An Architect's Best Advice If You Are Buying, Renovating or Rebuilding a Coastal Home

Note: The article below is published by permission of Jim O'Brien for the purpose of sharing vital information to Jersey Shore homeowners,builders and real estate companies.
"Major Considerations Buying, Renovating and Rebuilding a Shore Home"

"As Architects we work with homeowners to select properties, buy, redesign, or rebuild homes at the Jersey Shore. The shore today is a new world with many factors driving its evolution in flux. Many local, state and federal decisions that will regulate our built environment are being made quickly, being revised and reconsidered (or delayed), or are simply in the offing out to the years of 2014, 2015 and beyond. 

When consulting on buying, renovating or rebuilding a shore home in this environment we focus on three major categories where we are experiencing major changes.  

First there are the financial aspects of buying, building/rebuilding, financing and insuring a home. Decisions there now have bigger ripple effects, many yet without precedence here, on the real value of these properties in the real estate market, both while one owns a property and when it comes time to sell.  

Secondly, the techniques of building at the Jersey Shore have evolved almost overnight. Newly widespread at the shore are previously uncommon factors now common to every structure’s permanence, storm-resistance, allowable height and allowable renovation or new construction techniques.  

Thirdly, we see the changing considerations for our sense of aesthetics & lifestyle at the shore. With many parts of the shore having been wiped away or drastically damaged, we know they will come back in a different fashion. The look and feel of our shore communities is about to change.   

From the experience of the rebuilt and modified boardwalks, to the replenished and relocated dunes we see as early as now and this summer, to the changes in home styles and ground floor uses we’ll see in rebuilding in every community each year to come, our choices are new once again for how to make things beautiful and how we want to live.

Below are the important issues in these three categories we are commonly seeing and discussing at this time: 

1. Financial Aspects

The financial aspects of the fact that we now coexist with higher flood levels at the shore. The Jersey Shore’s new Base Flood Elevations (adopted by Gov. Christie) don’t just add cost - they do save the value of Jersey Shore homes. 

·         Base Flood Elevations, recommended by FEMA, are put down onto Flood Insurance Rate Maps that determine your flood insurance premium. If you have a property with flood insurance and at anytime it suffers damages totaling 50 percent or more of its market value, you are required in your rebuild to elevate your home to the base flood elevation, if you wish to continue having flood insurance. In so rebuilding and elevating a home flood insurance offers up to $30,000 for that work under what’s called Increased Cost of Compliance coverage.
·         If you are with a mortgage, your bank will require that flood insurance, so this rebuild and elevation described above is required.
·         If you are with no mortgage, you are the owner in full of your property, you can opt not to comply with any raising requirements, even if your home’s storm damage is more than 50% of its value. You will pay more in flood insurance. But until new rates go into effect, possibly in early 2015, insurance premiums will not be affected. When that time comes, according to FEMA, a property that’s four feet below the advisory elevation in a high-hazard area could cost the owner roughly $31,000 a year for flood insurance. The premium drops to $7,000 if the home is at the new standard, and falls to $3,500 if the house is built two feet higher.

·         The financial aspects include consideration of these questions: What is the market value of a well built home if it is for sale, and is not compliant with the base flood elevation? Are there many buyers for this home? Are cash buyers motivated to buy such a home because they do not have a mortgage bank requiring them to buy flood insurance on such a home? Are higher flood insurance premiums for non-compliant homes affecting the sale price of that home, etc.?

2. Techniques of Building

Shore homes most vulnerable to storm damage and flooding lie in what flood maps have labeled the “V” and “A” zones. The most vulnerable homes are in the "V" zones, which are waterfront areas at the highest risk for flooding and likely to have up to 3-foot breaking waves coming through land areas during a storm. These “V” zones require costly pile foundations be used in any building/rebuilding. The "A" zones covers much of the Jersey Shore just next to the “V” zones. The “A” zones aren’t as vulnerable as the "V" zones but are still subject to major storm damage. 

To withstand “V” and “A” zone-strength storm, wind and flood surges without damage to the house’s structure itself, we use all the engineering principles we know; from pre-planned concealed openings throughout the ground level for flood water passage, to hurricane-rated windows, doors and shutters, to internal wall bracing and structural ties from roofs to footings, elevated mechanical systems, and deep pile foundations (of wood, helical steel, and hydrojet-installed reinforced concrete). 

“Lifting” an existing house is a major preoccupation for many homeowners now. A house lifting association of contractors doing this work suggests the range of $14 per square foot for a simple and small house to $22 per square foot for larger and more complex homes as an estimate of the cost of raising a house up to 6 feet. The cost of raising a foundation and exterior stairs to meet the new raised house floor, and of utilities re-connections, and of any other incidental work needs to be figured in addition to that. 

The Allowable Building Height in each municipality is also a major preoccupation for many homeowners now. Some municipalities have raised theirs 2 to 3 feet. Many are considering that, to facilitate lifting homes and building new ones reasonably similarly proportioned to the 2-1/2 story configuration we are accustomed to seeing. 

3. Aesthetics & Lifestyle

Homeowners look to maximize their livable space within the allowable building heights. This can change the architecture and appearance of many Jersey Shore communities by creating homes with parking or storage on the ground floor, living areas on the second & third floors, and several options for the design treatment and use of the roof level. 

Contemporary and Traditional Designs: PROS/CONS: 

The use of roof levels. On roofs: pitched roofs (traditional) with half-hidden terraces, vs. flat (contemporary), walkable roof terraces or “green roof” surfaces. In either case roofs capture access to the sun, breeze and wonderful views. If some choose a contemporary flat roof style, we will see that approach replace some of the pitched roof cottage styles so common at the Jersey Shore. (See image of a contemporary design.)  

The Ground floor use: parking, storage, low-capital-investment living spaces, due to higher base flood elevations and likelihood of flood and storm damage here.  The Ground floor look: breakaway vs. permanent. You do have a choice. Ground levels below a base flood elevation present a fork in the road for the design of a home.
Do we accept the look of impermanence with breakaway walls of cement panels or plywood (see FEMA image attached), and/or the look of piling as “stilts” with no walls around them and a “home” placed above them? Does that drive a contemporary design solution? Or a podium for an awkward- or challenged-traditional home placed above it?  

On the other hand, likely at greater expense, do we design the ground level with a sense of and with materials of permanence? (See images attached of 3 design versions of this approach.) In this approach even a base flood elevation a full story above grade results in a house design rooted to the earth, as we use good design plus all the engineering principles we know (from pre-planned concealed openings throughout the ground level for flood water passage, to hurricane-rated windows, doors and shutters, to structural ties from roof to footings, and elevated mechanical systems,) to withstand possible storm surges thorough the ground floor with no damage to the structure itself."
For further information or to inquire about architectural design contact:

Mary Alice Smith - 732 608-7583

M. A. Smith Interior Design 
Residential and Commercial Interior Design


Allied Member ASID

Serving Coastal New Jersey homeowners and businesses for twenty years