REBUILDING RESPONSIBLY CAN PREVENT FUTURE HOME FLOODING IN COASTAL AREAS
Ed Walters, Jr., founder and partner, The Walters Group
Nov. 4, 2013 – One year after Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey coastline, homeowners are facing tough decisions about how and where they want to rebuild. With rising sea levels and more frequent major storms on the horizon, two options remain – rebuild smarter or move away from the shore. But for most residents, the thought of leaving their coastal community is not an alternative.
The storm caused over $68 billion in total damages in the U.S., prompting the issuance of new federal construction guidelines to end the cycle of imprudent development we've seen in the past. Sandy affected an estimated 365,000 homes, or over 10 percent of New Jersey's housing stock.
But looking ahead, it's clear that homeowners need to make their properties more resilient. Consequently, homes that have to be demolished will need to be rebuilt in a very different way than they were originally constructed. Homeowners who resist will pay the price in the form of high flood insurance premiums. Also, many homeowners who are not required to buy flood insurance simply will not. Eventually, if the property is sold and if the home was not raised or rebuilt to the new standards, then the structure's value on a lot will be virtually reduced to nothing.
Following last fall's storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began updating coastal flood zone maps across the country. These preliminary Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps are expected to become final by mid-2015. The maps are redefining how homes and businesses should be rebuilt. They reveal that potential water could rise one to five feet higher in most flood zones. Anyone who is planning a reconstruction project should refer to these ABFE maps for the best available data.
They are available online at www.region2coastal.com. After seeing the flood damage, it's imprudent to not consider the new designations when rebuilding. In flood prone areas, the key is to build a house the right way and above the flood elevations so people greatly minimize their potential loss during a storm.
Homeowners need to take common-sense steps before undertaking any reconstruction efforts. Many people have made short-term repairs on homes situated in vulnerable areas. Unfortunately, the money spent on making these repairs, long term, will prove to have been wasted. Instead, we can learn from past experiences and be better prepared the next time a storm hits. At Walters, we don't just help homeowners rebuild, we help them rebuild better. We believe in raising the bar when it comes to residential development along the flood prone areas, by building homes above the flood elevations. One key component to building the right way is to build on pilings with the floor system above the new ABFE's (in V zones the lowest structural member, or girder, needs to be above the ABFE).
As a result of the storm, many communities are changing their zoning rules to make it easier to rebuild a new home in place of a homeowner's existing non-compliant home. All of the facts attached to the new realities homeowners face led us to create our ReBuild division. It is focused on creating smarter, sustainable homes above the expected flood levels in coastal areas. We are helping people navigate through the entire process of re-creating their house. Although it is not what anyone wanted to do at this time, but every home that is below the flood elevation will eventually be elevated or re-built. The new higher cost of flood insurance premiums will make it financially unfeasible for any home to remain where it is. Every piece of real estate eventually gets sold with the necessity of obtaining flood insurance, along with the downward market pressure on the value of homes that are not in compliance, will almost be financially impossible to leave any home below the ABFE.
Rebuilding or elevating rather than putting things back the way they were is really the only prudent thing to do. Walters Homes' ReBuild division can assist with permitting issues, satisfying insurance company requirements, procuring architectural plans, financing, along with all of the other complications that go with rebuilding a home. For our clients, the emphasis is on providing the support and services they need to recover and rebuild. We've created an opportunity for residents to rebuild smarter, more energy-efficient homes that adhere to the new standard for building in a designated flood zone area.
Walters' also provides a relatively inexpensive option for those who are contemplating lifting up their homes, installing new pilings and renovating the damaged property. When many of our clients compared the cost of elevating with tearing down and rebuilding a new Walters home it was an easy decision. Simply raising and restoring a structure leaves homeowners with the same old house and all its' flaws. On the other hand, a new Walters home is Energy Star Certified guaranteeing that it will be at least 30% more energy efficient then homes built to today's building and energy codes. The energy efficiency savings between our homes and an older home that was raised and repaired could easily be doubled.
The damage caused by Super Storm Sandy has also prompted some people to opt for apartment living where they can still enjoy the benefits of the Jersey Shore without the maintenance hassles of homeownership.
By taking the lead in rebuilding homes at the Jersey Shore, we are doing our part to get this region back on its feet while creating safer and more energy-efficient housing for all of our futures.