Case Study: Elevating Homes

Past floods from hurricanes and tropical storms have left some Floridian homeowners on the streets and strapped with staggering rebuilding expenses. Here’s practical advice on how to avoid such an outcome for this and future hurricane seasons.

Last year Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach in the panhandle of Florida. In the aftermath of the hurricane’s shocking impact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared the city “wiped out.”

In the months following the disaster, city officials wrestled with passing new land regulations to prepare the city for future hurricane strikes. One of the main changes made to building codes is raising any new buildings or homes above the flood line to avoid future structural damage.

Randy Young, CEO of Clearwater, Fla.-based ArcDesign, residential design and drafting specialists, describes the building code change as necessary but late. “Whether new or existing, the most important thing a person can do to prevent home flood damage is elevate their home or structure above the flood plain. However, to prevent flood damage, the time to do it is before a hurricane hits— not afterwards.”

Insurance premiums increased by an average of about 8 percent on April 1, 2018, from an annual average of $866 to $935 per policy. Per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, hurricanes Michael and Florence in 2018 each caused about $25 billion in damages, contributing to a total toll of $91 billion from that year’s weather and climate disasters.

www.greenbuildermedia.comhubfsResilient_HousingFloods and FollyGB Floods - Hurricane HarveyFlood damage is the number one insurance claim in the United States. Florida has three times the homes at risk of flooding of any other state. Florida’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis, and Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier are warning consumers to start preparing for 2019 now. They urge that residents review their insurance policies and secure flood insurance coverage as soon as possible. There is usually a 30-day waiting period before a flood policy takes effect.

By raising a home above the flood plain before a flood, in addition to reducing the risk of flood damage, an immediate benefit for the owner is a reduction of insurance premiums, according to FEMA. For those that have homes in a flood zone, the 50% rule should apply.

The “50% Rule,” or Substantial Damage/Improvement Rule states that a building must be elevated and brought into building code compliance if damaged by any cause for which the repair costs are 50% or more of the value of the building, minus the value of the land, and the building is both in a Special Flood Hazard Area and at a non-compliant elevation.

If a home suffers damage and the repairs will cost more than 50% of the value of the house, homeowners are not allowed to restore their home without lifting it first. Randy Young adds this caveat, “Because insurance companies are slow handling claims and builders are in high demand after flooding, homeowners can be ‘out on the streets’ for months or even years if extensive improvements are necessary.”

Young offers these FEMA-originated rules for elevation:

  • You must follow floodplain ordinance requirements and get the proper permits when rebuilding. This will not only make your home safer but will also save money on your federal flood insurance premiums.
  • Before rebuilding in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), be sure to check with local building officials. They are responsible for enforcing local elevation requirements, even in areas where the BFE (Base Flood Elevation) has not been established.
  • Rebuilding higher than the minimum requirement is always a wise decision and saves on flood insurance premiums.

Adds Young, “If a person elevates their home before a major storm event, along with saving on insurance costs and protecting the value of their home, they won’t be homeless in the interim.”