Northeast Portland Neighborhoods

Linda Wall uses passive survivability to prepare Grant Park house for ‘the big one’

Information provided by Apropos Architecture

The Pacific Northwest is overdue for a major earthquake. When disaster strikes, utility systems will fail, stores will run out of supplies, emergency services will be stretched thin, and basic life necessities will be scarce. “Passive Survivability” describes a building’s ability to maintain critical life-support conditions when services are lost. The basic criteria for passive survivability are:

Shelter – Buildings stay intact during and after the disaster.
Water – Four gallons/day/person required for survival mode.
Sewage – A sanitary means of containing and disposing of human waste.
Food – Enough food to maintain life, with a means to cook it.
Comfort – People are warm and dry.
Power – Minimal electrical power enables many of the basic elements of survivability.
Defense – Protect windows and doors.

Apropos Architecture, LLC, is a neighborhood architectural firm that specializes in sustainable renovations of historic properties. Linda Wall, founder of Apropos, has long advocated passive survivability.

“Sustainable design allows us to survive disaster and live comfortably and affordably every day,” said Wall. “Especially when renovating or planning a new building, it just makes sense to ensure survivability as a first priority.”

Wall described the ongoing plan for achieving passive survivability in her own family’s Grant Park house, originally constructed in 1921 and already extensively renovated, included these aspects:

1. Shelter: “When we finished the basement, we stabilized the foundation,” Wall said. “Sill plates were epoxy-bolted to the foundation, framing was braced with steel angles and bolts, and plywood shear panels were screwed to corners. When the roof is replaced, it will be secured to the wall with tie-down straps.”

2. Water: “For a 4-person household and a 30-day disaster, 480 gallons of water storage is required,” Wall said. “Ideally, reservoirs for grey water and harvested rainwater, and a potable rainwater storage system, would be installed in the basement. Since our basement is finished, I am designing an aesthetic rainwater capture and storage system, with a filtered, treated potable rainwater system in the utility room.”

3. Sewage: “A composting toilet is ideal, but we don’t have any place to put it,” Wall said. “If enough rainwater is available and the sewage system remains intact, we can carry water to the toilets for flushing once or twice a day. We will probably buy a camping toilet, too, with plastic bags for waste collection.”

4. Food: “Our landscape is gradually incorporating vegetables among the existing ornamentals,” Wall added. “Emergency food is being stored in a spare room, but a root cellar would be optimal. The fireplace and/or fire pit will be used for emergency cooking.”

5. Comfort: “A ‘super-insulated’ building envelope (R-60 roof, R-40 walls, R-20 foundation walls, and R-10 floor) is ideal, but hard to achieve in an existing historic building,” Wall said. “We had cellulose insulation blown into the exterior walls, and the finished basement’s exterior walls and floor are insulated. When the roof is replaced, rigid insulation and a solar water heater will be installed. The new roof will be reflective. The wood-burning fireplace will provide a source of heat. If/when we install a photovoltaic power-generating system, and if natural gas lines remain intact, we will run the gas water heater and hydronic heating system controls with emergency power.

6. Power: “Although our roof has southern exposure, a chimney and mature trees shade it, compromising the effectiveness of a photovoltaic (‘PV’) system. Microinverters might be practical, so each panel produces power independent from the others,” Wall said. “If so, we will install a PV system sized to power a refrigerator, a few lights, a few fans, a radio, the water heater and heating system controls and pumps, and maybe an electric vehicle charger.”

7. Defense: “We might install operable shutters over the most vulnerable openings,” Wall said.

For an analysis of your property’s survivability, contact Apropos at moc.q1414831479@sopo1414831479rpa1414831479, (503) 998-5715 or

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