Home Database Adaptation options Floating and amphibious housing
Adaptation option

Floating and amphibious housing

Floating and amphibious houses are built to be situated in a water body and are designed to adapt to rising and falling water levels due to river floods and storm surges. Floating houses are permanently in the water, while amphibious houses are situated above the water and are designed to float when water levels rise. Amphibious homes are usually fastened to flexible mooring posts and rest on concrete foundations. If the water level rises, they can move upwards and float. The fastenings to the mooring posts limit the motion caused by the water. The market for houses of this kind is expanding in highly populated areas where there is a high demand for houses near or on the water. Because floating or amphibious houses adapt to rising water levels, they are very effective in dealing with floods. Living on water can also reduce the negative effects of heat, and may improve the quality of life of residents who like to live on or near water. 

Floating houses have already been built in several countries, like the Netherlands and the UK, and amphibious houses in the Netherlands. The scale can vary from individual houses to neighbourhoods to, theoretically, full-blown floating cities. Examples of floating neighbourhoods are IJburg’s Waterbuurt and Schoonschip, both in Amsterdam (the Netherlands). The latter integrates floating houses with sustainable practices on energy use and generation, water use, waste treatment, heating and cooling and mobility (through community-owned electric cars) as well as promoting a sustainable lifestyle and community life. In addition, the integration of green roofs and the use of thermal exchangers using the water of the canal to regulate indoor temperatures exploit the features of the floating building units to expand the climate resilience of the dwellings. So far, floating and amphibious houses have been most experimented with in inland surface waters, but marine applications are possible, provided that site selection is properly considered to avoid potentially dangerous situations or uncomfortable living conditions due to sea currents, and waves.  

Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details

IPCC categories

Structural and physical: Engineering and built environment options, Structural and physical: Technological options

Stakeholder participation

Involvement of stakeholders across all the stages of the intervention planning is important to mitigate conflicts possibly arising among different users of the water body and reduce concerns about safety issues and possible environmental impacts of floating and amphibious housing. Besides the governmental authorities at the appropriate level (municipalities, water management boards), stakeholders can include citizens, NGOs, service providers, architects, and engineers/contractors. Dependent on the specific local situation, there can be both supporters (e.g., interested future buyers, project developers) and adversaries (e.g., environmental/nature conservation NGOs). Floating neighbourhoods with strong sustainability features tend to attract environmentally-concerned people, and this may be reflected in the rules the community board sets in order to select new inhabitants and hence the overall positive attitude of the dwellers towards environmental and climate issues. 

Success and Limiting Factors

The floating house idea has some clear strong suits that make it a promising solution to tackle floods in water-rich, inland inhabited areas or in suitable coastal areas. It helps reduce the pressure on building land in cities with limited development opportunities and soaring real estate prices: capital cities built on river shores such as London or Amsterdam are witnessing an increasing number of new floating houses projects. In the Netherlands they are particularly popular because they complement the traditional approach of creating land by building dams, and in a country where two thirds of the population live under the sea level, the perspective of having a place of residence able to float has an extra appeal. Floating houses can also appeal to potential dwellers for the romantic allure of living on the water, or for the appeal of proximity to nature. This means that the adaptation potential of floating or amphibious housing can easily combine with other needs or wants of users that are looking for eco-sustainable housing solutions, such as improved quality of life and enhanced connection with nature.  

The impacts of floating houses on water ecosystems need to be further investigated through dedicated environmental monitoring activities. Small variations in concentrations of water quality parameters between open water and under/near floating structures were generally found for small scale floating structures, suggesting negligible impacts of these structures. In fact, the foundations are found to act as a new substrate for the colonisation of biological communities, with possible positive effects for the ecosystem health. The expected impacts largely depend on the scale and number of floating houses in a water body (Lima and Boogaard, 2020). 

Limiting factors include the possible opposition of those viewing floating houses as an obstacle to navigation and in general as an alteration of the main purpose of waterways as transport infrastructure and recreational locations (objections that do not hold for floating houses built in dedicated basins or in marinas). Their hybrid and somewhat undefined legal status, ranging between registered means of transport and real estate, can result in a regulatory uncertainty.  

Another limiting factor is that the design of the floating house, and of its interiors, including the furniture, must be very accurate and definite before the house is actually built, in order to keep the house levelled. Any minor imbalance across the surface of the house must be carefully counterbalanced to avoid tilting as even a minor tilt angle of a half degree at the level of the water surface can result in several centimetres of inclination at the roof, causing significant discomfort at the top floor. Larger angles can even compromise the stability of the whole house (Municipality of Amsterdam, 2012).  

Costs and Benefits

Floating and amphibious housing typically have higher building costs as compared to traditional land based housing, because of the adaptation measures needed for dealing with rising water levels. The building costs depend on the number of houses built, the location, the design and the used materials and techniques. In the case of the floating neighbourhoods in Amsterdam (Ijsburg Waterbuurt) building costs are 10% higher than comparable traditional housing units, while houses in Schoonschip have an average building cost of 3000 Euro/m2, which rises to over 4300 Euro/ m2 when legal expenses and the additional infrastructure needed to connect the house to utilities are accounted for. 

The flood resistant capacity of these houses has a positive effect on their value. The asking price for a floating house recently sold in Amsterdam Noord came with a 1700 euro/m2 premium compared to the prevailing real estate prices in the same area.  

The self-containing infrastructure of a floating neighbourhood needs periodic maintenance. The maintenance of buildings usually is under the responsibility of the owner and its costs must carefully assessed. Access and services (water supply, sewage disposal, power, gas, etc.) may be more expensive than for regular houses.  

Governments and/or local authorities are responsible for the regulatory procedures for these houses. At least, they have to assign the possibility, locations and conditions under which floating and amphibious housing is allowed in their policies and regulations, and generally have to arrange for access and services. This is an option that offers many opportunities for private sector innovations and can be realized in public-private initiatives (collaboration with architecture or project development companies). The main legal issue related to floating houses is the intrinsic ambiguity of its status, somewhere in between a real estate property and a ship. This status also depends on the specific design of the floating house in terms of how permanently it is connected to the shore and to the site where it is installed. How a floating house is classified has consequences for its registration and for the private, administrative and fiscal issues that apply to it. If it is considered as real estate, urban planning and zoning regulations as well as taxation are similar to standard houses, and social benefits related to housing may apply. If it is considered a ship, marine law applies. In the Netherlands, floating houses usually have a double status and double registration (Municipality of Amsterdam, 2012).   

Implementation Time

Building the house itself can be quite fast, (a matter of months at most), in particular if the house is built elsewhere and then tugged to its final mooring place. Designing, permitting, and building a floating neighbourhood can take longer time. Administrative delays concerning authorisation and safety standards of the whole interconnected block of floating buildings can further delay the process. The floating neighbourhoods of Schoonschip in Amsterdam required about ten years to implement.  

Life Time

Amphibious and floating houses can be considered “permanent buildings”, provided that they are regularly maintained.

Reference information


DG CLIMA project "Adaptation Strategy of European Cities" 

Moon, C. (2015). A Study on the Floating House for New Resilient Living. Journal of the Korean Housing Association, 26(5), 97–104. https://doi.org/10.6107/jkha.2015.26.5.097   

Lima R. and Bogaard F. C. (2020) Assessing the influence of floating constructions on water quality and ecology.  Conference paper presented at Paving The Waves WCFS2020, Rotterdam, The Netherlands 

Municipality of Amsterdam, (2012) Floating Amsterdam: The development of IJburg’s Waterbuurt. Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Aug 17 2023

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