It is a time of mourning and reflection on what has occurred. My family has very strong ties to shoreline communities in New Hampshire as well as the east and west coast of Florida. I have been involved with the rebuilding of homes, after the Sandy disaster in the Northeast, as well as offering flood panels for flood water protection throughout the country. My daughter and son-in-law have lived in the Florida Keys, and we have spent considerable time at many of the resorts located in the Keys, that have been so devastated by Hurricane Irma. It is with this history and knowledge that I carefully offer my suggestions, thoughts and building techniques that I would consider, if we had to rebuild a home damaged or destroyed, by any of the most recent storms that have recently occurred.
- Once the emotions of the storm have diminished, and you can evaluate your situation, both structurally and financially, it is important to make the most difficult and important initial decision, do you want to rebuild? There are several basic construction considerations that you should evaluate.
- What is the structural extent of the damage? Has the structure been severely compromised by the destruction, or has the damage been mostly cosmetic or basic property damage, such as appliances, furnishings, etc. Although it may appear to be an easy evaluation for you, as the owner of the property, the most sensible method for establishing this evaluation is to hire a professional engineer to evaluate your structure. In this manner you will be more professionally represented with the insurance companies, as well as in your decision making process. The engineer will determine whether the basic structure consisting of the foundation, the supporting members, the roof, siding and other basic structural entities have been affected by the storm.
- What is the damage to your utilities required to service your structure once you have rebuilt? What is the extent of the sanitary, water and electrical utility damage? What are the utility companies indicating, in regard to rebuilding and restoring utility services to your structure? Will the new construction require special code compliance, which was not built into the existing structure, which will cause you to incur substantial costs when rebuilding? All of these considerations must be identified, to adequately provide the information necessary to make the proper decision regarding rebuilding.
- What specific code compliance issues will need to be considered when rebuilding? Depending on the age of your original structure as well as the building codes required at the time of the original construction, will determine what codes, restrictions, and structural, utility considerations will be required to be followed, when rebuilding the new home.
- Does the location of the property and the new structure make sense to you and your family? We all have situations where our grandparents, or other family members, have willed homes to the family. These situations happened to fall into your family situation, due to the fact that they were given or provided to you. Now that the situation has radically changed, does the continuation of this home and its location make logical sense? Only you and your family can make this type of difficult decision. However, it must be made to properly evaluate whether it makes sense financially and personally to rebuild.
- Once it has been determined that the structure should be rebuilt or built from the ground up, what are some of the most basic considerations that must be evaluated as you design and rebuild the structure?
- If the emotion has been dulled to allow you to evaluate the destruction caused by the storm, the results of the storm on your home must be considered and thought about. What items were destroyed, which were water damaged, which portion of the home was destroyed, damaged, etc? Once you can evaluate the resulting damage that was caused, you can understand the most basic considerations that must be incorporated within the new structure.
- The foundation of the structure. The most important structural component, and the initial consideration, is the support or foundation of the structure. Dependent upon conditions and local building codes, the foundations may now have to be on piles that are driven down into the sand, or substantial concrete footings that are resting on constructed beds of gravel or controlled fills. In some cases, if rock is close enough to consider pinning the foundations for your structure too, this should be considered. As with the initial evaluation of the structure, a professional engineer should be hired to design your individual foundation for the new home. In almost all cases, the rebuilding process will require the use of a professional engineer to design this portion of the structure.
- Elevation of the livable portion of the structure. As with the new foundation, the elevations required by the new FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) will determine the required elevation of the first floor of your new structure. Once you home has been damaged to a certain percentage, and requires rebuilding, the FEMA requirements will mandate the elevation of this first level. It is my personal opinion, that if possible, and if you are not limited by height restrictions, additional elevation of the first floor should be considered. It is never a problem to be too high over the flood waters.
- Protection of the area beneath the structure. With the new FEMA requirements, you will be constructing a building that will be elevated on columns, pier, or piles. This structural requirement will create a substantial area beneath the home, that will, in normal cases, be used to park your vehicles, store material, or as a play area for the kids, etc. This open area will become a usable area beneath the home. Regulations will limit your ability to enclose this lower area and will restrict its use; however, the space will be available for allowed applications. What extent do you want to protect the perimeter of this area beneath your structure? There are multiple methods and products that can be purchased and installed to minimize the amount of water that will enter this area of the structure. Dependent upon code restrictions, flood panels can be incorporated to reduce the damage that a storm surge will have on the lower portion of your structure. Raised curbs or raised mini walls can also be constructed to reduce the amount of water infiltration. Code restrictions will dictate what can and cannot be constructed.
- Special provisions for the protection of driving rain and wind on the siding and roofing portions of the structure. Code requirements have not incorporated all of the various techniques that can be used to construct a structure that will withstand the effects of heavy driving wind and rain. What I like to tell builders when it comes to this situation, common, best practices, should be the foundation of all the work that is incorporated the new structure. The baseline should be all of the best practices that material suppliers require for the installation of their siding and roofing materials. With best practices being the base, if the homeowner really wants and desires, belts and suspenders, then these applications should add to the base established by best practices. If the siding is installed over a house wrap, two layers of house wrap should be considered. If the roofing is applied on top of a 15 pound felt paper, and then the use of two layer of the paper could be considered. Flashings should be fastened mechanically as well as glued with the proper sealant. It is important that the common installations of roofing and siding be done by competent installers, who have been instructed to build the structure with a belts and suspenders attitude.
- Window and door selection and installation. This should be a major consideration when rebuilding or building a new structure. The proper selection of hurricane resistant windows and doors is a necessity. In most cases, the FEMA requirements will mandate the proper selection of doors and windows. The installation is more difficult to control. It is important that the flashings around the openings, for windows, doors, louvers or anything that is penetrating the siding or roofing, are properly flashed. This is totally a product of the installers of the windows, doors, louvers, skylights or any penetration of the exterior skin of the structure. Again, best practices, should be the basic and fundamental starting point for all installations.
- Storm shutters and storm barricades. The installation of storm shutters and various storm barricades, if required by code, will be an obvious choice. However, there are several new products, especially provided now that we have had recent storm damage, which have been developed and merchandised for specialized storm protection. It is impossible to discuss, compare or critique each product. It is recommended that each individual home owner, search the internet for these products and only consider them, if your builder, architect or professional engineer considers them a worthwhile expense.
The rebuilding of any structure after a devastating loss, whether it is due to fire, water, wind or other natural disaster, is a very difficult and emotional undertaking. I apologize for stating the obvious, and can only recommend the practical end of the rebuilding process. If you can remove yourself from the emotion, as well as the heartache of the loss, it is important to reach into the experience and analyze why the loss occurred. Your new structure should incorporate as many practical solutions, techniques and construction procedures that will reduce the possibility of this disaster reoccurring.
I hope some of these suggestions were helpful, and good luck with the rebuild!