Seeing the inequitable way flooding affects people and communities is what inspired inventor Andrew Parker to create the FloodSafe House™. Triggered by sensors, the FloodJack® system automatically raises the entire house 1.5-2.0 meters above ground level, returning it back down when floodwaters recede. People can now return to their homes days – rather than months – after a flood. We’ve been working with Andrew for the last five years and we asked him to share the insights, challenges and technologies that are helping transform flood resilience.
Q: How did the idea for the FloodSafe house come about?
Andrew: Flooding ruins homes and lives. Seeing the devastating effect of floods on people round where I live was my start point. So too was my frustration with the short-term fixes the industry was relying on. I’m a builder and a developer. I’ve seen what happens when, as many developers do, the answer to flood risk is to raise the land you build on. All that achieves is diverting the water towards other people and homes. Dredging local waterways also makes little difference. So I thought, rather than raise the land, why not raise the house instead?
Q: Why did you choose WSP to partner you in developing FloodSafe?
Andrew: There are so many dimensions to getting something like this right, from water engineering to emergency response, building and planning. WSP had all of those disciplines in one place. When I met their water engineer, Simon Gilliland, he just got it. Flooding is complex. There are many different types of flood and Simon was able to translate very technical water engineering into language I could understand and act on. He’s been a real enthusiast and a great fellow traveller on this journey, even introducing me to PhD students at his old university, Liverpool, who we are still working with together. We wouldn’t have got so far so fast without him.
Q: What inspired the mechanism at the heart of your invention?
Andrew: I knew hydraulics weren’t an option as you can’t store the volumes of oil needed in and around housing. My penny-drop moment came watching a documentary on TV about the resupply of North Sea oil rigs. They were using mechanical jacks to raise goods from supply ships hundreds of meters up to the platform. If mechanical jacks could achieve that in the middle of the North Sea, then maybe they were the answer to raising the 35-40 tonnes of an average new-build house safely above floodwaters.
Q: Are those mechanical jacks the little bit of genius in the FloodSafe system?
Andrew: They’re key, and are designed for our use but if there is one bit of genius in the system it is the electrics. Experts told me raising a 40-tonne house would take a 7kw motor. Building regs for residential homes limit motors to a maximum power of 2.2kw. I looked in the market for solutions and then came across a very astute electrical specialist Roger Clayton who focus is in Critical Control Panels, between us and after many unsuccessful attempts we and found a solution that would allow us to raise the whole house using a motor that came in at that limit. My motto for this project has been ‘it must not fail’, otherwise what reassurance would it offer? So we designed all the electronics without sensitive microprocessors or batteries that could drain.