Surveying the damage in his Gulf Shores neighborhood after Hurricane Ivan, Wayne Stacey concluded that height helps.
"It didn't take a mental giant to see that the only houses that didn't have damage were the ones on pilings," he said.
[A] new study for the National Flood Insurance Program...concludes that it costs just a fraction more to build above the 100-year flood elevation, and that the added cost pays off through lower insurance premiums and fewer damages in the event of flooding.
His wasn't one of them. So he decided to replace his former house, which was about 7 feet above sea level, with one 18.5 feet above sea level.
According to a new study for the National Flood Insurance Program, Stacey invested wisely. The study concludes that it costs just a fraction more to build above the 100-year flood elevation, and that the added cost pays off through lower insurance premiums and fewer damages in the event of flooding.
"The trend is clear," study author Chris Jones said in April at the National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans. "If you build higher, you see less damages."
The report concludes that the cost of new houses typically rises only a quarter-percent to a half-percent for each foot of added height above the 100-year elevation. That's not as much as most people think, said Jones, a coastal researcher based in Durham, N.C.
Considering that each foot means a reduced chance of flooding, Jones said that it's worth spending even 3 to 5 percent more on building higher if the home lies in a coastal "velocity zone," the area subject to wave damage, and 2 to 4 percent more for the rest of the 100-year flood plain.
It's not just that the home is more likely to survive, Jones points out. Homeowners also get a big break on insurance premiums.
For homes subject to waves in velocity zones, insurance premiums drop 25 percent if the home is 1 foot above the 100-year elevation and 67 percent if it's 4 feet above.
For homes in the standard flood zone, there is a 39 percent break for building 1 foot above the 100-year elevation and 48 percent for building 2 feet and higher.
The study calculates that the homeowners can recover the added construction costs in one to five years for homes in velocity zones and in five to 15 years for homes in the standard flood zone.
Some people already see those reductions because local governments require building at least a foot above the 100-year flood level, and sometimes more.
Those who have already been flooded face a more complicated and expensive decision, that of elevating their existing homes. For many, the choice has been made for them—they simply can't afford the work.
But if a homeowner had a flood policy, the National Flood Insurance Program will pay $30,000 of the cost of elevating, demolishing or moving the damaged house off the flood plain. Homeowners who spoke with the Press-Register said that the added payment, along with their flood insurance payout, was the key to their decision to remain and build higher.
Clay Fauver of Clay Fauver's House Movers & Leveling Co. spends a lot of his time these days raising houses. He said the $30,000 will cover most, if not all, of the cost of elevating a typical house with a wooden floor. An elevation project that he's working on in Gulf Shores, for example, will cost about $32,000, he said.
But larger homes can cost more than twice that, and concrete-slab foundations also drive the price way up, Fauver said. He recently raised a unusually large home in Point Clear onto some 90 piers, a job that cost about $68,000.
Bud Mathis had a tough decision after Hurricane Katrina flooded his concrete-foundation bayfront house on New Bellefontaine Blvd. in Mobile County. Not only did the 76-year-old Mathis decide to elevate his home rather than move, he did it on his own, with the help of a crane company that hoisted the house from the old foundation to the new one.
Standing inside his kitchen with a spectacular view, he is clearly proud of his work. "If you had set a cup of coffee on one of those beams, you wouldn't have spilled a drop," he said.
Mathis said it cost about $65,000, minus the $30,000 federal contribution, to build a new foundation and build a new floor system.
Originally published on June 11, 2007 in the Mobile Press-Register. Courtesy of the Press-Register 2007 © All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.