk of drought in many areas. Deforestation inhibits the soil’s ability to retain moisture, drying out the ground and contributing to desertification.
Other human activities have disrupted surface water supplies, making the impacts of drought more severe because there is less water available. Crop irrigation drains aquifers and the dams we build reduce water flow to downstream communities. Also, a growing population in many cities increases the strain on limited resources.
Considering a House in a Drought Zone?
Before purchasing real estate, it’s essential to know the climate risks to make an informed decision. SafeHome.org created a climate change risk index that ranked various states by different climate risks. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts ranked among states with the lowest overall risk, while Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana were among the the highest at risk overall.
Among states most at risk of an increase in summer drought, Washington, Michigan, and Utah ranked among the highest percentage increases, while Kansas, Georgia, and Illinois ranked among the lowest percentage increases. When purchasing a home, it’s essential to know where your water would come from and if there are emergency resources.
Unlike areas prone to other types of natural disasters, like flooding, droughts don’t necessarily decrease property values. However, droughts can contribute to wildfires, which can cause severe destruction.
Unfortunately, drought can strain water supplies, which impacts daily life. Areas in severe drought may declare a water shortage emergency. There may be orders to cut back on water use and limits on irrigating gardens. Often, there are fines for those who break the rules. Also, because water powers hydroelectric dams, droughts can cause energy shortages.
The North American Drought Monitor is an excellent source of information for drought conditions. It rates drought intensity from abnormally dry to exceptional droughts. Currently in the U.S., the southeastern High Plans and parts of the western South are experiencing severe to exceptional drought, while the Midwest and Northeast are largely unaffected.
How To Prepare If You Live in a Drought-Prone Area
There are many actions you can take to mitigate the impacts of water shortages on your household and conserve this precious resource. Areas with little water often have higher water rates, so these tips can help save money. If possible, make these water-saving upgrades before you move in so you can start experiencing the benefits right away.
Look for Water Leaks
Leaks can waste thousands of gallons of water annually and cause mold growth and property damage. Check all plumbing fixtures for leaks and ensure the toilet doesn’t run between flushes. Another approach is to check the water meter reading, not use any water for half an hour, and then recheck it. If the reading goes up, you know there is a leak.
Install Water-Saving Plumbing Fixtures
This simple action also saves on energy bills for fixtures that use hot water. Review the plumbing fixtures in your home to identify which ones use more water than necessary. If your home has an older toilet, it can easily use several gallons more per flush than a new, water-efficient toilet. A water-saving showerhead saves both water and energy from water heating, as do aerators on sink faucets (look for 1.5 GPM or lower).
Create a Drought-Resistant Landscape
Often, native plants are more resistant to droughts once they are established. If you live in an area with very limited water, consider lawn alternatives and avoid growing thirsty plants. In some areas stricken by drought, residents are only allowed to water their gardens once a week.
Purchasing a new home is a big commitment, and it is wise to consider environmental factors when making your decision. Indeed, living in an area that rations water will impact daily life, but by planning ahead, you can be prepared. While anticipating droughts can be difficult, there are areas of the country experiencing prolonged severe drought, and that’s likely to continue.
Originally published on June 8, 2022, this article was updated in May 2023.