January 17, 2023 — The search for a safe place to retire is challenging, as the community of Rio Verde Hills just found out. Up until recently, it received its water from neighboring Scottsdale. But due to concerns that it wouldn’t have enough water for its own residents, Scottsdale cut off the water it was supplying to Rio Verde Hills on Dec. 31. Residents there are understandably upset, as they now have to pay for water to be trucked in from increasingly farther away. Not only are water bills escalating fast, but residents are concerned about their ability to keep animals, along with having to reduce all but the most essential water use.
Is any place to retire safe?
The Rio Verde story makes it even clear that almost every area of the country faces serious climate and environmental risks. While Florida residents have plenty to worry about with coastal flooding and hurricanes, water shortages and wildfires are equally dire threats in the American West. The Midwest faces extreme weather like tornadoes, the West has earthquakes, and the Midwest and Northeast have ice and snow storms, not to mention flooding. Almost everywhere is experiencing record high temperatures and weather extremes. If that wasn’t enough, other areas of the country have sinkholes and volcanoes. It seems like nowhere is safe!
Not many safe harbors
The truth is that almost every area of the country is exposed to weather problems and natural disasters – there is no truly safe place and very few ideal regions. A search through any newspaper or weather website can provide plenty of evidence for that – it seems like there is a new climate driven disaster every day in some part of the world.
Is there anywhere that is safe to retire?
Unless you decide to retire on one of the very few places in the world that are generally safe from natural disasters, you have to choose carefully among those that are less prone to them. Fortunately there are some practical steps you can take to minimize the dangers. We hope that our Members will be able to suggest others too.
– Check out the local water supply. Search online for water problems in the area you are considering for retirement. It is not just the West that has problems either, many cities have old pipes (Jackson, MS and Flint, MI) or other problems with a safe water supply.
– Move to one of the States with the history of the fewest natural disasters. Those include much of Washington, Oregon, and upstate New York and Michigan, among others. But even they have problems: wildfires, earthquakes, and blizzards to name a few.
– Get an insurance quote. Insurance companies know where the most unsafe places to live are. Find out how much you would have to pay if you live there – that alone will help you decide.
– Check out building codes and how/when your home was built. Building codes vary by state and city. Typically the newer your home the more advanced techniques that are incorporated in it – like roofs that are tied down, extra bracing in the framing, attachment to the foundation, etc. When your home was built is significant, as is the reputation of the builder (as it very hard for a lay person to assess how it was actually constructed).
– Safer building materials and techniques. There are a number of things you can do to make your home stronger and more resistant to danger. If you live in an area with wildfires, choose concrete roofing tiles and siding. Get hurricane resistant windows or storm shutters – if a window is blown out by debris or wind your house can literally blow up in a hurricane. When buying a new home it is a lot easier to specify these features before it is finished, but retrofitting is always possible too.
– Move to an area with strict development rules. The State of Florida is among many jurisdictions that have eased restrictions on developers in recent years, e.g.; allowing them to build in more dangerous areas, fill in wetlands, and cover natural surfaces with impervious materials. The unexpectedly high flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey is a good example of what happens when authorities allow unchecked development. When considering an area to move to, explore what development controls there are to protect you.
– Stay away from coastal and other areas prone to flooding. FEMA has maps that rate the flooding risk just about everywhere in the country. Stay away from problem areas – way too many places are experiencing 100 year floods.
– Get high! High above the ground, that is. Even if the building code specifies a certain height for new construction, we are now seeing bigger and bigger storms. The standard used to be 12? above sea level, now it is higher. Go high if building a home from scratch. When buying an existing home, its height above potential flood levels is one of the most important things of all to consider.
– Check out the area’s history of natural disasters. Fault lines, flooding, forest fires – these are all big problems. It is like marrying a partner with a history – be careful, some things can’t be changed!
For further reading:
Worst Places to Retire for Weather (55 comments!)