Should I elevate my beachfront property?
While scientists, politicians, and the media constantly debate, dispute, and prove their points regarding global warming and ocean levels, beachfront property owners see the actual effects of rising ocean levels that threaten their vacation homes and permanent residences. For people like me who live on the beach, the issue is not a debate, it’s simply something that we have to deal with. “Should I elevate my house?” and “What is the best method to do it?” are often the first questions that we need to ask ourselves.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), elevating your beach house is one of the most common retrofitting methods that beachfront property owners can use to reach the required or desired Flood Protection Elevation, also referred to as FPE. The goal of any elevation is to raise the main living areas to a level that will secure it from all but the most devastating floods, like the 500 or 1000 year floods that seem to be more prevalent these days (ask the people on the Texas Gulf Coast).
FEMA’s helpful guidebook suggests several different and common techniques for elevating your house to avoid severe flooding. You can leave the existing home in place and simply build additional stories on top of it, or you can lift the house and extend the foundation below the home. If you choose to utilize this method, special equipment (usually hydraulic lifts and jacks) can separate the entire home from the foundation and place it on a temporary support system while a new support system is built below. In many beachfront areas, you will notice houses that are lifted above the ground (often at least one story, and sometimes two) sitting on columns, pillars, posts, or walls.
Once the home has been lifted, space below is often used as a carport, storage, or outdoor living space. If we decide to lift our beach house, we will definitely use it as a carport and may consider building an actual garage to keep the cars protected from the salt water. Another thing that should be considered when lifting a home is accessibility. You will likely need to build a taller staircase to allow entry and exit from your raised home. You’ll also have to make considerations for any disabled people in your family who may now have difficulty getting into your home. Finally, utilities and plumbing will also have to be reworked.
All in all, the decision to raise your beach home should be carefully considered. You want to make sure that the home is lifted to an elevation that places the living areas above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE), to make sure that it is high enough to withstand floods. Also, if you live in an area that experiences particularly high winds, you will want to account for the forces that will exert pressure on the structure. FEMA recommends that you consult with a design professional to help you decide if your home is in good enough structural condition to be lifted, whether or not the soil at the site is stable enough for an elevated home, and identification of possible hazards. Your design professional will be able to suggest safe lifting techniques that will result in a safe and sturdy beach home.
To learn more about lifting your beach house to avoid the devastation that a flood can cause, we found some great websites for professional house lifters like DeVooght House Lifters, and Wolfe House and Building Movers.