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carterinms

Our foundation is 'illegal'!

carterinms
15 years ago

We are rebuilding from Katrina and are trying to build a house that will weather both floods and wind. FEMA recommends that we build 23' above sea level, the county requires 16'. We compromised and are aiming for 20', which is 14' above grade. To achieve the 20' elevation, we brought in 4' of fill and have a raised house 10' above the parking slab.

For wind pressures, we decided to go with an ICF construction. For aesthetics and strength, we are using the ICF blocks for columns instead of pilings. (I am no longer allowed to call these columns "walls" or "piling walls".)

Our original submittal to the code office was for a stick-built house on pilings. We wanted to get the permit before FEMA instituted their elevation requirements. At the time, we explained that we were considering revising our design for ICF and might drastically change the foundation, but that we would provide an engineer stamped drawing. We were told this was no problem, so when we had the revised foundation, we submitted it to the code office.

Thursday was the fourth inspection that the county has performed, and the first we failed. They wanted the vertical rebar to be tied to the rebar from the slab/chain wall. Our ICF designer and the contractor have documentation showing this is not required, so our inspector went to his boss to see what his opinion was. His boss took one look at our foundation and determined that the way we are elevating our house is illegal.

Because we are using walls instead of columns, and because our walls continue over the openings (as beams to support the floor trusses), we have designed a structure with continuous walls. Continuous walls form enclosures, and FEMA only allows 299 square feet of enclosures in a flood zone. Our county code office has stood up to FEMA in this regard, and against FEMA's recommendations, they are allowing enclosures of 300 square feet. (They seemed very proud of this concession.) Needless to say, our "enclosure" is 2000 square feet, so the extra 1 sq ft allowed by our county is not exactly helpful.

Our PE is on vacation next week, so it will be the following week at the earliest before we get it resolved. That's assuming that the PE can reason with the building czar. It took us 3 months and a letter from FEMA's regional director to get approval from him to move into our FEMA mobile home. Maybe he's still pissed off that we won that fight. I'm sure he would sleep better at night if we tore down our foundation and put up something less strong.

Here's a picture of our "enclosure". There is a lot of bracing in the openings that will be removed after the concrete has cured. Thanks for letting me vent!

Comments (60)

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    brickeye, I think that flood insurance should have gone up post-Katrina. I actually don't think that it is normally subsidized, but I think that the Federal Government put in a lot of money to pay for claims in '05. And flood insurance is cheap if you are not in a flood zone - $100/year, I think. Mine is significantly higher, but I am in a flood zone.

    hikerjohn, FEMA is suggesting that all the flood zones on the coast meet V-zone requirements, regardless of the proximity to the beach. Surge is one reason for limiting the enclosure. The other is to keep people from finishing out the areas under their house.

    We already have openings that allow water to pass. They are 8'+ wide! The walls do resist flowing water more than columns would. Walls are not allowed in V-zones - we are going to try to find out on Monday if our county has applied this rule to A-zones as well. If so, we are out of luck.

    Hopefully we will get it worked out. In the meantime, it's been fairly stressful.

  • brickeyee
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The 300 sq ft limit is to prevent anyone from building a solid foundation.
    The water loads are huge, and the enclosure cannot be built strong enough to withstand surge and wave action for any reasonable price.
    It is far more effective to build on piers and let the water move through.

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  • andyk
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Caterinms,

    Your building in a flood zone has not, will not, never has increased property insurance rates for those living far, far away. That's a common misguided belief. Property insurance is a completely separate issue from flood insurance based on a completely separate set of rules. You are correct in bringing up the fact that most home damage is caused by storm surges and not winds.

    I'm building a home nearly 100-200 yards away from the Gulf of Mexico to the latest Miami-Dade building codes set in 2003. Both myself and my insurance agent were pleasantly surprised that my insurance rates for both flood and property were lower by 50% than those living much farther inland. The reason: My house is new and built to code. Find out whatever your insurance requires and build to that standard.

    I agree with other posters that we (especially Floridians who bear the large brunt of these insurance hikes) shouldn't be responsible for those building or choosing to remain in houses (no.t up to code) in high risk coastal areas, but basically blaming people living near the Gulf for increased insurance rates elsewhere in this country is a misinformed assumption. I should know, because I felt the same way when I lived in the Northeast.

    I lived in the Northeast most of my life (Boston and New York) moving down to the Southeast just a year and a half ago. It was a difficult decision (especially building along the coast), but I felt it was an informed one. My home is 13 feet above sea level and its cement block construction capable of withstanding at least 130 mph winds. The last time a major hurricane hit this area of Florida (near Tampa) was in 1921. There have been more major hurricanes hitting Long Island, NY (where I grew up and only 15 minutes from NYC) in that period of time.

    My parents are still living on Long Island. Their property insurance rates have gone up substantially the end of 2006. Their insurance carrier told them it had to do with the big risks insurance companies would take if a major storm hit the Northeast (the article linked below explains this). ANYONE living near the coast whether in Maine or Florida will see their insurance rates increase. They also alluded to the recent damage from flooding that occurred in the Northeast last year. Remember, NOT a single hurricane hit Florida or most of the southeast last year despite predictions of it being one of the worse years on record.

    If anything, people in the Southeast could just as equally point fingers to those areas of the country that are contributing more to global warming and the subsequent increase in hurricanes and claim that they should be paying the higher premiums- just as silly an argument.

    Here is a link that might be useful: The truth about hurricanes and increasing rates.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks AndyK - interesting article.

    Brickeyee and Hikerjohn have good, sensible explanations of why enclosures are not allowed. FEMA's Fact Sheet 27 is 5 pages dealing with enclosures. By definition, an enclosure is surrounded on all sides by solid or break-away walls. Lattice or screen walls used to enclose the space are still considered as free of obstruction.

    Shear walls are used by condo's and large structures in V-zones and if properly designed and located, perform well. We have used shear walls in our A-zone build and have a PE stamped foundation design. I would not feel comfortable with this design on the beach, but we did not get the waves and velocity where we are. Uplift and hydrostatic pressures were the main issues. FEMA allows shear walls in A-zones, and we're going to check the codes to make sure that our county does as well.

    If the only argument is the definition of enclosure, I think we have a good case. It scares me that the building czar was talking about a casino on the beach with this same issue. If a casino, with their money, lawyers, and engineers can't get past the building code, I'm not sure what our chances are.

  • hikerjohn
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The openings I'm talking about are below your finished floor elevaiton. In the photo it shows your window openings, but below your finish floor it is solid concrete. I'm asking if making openings down there would solve your problem.

    The beach is the very place you DO want shear walls. Want to know how those 20 story condos on the beach standup? Shear walls. Somewhere up the board a statement was made about either columns or shearwalls being stronger. I couldn't find it when I went back to look, but SW construction is much stronger.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    hikerjohn, the finished floor is at the top of the structure in the picture - they were supposed to be setting the joists today. The "windows" are the openings in our foundation between shear walls. The openings on the right are where we will drive our cars under the house to park. The wall that you suggest cutting openings in is a chain wall, back-filled with dirt.

    One solution that we have thought of is to eliminate the beams over the openings in the walls parallel to the trusses. That way, the walls are no longer "continuous". I am just afraid that the inspector has decided to make us tear this down and start over and will do everything in his power to make sure that we can't go forward.

  • dlynn2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I'm confused, are you rebuilding on property that had water in Katrina?

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    dlynn, we were planning on tearing down the house on our property and build something stronger but Katrina took care of the house for us. Now we are trying to work through all of the new rules and regulations post-Katrina as we build our house. Every county and city has different requirements, so everyone (GC's, PE's, home owners, etc) is pretty confused.

  • dlynn2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have to agree with most of what Chelone has said. Why not just move to an area that is not in a flood zone and will not flood. You are taking a huge risk and not choosing to follow FEMA guidelines, yet will be expecting to be helped out again with subsidizied flood insurance shoud the same happen again. You know going into this the risk you are taking, yet you continue and are frustrated by the "hoops" you must jump through. Why not just build in a more safe area and not deal with all of this and not have the stress of worrying about flooding?

  • cynandjon
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Personally I would never build in such an area. IMO its not worth the risk and doesnt make any sense. Especially people that are building below sealevel and have already lost everything once or more.

  • hikerjohn
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Ahh, I assumed those foundation walls were supporting a crawl space. So, you have concrete walls of varying height that constrain backfill. Your main floor level is slab on grade then. In that case, I don't see the enclosure? The fact that you have concrete beams over the openings doesn't make that enclosed. Take out the concrete and add a wood beam and the only thing they've made you accomplish is to weaken the structure.

    I'd fight. Heck, I had a project under construction in NY last winter (I'm in AL) where the building official somewhat caused the foundation to be undermined. We specified helical anchors and flowable fill to foundation level to shore things up. He didn't understand what any of that meant and caused delay after delay until the building had the footing sticking out of the ground 4' through a NY winter and somehow thought he was helping things. When he finally got paperwork to say what he wanted after about 10 iterations he felt like he had somehow protected the public. I say all that to say that these officials frequently have little knowledge of structure but your engineer will have to play nice. Hopefully, he'll fight like the dickins for you. I would. What I'm seeing is BS. I will qualify that these zones you're talking about must be something relitively new. I haven't run into those designations before and that includes doing foundations for a 20 story condo.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I cannot afford to walk away from my property and move to another area. I could not do this 6 months ago before I started building, and I certainly cannot do this with the $50K invested in the new-build. The price of houses that were undamaged by the storm doubled after Katrina. My pay did not.

    I know the risks I am taking. I know that the FEMA advisory elevations were a knee jerk reaction - so much so that they will not issue the new elevations for another year. Unlike a lot of people rebuilding, I have chosen to build 4' higher than required. I expect to build a house that would have withstood the Category 5 hurricane (Camille) and would have been repairable with a flood from a hurricane like Katrina. I am frustrated because the building code office wants me to rebuild with a weaker foundation.

    My last house (13.5' above sea level) would have survived Katrina (with major flooding) had the previous owners not cut the hurricane ties when they put siding on the house. I am building a house 7' higher than this house was and am trying to build a wind-resistant house. Had I elected to build a stick-built house 4' lower, I would not be jumping through any hoops.

    I was venting because I have a building inspector who is not reasonable and thought that others on the board might relate. I guess I forgot how most people away from the coast view the rebuilding efforts. I know that your advice to move is well-meant, but it is not a viable solution for my situation. Perhaps we should have moved immediately after the storm instead of rebuilding DH's business (with our own money) but once that decision was made, moving was no longer an option. For what it's worth, prior to Katrina we built a 2400 sq ft metal building at slightly below the elevation of the house. This building survived with minor exterior dents and damage to the roll-up doors. DH put in new sheetrock and redid the electrical, and replaced tools. If there had been waves and storm surge the way FEMA says we should design to, this building would have been washed away. And if it had been washed away, we probably would have relocated.

    By the way, I just did a little research and found out that houses built prior to 1974 pay subsidized rates on flood insurance. All others pay based on actuarial tables.

  • chapnc
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have very little to offer besides encoragement.

    My hat is off to you for making the decision to stay. So many good people left the gulf coast area following Katrina, and many will never return. This represents a huge loss of brain-power and man-power for the area, making it that much harder for the region to recover.

    I can only wish you good luck in dealing with the bureaucracy; there must be a way to make it all work. I hope you find a solution that fits the rules and offers you a strong, safe structure.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks hikerjohn - I think we cross-posted. I was venting to dlynn - and I'm sorry, I get a little touchy about the whole rebuilding issue. At least no one has accused me of rebuilding below sea-level - or at least I hope that cynandjon were referring to New Orleans not MS.

    Our zones are the same as everywhere else. I am in an A-zone so am more vulnerable to hydrostatic than hydrodynamic forces. V-zones (velocity) are beach front where waves are an issue.

    Let me see if I can explain my foundation a little better. The ground elevation averages 6.5' above sea level. The parking slab (built) is at 10'. The main floor will be on wood trusses at the top of the "illegal" walls, at roughly 20' above sea level. The floor with the slab will be used to park cars and maybe store garden tools and kid's toys. We will probably "enclose" this floor with lattice so that it is not so wide open to people driving by. All legal according to FEMA regulations.

    Honestly, I wouldn't be in the least surprised if the building inspector didn't require us to put vents in the walls between the openings. I know this would be a relatively inexpensive compromise, but I am a Naval Architect by training and I could never live with myself if I backed down on the hydrostatic issues!

  • dlynn2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I view the rebuilding from the point of view of a native Biloxian. Most of my family lost their homes to Katrina, Camille, Betsy, and some even the '47 storm. I chose to leave the Coast for that very reason. We took a paycut, live in a less fancy house than if we lived on the Coast, but we don't have to deal with hurricanes, flooding, and FEMA frustrations. It can be done if you choose to. Also, there are areas of the Coast that will never flood, but will just take a bit of a commute to your job. My father and grandfather were both builders there, my uncle is currently on the Planning Commission in one of the cities, I have other relatives on City Councils and am longtime friends with the mayors of both Biloxi and Gulfport. And, my mother is a realtor on the Coast, so I do still stay quite up to date on things there. I don't think I view it as an outsider, as you seem to think.

    You also might need to take a very close look at the flood insurance policy. I know that my uncle built a house in the Pass (Timber Ridge) just before Katrina. In his 299sq ft he planned to put a workshop. Just for convenience he wanted to put in a toilet. FEMA doesn't allow such things. If he had put it in there it would void the insurance for everything on the ground level (not just the toilet). Also, he was allowed to use insulation in there but they didn't like whatever he used to hold the insulation in place and that also voided the insurance for the ENTIRE ground floor --- not just the insulation. They are very picky. I noticed recently in the Coast paper that FEMA was paying for work on Hwy 90 (the main beach road), but it had to be put back exactly like it was before the storm --- no improvements like bike lanes or anything. If the cities added bikelanes to it, then FEMA would not give them any money.

  • dlynn2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I forgot to mention, I also own property there. I just don't choose to live there.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    My apologies dlynn. You are correct, I judged you as not knowing what I am going through. And it's been an extremely stressful week. Regardless, the decision to move needed to be made in September '05. Right or wrong, we decided to stay and have enough invested in the property and our jobs that we are not going to move now.

    Thanks for the advice on FEMA/flood insurance. We are doing our best to stay legal and within regulations.

  • cynandjon
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Good luck caterinms, I wish you best of luck. I Hope everything works out well for you.

  • hikerjohn
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    test - it keeps rejecting my next set of comments


    PS, whether this person should or should not have been issued a building permit is totally immaterial at this point. They were issued one and now it's under construction and they're having issues. Issuers regret on a permit is dirty pool. They issued it, don't turn around and make it so hard on them to build that they can't afford to build. Judging by the photo they're at that stage of construction where you can't turn around and you can't go forward if made anymore difficult. This is the proverbial, stuck over the barrell situation.
    Good luck!

  • hikerjohn
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I tried to post all that last night but it wouldn't let me. Looks like most of the comments have since been addressed.

  • hmp2z
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    It's sounding like several people posting on here haven't understood your issue, and don't understand the mechanics of ICF construction (we have an ICF house that's almost finished). Are you saying that, because the walls form one monolithic structure, the county code is saying that your house size is too large to be a monolithic structure? If so, that's ridiculous, and shows how ridiculously uneducated they are on the actualities of ICF homes. I'm from Louisiana, so I get the whole "uneducated populace" thing. :)

    It sounds like you are not in danger of flooding, at least not at the elevation you're building, but that you are in danger of wind damage. Is that correct? If so, it sounds like your best bet is definitely the ICF home, which research has shown will outperform stick built for wind & impact resistance. You might want to show the county officials the Texas Tech study on this, if they're not aware of it.

    I wish you luck - I know how frustrating it can be to build ICF in an area where no one really understands it. We had a devil of a time finding an engineer to stamp our plans without calling for beaucoup rebar that was unnecessary, just because everyone gets nervous around a type of construction that they don't know.

    Good luck to you!
    Heather W

    Here is a link that might be useful: Our ICF Home Construction Journal

  • dlynn2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Heather, if you go back and re-read some of her posts, she isn't building high enough and probably will flood again. She said herself she was building it strong so that it would be "repairable with a flood from a hurricane like Katrina". She still isn't building it higher than what the water was at Katrina (at least from what I can figure since she's building at 20' elevation and the lady 200' away was 16' elevation and had 8' of water in Katrina -- she never says exactly what the water level was on her property). She is just counting on building it strong enough that the structure stays and the flooding is the only damage. That way she can let her flood policy pay for the damages ("Subsidized flood policies are cheap").

    The biggest problem I have with rebuilding this house and not following the guidelines was this statement "My choosing to build at a lower elevation means that I will flood during the next 400 year flood (which could happen this year, or in a thousand), but that will impact you as a tax-payer, not as an insurance holder." As a taxpayer I don't like my money being spent on people that are choosing to wrecklessly rebuild in such risky areas and expect the government to help out again and again (I see it happening all over the Coast). It even angered me to see the wonderful volunteers helping to rebuild houses, but having to do it in areas that will soon be washed out again. I spoke with some of them, and even they were upset that houses were being built back in some of the areas that they were.

    Just after Katrina a cousin of mine was still planning to build his house right back where it was pre-Katrina. My DH told him he was crazy. My cousin said "This may never happen again in our life time. It was a very freak storm. Just because a plane crashes doesn't mean you'll never fly again does it?" My DH responded with "No, but I don't fly on broken planes."

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Please don't quote me out of context - when I stated that flood insurance is cheap I was questioning why more people in areas outside of MS & LA are not in flood zones but who might flood in 500 year floods do not get insurance.

    Yes, this house will probably flood again. But probably not in my lifetime. In fact, probably not in the next 400 years.

    My property recieved 23.5' of water (above sea level). If I built the house from where I took the picture, the 20' elevation would meet the FEMA ABFE's, which are based on non-existent waves. I chose to build closer to the water because I love the view. My choice, and a legal one at that.

    I have made the determination (perhaps wrongly) that it is just as important to build a wind-resistant house as a flood-resistant one.

    dlynn, is your cousin taking any measures to rebuild better?

  • dlynn2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Yes, they decided that the water view was not important anymore and have rebuilt further inland. His father also decided not to rebuild his house. They did rebuild their business back (without insurance) and they still will not insure it. They are willing to accept that responsibility themselves.

  • hmp2z
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I wouldn't be so sure that Katrina is a freak circumstance. Scientists have been predicting for years that storms will continue increasing in volume as global warming continues at record rates. If you look at the projections for future floods, they're actually quite scary.

    At any rate, it sounds like this is a moot point for you, since you've already sunk a good deal of $$ into the new structure.

    Best of luck to you!
    Heather W

    Here is a link that might be useful: Our ICF Home Construction Journal

  • terrypy
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    congrats on deciding to stay and rebuild. I agree that so many moved away. My husband spent many weekends driving from Texas to New Orleans volunteering with crews cleaning up homes. The damage was done by flooding caused by failed dyke systems. Very little by actual storm damage.
    So do what you have to do to build to code and be part of helping to maintain city/cty systems (ie. old bridges/dykes), as a builder I'd suggest working with the inspector and ask him how he "sees this being worked out". Many times inspectors' are willing to work with you and we need to remember they are being pushed from other "directions" also.

    My soap box is that they have shown that much of the damage would not have happened if the low water esturaries weren't being reclaimed for tourist/building. These areas are natures way of helping to obsorb the high waters. Oh well hindsight is always 20/20...we can't blame anyone for what happened...just need to move on and help to not happen again.

  • dlynn2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Terrypy, the damage done from flooding in Mississippi is completely different than the damage done in New Orleans. Mississippi's flooding was done from the actual storm itself not from failed levees.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks terrypy. We did meet with the inspector this morning. He sees this being worked out by us tearing down what we have and replacing it with a weaker structure. They are so scared of going against FEMA that they aren't even willing to ask FEMA if there is a way to resolve this. I have spoken with FEMA, and while they aren't thrilled with my foundation (because I can go back and add in doors to enclose the foundation), they seemed to think that something could be resolved.

    There are modifications that could be made to meet the ordinance. The sticking point in the code is the term "fully enclosed". But the inspector was not interested in working with us - he wants it torn down. In his mind, a single wall would make a it fully enclosed.

    So now we have a lawyer. This really sucks - we were trying so hard to exceed all requirements, and now they want us to spend another $20K to make a weaker structure. Oh well. We have a solid case - 95% chance of winning. We were just hoping to avoid a long, drawn out process.

  • vancleaveterry
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Have you tried your Congressman? Give his local office a call.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have considered giving Gene Taylor a call, but don't think it needs to go that far. I was downloading a large file from the FEMA website while I was posting on Wednesday. The section of that document that is the issue (bonus points in the flood insurance program for limiting enclosures to 300 sq ft) is less stringent and worth fewer points than prohibiting enclosures completely. FEMA provides suggested wording to put into the code, and the wording for prohibiting enclosures states that as long as all the walls are at least 50% open, then the walls do not form enclosures. So we actually exceed the requirements that we are being held to.

    Unfortunately, we are dealing with codes and interpretations that reside solely in the head of the code administrator. How can you argue with someone who insists that one wall forms a fully enclosed space? So we will continue with the lawyer in the hopes that he can meet with the county's attorney and get a quick resolution.

  • charliedawg
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Carter, I haven't responded in here because I really don't know anything about the problems you are having. I have no advice to give. I just wanted to say that I hope everything works out for you in the end. I'm sure this is a very trying time for you. Good Luck.

  • chelone
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The unpleasant reality is that your "foundation" is 3+' below flood level.

    As I said initially, I'm not unsypathetic. BUT, as a payer into the insurance pool (AND a taxpayer), I'm very much disturbed that you feel building BELOW flood regs. and not providing for the "surge" is OK because it was "grandfathered".

    SOMEONE has to pay the cost when your newly built home is wiped out NEXT TIME. And I'm sick and tired of watching my premiums increase every time a hurricane wipes out your home. RE-building to half-assed specs. pisses me off, frankly! Insurance is ALL about "spreading the risk". I'm pretty cool with that. But when MY premium DOUBLES following something like Katrina, you'd best believe I'll scream "blue, bloody, murder"!

    UNHUH! put in a foundation that meets current regs.! and quit grousin'. Who the hell do you think underwrites the policies that you (if you're lucky) obtain following such a catastrophe? I've been insured by my company for over 30 yrs.! and I was absolute bull-hit that MY policy doubled to pay for losses along the Gulf Coast (I've NEVER made a claim).

    Don't grouse to me. Build higher!

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks for the encouragement, charliedawg. What a pain this has been!

    I am grousing because if I lose to the county I will be forced to build something weaker and lower! I am building 4.5' higher than required, and to 150 mph winds instead of the 130 mph required.

    For everyone upset about the elevation we are building to - DH and I have been reviewing our elevation certificate. We are actually only 9" below what FEMA's preliminary elevations are. We'll add 18" of fill at the lowest grade around our house and we will meet those elevations. We were planning on adding a foot of fill anyways. That's an easy fix to meet FEMA's idiotic requirements.

    As for the surge - I am 10 miles away from open water, next to a bayou and surrounded by forrest. I refuse to design my house to non-existent 5' waves IF FEMA decides that's what they want us to do. They aren't actually going to make that decision for another 15 months, assuming they don't delay it again.

    Chelone, I take it that you didn't read andyk's post earlier? Or perhaps you have some other facts to refute the article? I am always open to learn.

  • zion.power
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Wow Wow Wow alot of discussion. I think everything is fine and the house is prety cool. I think you can lift it up a lil more. No worries. Just to make your future much secure from flood and please do keep the roof like a hut that is sliding from both side for stability of the house again earthquakes.

    Cheers mate keep the good work always up.

  • chiroptera_mama
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Chelone, you (and others) seem to be misunderstanding a couple of things.

    1. Your taxes do not pay for flood insurance. FEMA does not pay people who have flood insurance.

    2. Your regular insurance does not pay for flood insurance, nor is it affected by claims. If your agent is claiming that is why your premiums doubled, they are BSing you. Insurance companies made record PROFITS last year. Flood insurance is a seperate pool that is not regulated by insurance companies - which is why it is so affordable - and you are only affected if you pay for flood insurance, and you are not paying much if you are, not enough to kavetch about.

    3. The OP has is building HIGHER than required. STRONGER as well. The issue is the continuous little strip of foundation above the openings that help make the foundation STRONGER that the inspector has decided makes it a enclosed space - even though the openings EXCEED the percentage required by FEMA and IRC codes.

    4. EVERYONE lives in a flood zone - even you. There are over 20,000 communities in higher risk flood zones, including many many areas nowhere near the ocean.

    Natural disasters happen everywhere. The best we can do is try to prepare as much as humanly possible, which in this case the OP is trying to do.

  • dlynn2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Rebuilding next to a bayou is not doing as much as is humanly possible. For those of you that have not been to the Mississippi Coast, I recommend that you take a trip down there and see what the water does when a hurricane comes ashore and the bayous rise. It's pretty devastating. I do not appreciate the philosophy that flood insurance is cheap, so I just need to build so that the structure stays and the insurance will pay to replace all of my flooded things every few years.

  • brickeyee
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    "Your taxes do not pay for flood insurance."

    Sort of true, but not really.
    Flood insurance is backed by the Federal government.
    If claims exceed cash available the government loans the money to pay the claims.
    The flood insurance program gets very low rates for these loans and is then supposed to pay them back from premiums.

    So, are taxes paying for flood insurance?
    The government gets the money from someone.
    And if it used for this purpose it is not available for something else.

    Other insurance from private companies is regulated at the state level.
    Claims will result in increased insurance costs in the state they are made in.
    If it gets bad enough the companies stop writing policies and withdraw from the state.
    A number have followed this route in Florida.

    Insurance only works if the risks are manageable and the pool of insured is large enough.
    In many cases we are living with the poor choices made years ago.
    Either the cost of insurance in these areas will have to increase (and then they will all scream about the greedy insurance companiesÂ), or no insurance will be available (or it will be significantly limited in payouts and not satisfy mortgage holders).

  • teresamacalmon
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The OP is clearly "between a rock and a hard place" trying to comply with regs that the public officials charged with enforcing don't understand, and/or have reneged on. Chelone said "put in a foundation that meets current regs" -- it looks to me like that's just the problem. The current regs apparently are up for grabs right now, and the OP is trying to comply with a moving target.

    The issue of whether she should or shouldn't be rebuilding isn't what the post was about. But on that subject...Should we have NO homes near coastal waters anywhere? What about homes in "tornado alley?" Homes in earthquake country? Okay...let's see...no homes that might be flooded, none that might get hit by a tornado, none that might be earthquake damaged...so, let's all move to Idaho?

    Frankly, I'm just pretty shocked at the hatefulness displayed in some of these posts. Chelone, your tone in each post is just offensive. Offensive not because of your opinions, but because of the vitriolic way that you are expressing them. Time to take a civility pill.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Don't forget fires!

    Part of our problem is that the personnel working in the building code office are understaffed, undertrained, and underqualified. We want to comply with the code in question, but they are taking an extremely narrow view on it, to the point that they do not care if our foundation is weakened in order to comply with their version of the code. Or, more likely, perhaps they do not understand that an epoxied rebar is not as strong as one set in the foundation before the concrete cures.

    In an ideal world, we would be working together to find a solution that retains the strength of our foundation while meeting the code. That has not happened, so we are forced to resort to using a lawyer to gain their attention.

    With the new elevation requirements, and higher ones possibly coming in the next years, I think that there should be a structural engineer working at the code office. I think all elevated houses should comply with FEMA 550 or be designed by a professional engineer. But instead I see houses raised 14' on wooden pilings in shallow foundations, just like the houses that were raised 8'.

    The kind words are appreciated!

  • andyk
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I am somewhat appalled by some of the responses to the OP concerns. Caterinms, a Katrina survivor, is trying to pick up the pieces of her life and rebuild and a lot of what I'm reading here are people blaming her for their high property insurance rates. Read my previous post on July 1st if you need more information on that. (Some here also appear to be confusing property insurance- which protects against wind damage, with flood insurance- which protects against flood damage and NOT all flood insurance is federally subsidized BTW.)

    Caterinms, I don't know what to tell you. It seems illogical that FEMA does not support you given that you are building beyond code. Then again, FEMA is run by a government which had a history of paying $100 for a box of nails and $500 for a toilet seat. You're probably stuck in a quagmire of bureaucracy and you have my sympathy and full support.

    At this point in time the last thing you need to be is someone elses scapegoat for their high insurance premiums. Silliness to say the least. All it takes is a little homework and people would have all they need to know about federally subsidized flood programs.

    I am building in a flood zone, and a mandatory evacuation zone in Florida about 100-200 yards away from the Gulf of Mexico. I will be paying $615 for property insurance and $475 for flood insurance (which is subsidized BTW via The National Flood Insurance Program)

    The National Flood Insurance Program (subsidized flood insurance) is a federally backed program designed as an incentive or some may say a reward to communities which have adapted and enforced floodplain management ordinances as outlined by FEMA to reduce future flood damage. PARTICIPATION IN THE NFIP (subsidized flood insurance program) is COMPLETELY VOLUNTARY! Not all communities are eligible to enroll, a community must meet stringent requirements before they are rewarded participation in this program. The NFIP is NOT the flood insurance equivalent of the Medicaid program. (subsidized heatlh insurance). In fact, some of the richest neighborhoods along the coast receive federally subsidized flood insurance for spending the money on infrastructure and upholding stiff code requirements to reduce the risk of damage caused by floods.

    The premise behind the program was that prevention was a lot cheaper than the cost of providing disaster relief. Prior to subsidized flood insurance federal monies were spent on the erection of dams and levies in high risk zones. When the government realized that this was not enough and disaster relief was much more expensive they began to offer the NFIP as an incentive to communities to build "stronger" dwellings and businesses. As a reward, communities were offered less expensive flood insurance premiums that were federally backed (subsidized). By subsidized they mean that communities which voluntarily participated in the program were allowed to BORROW up to 1.5 billion dollars from the Treasury IF and only IF funds set aside and collected through insurance premiums were exhausted. Even then, however, this money MUST BE PAID BACK WITH INTEREST! to the Treasury. (ie. via higher flood insurance premiums by NFIP participants).

    So you see, you're flood insurance premiums are not low because "someone else is paying for it" but because, and I quote directly from the NFIP website, "buildings constructed in compliance with NFIP building standards suffer approximately 80 percent less damage annually than those not built in compliance." Communities which voluntarily participate in the NFIP program should be proud of their high building standards and balk at these unwarranted criticisms. WE'RE THE ONES WHO ARE ULTIMATELY SAVING YOU MONEY IN THE LONG RUN because WE'RE the ones who are building to higher standards and who are less likely to sustain damage in a disaster. Again, this program is completely voluntary and your community must meet stiff requirements before you are eligible to join.

    Blaming people who receive federally subsidized flood insurance for their own problems is like blaming banks for being federally insured or blaming 95% of graduate students who receive some form of federally subsidized student loans for becoming doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers etc... Subsidized programs are not always about handouts if you didn't know- they are often incentives.

  • woodswell
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Caterinms,
    Have you contacted the manufacturer of your ICF for help? I know that in areas where ICFs are new and the building departments need help understanding them many of the manufacturers will assist builders and homeowners in getting the engineering approved.

    I find it absurd that you are building higher and stronger and the county is hassling you rather than making sure everyone is building to or above minimum requirements!

    Good luck!

  • andyk
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    FYI Caterinms,

    This is my build. Again I am in a flood zone area and a mandatory evacuation zone. Granted, this part of Florida near Tampa has not had a major hurricane (direct hit) since 1921, which is a lot better record than most cities in mid-Atlantic and North east coastal states. I'm going with an insurance company that cherry-picks its insurees- thus the low quote ($615). My agent told me other insurers would also have given us great quotes. He said since we were built to code and one of the code requirements called Hurricane shutters AND I simply have an alarm system that I saved close to $900 dollars a year on my insurance right there!

    I made sure my community was an NFIP participant as I knew the homes would be built to higher standards there. In a county maybe 2 miles north of me, they are averaging $5000 premiums for homes many miles inland far away from flood zones. My insurance company will not write any policies in that county. They say it was due to sink hole activity in that county and a few small tornadoes that hit the area and a few zip codes the past couple of years. Your guess is as good as mine, but everyone tells me don't build in that county.

    I think it is in your best interest to meet or make sure FEMA understands that you have met FEMA regulations as it could save you a lot of money in the long run.

    We went with traditional steel reinforced cement block construction, with interior rigid foam insulation, and breakaway walls. I am elevated 13 feet above sea level per code requirements. Its not a fancy smancy dwelling, but it will have some nice details. My builder has a good reputation and has won awards for building entire communities where the entire home received an Energy Star Rating. I don't know how close my home is to receiving Energy Star Rating, but I think I'm close.

  • dlynn2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Andyk, you stated "The premise behind the program was that prevention was a lot cheaper than the cost of providing disaster relief." That is exactly what is bothering some of us with what the OP is doing. She is building her home below what FEMA recommends for flooding, and low enough that it would have still flooded in Katrina. And, in a previous post even admitted that she only wants it to withstand the wind so that it will be repairable from the flood. This does not sound like flood prevention to me. She is depending on the subsidized flood insurance to cover her disaster relief again when she floods because she isn't built high enough right next to the bayou.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    dlynn, FEMA and my county say that the static flood height that I must build to is 16'. FEMA is applying an equation to calculate wave height that is appropriate to front beach properties. That equation adds a 5' wave. For some reason, they are not issuing their new FIRMs (official flood maps) until fall of 2008. That is over 3 years after Katrina. With an extra couple of feet of fill dirt, I will meet what FEMA is recommending.

    So yes, I am building 9" below what FEMA says I should build to. And this is also 3' below the Katrina flood, 8' higher than the house I lost was, and 4' higher than what I am required to. Should we get lucky enough to experience another 400 year flood, I will recieve approximately $50K to repair my home. From insurance that I pay for. Should we get another Category 5 hurricane like Camille, I hope to have no flooding and minimal wind damage.

    I saw too many houses away from the beaches that floated off their foundations. That resulted in $250K losses, where a little extra attention to connections would have resulted in $50K losses. I see houses going up today with the same poor connections.

    Anyways, I am done defending my decisions. If dlynn and chelone want to respond to my responses then I am willing to explain further, but as it is, they are going back to the same points and are ignoring anything that I add. dlynn's statement that I only want to withstand wind and don't care about flood means that I either did not make my points well, or that dlynn did not bother reading my responses. And chelone harping on insurance rates is idiotic. The houses destroyed in MS represent a tiny fraction of the total houses in the nation, and most of those were flood damaged and our non-flood policies didn't pay much, if any, compensation.

    andyk, I look forward to looking at your build later this evening.

  • vancleaveterry
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Carter... How about an update?

    Terry

  • stinkytiger
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi Caterinms,

    I sort of agree with brickeye in the respect of the 'One Solid' wall enclosure is a bad thing in a flood area.

    I believe the reason is that your foundation may float in a bad storm. Imagine your basement as a large bathtub. You have walls and a concrete slab. I agree that it will not be 100% water tight and some water will seap in. The failure mode is if the water rises sufficiently fast such that your basement become bouyant enough to shift. That will essentially take out your foundation.

    I think it may be worth looking into housing building techniques in Dubai. The artificual island homes build on reclaimed land have water tables just below the surface, lots of sea water pressures. The technology I used is Dutch which allows for basements below the water line. Granted however that there are fewer storms of Katrina magnitude in that area of the world.

    In your situation what would it take to add the extra four feet of concrete height? Also could you try and divide your basements into smaller enclosed chunks? This will add cost, the question is how much? Also I guess is will it look different to what you have already in mind. 4 Feet of fill is alot of fill dirt, and trucking will be expensive.

    Just an idea, say you did not fill. Your house would not be anchored, and your door will be say 4 feet above grade. For aestetics, you would like your house anchored to grade. Maybe there is a deck, porch, or other structure that may facilite this? Difficult to suggest in that I cannot see your picture for some reason.

    From the height requirments, it is almost as if the best solution for your location would be to build the house on some sort of stilts, almost like a pier. Then you would not have to bring in all that fill. Stilt houses are quite nice. One example is the Farnsworth house by Miles van der Rohe.

    This is sort of late into the process to think about a redesign, but I think some sort of redesign is required in that I think the local inspectors are not going to sign off as is.

    For piece of mind, I think building it higher is better. Also you would get a better view.

    Warmest regard, Mike.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Wow - what a surprise to see this post resurrected!


    It took a lawyer, but we finally got permission to continue. All our arguments fell on deaf ears, but once we got a lawyer involved, the county took a look at their codes and realized that they didn't have a leg to stand on. The county has since revised their code so that no-one else can build like we did. Unfortunately, they continue to approve any house that is raised to the required flood elevation, without checking to see what additional structural measures should be taken to account for the longer piling lengths. I hated to resort to a lawyer, but the code office was very nice afterwards, and I don't think they will purposefully make things difficult for us.

    FEMA recently issued the final flood elevations - unlike the advisory maps, we are not in a velocity zone. Furthermore, we are only required to be at 19' above sea level, and we are actually 1.5' higher then that.

    Stinkytiger - I hope you can see the updated picture. I can't see the pictures at work as they are blocked by the firewall. Our front door is actually somewhere around 14' above grade, and we don't have a basement. We do have openings to let water flow through. I don't think the walls would hold up to the wave loads on front beach, but we don't get these waves. We wanted the partial walls because they will provide more lateral support.

    We have continued to face problems - the weekend before we presented our case before the Board of Supervisors, I found out that our GC hadn't paid for some of the concrete used in our build. About 2 weeks later, the GC skipped town. He and his wife were arrested last month on 4 counts of felony theft and home repair fraud. I'm not sure how much time they face, but long enough that their kids will be grown by the time they get out. My guess is they got into drugs and/or gambling, then stole a lot of money so that they could "start over" somewhere else.

  • caligirl_cottage
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I haven't read all of the thread, but it occurs to me that the original poster and the one just previous (the photo) show what I would assume are spaces that could and might later be enclosed fully and used for living space after the permit is signed-off on. I think that the intention of FEMA is to eliminate such spaces, since ultimately they may be flooded again and result in people losing great amounts of personal possessions and living space.

  • carterinms
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Caligirl - both pictures are of the same house - mine. Your assessment is correct - everyone is concerned that we, or a future owner, may decide to enclose/utilize the floodable area. Not only is the loss of personal possessions (and resulting insurance claims) a problem, but in areas with waves, the debris can cause damage to adjacent houses. That is why they changed the code so that no-one else could build the same. We have revised our deed to agree that we will not enclose the area, and the county may come onto our property periodically to confirm this.

    Unfortunately, we were not aware of this requirement - we were trying to built high without the "stilts" look, and liked the additional lateral support from the walls. By the time we realized there was a problem, we could not afford to start over. It was an unfortunate situation.

  • dirtygardener
    4 years ago

    I know this is an old post, but I sympathize with you. We lost our ancestral home on an island in SC because they insisted we lift a 200 year old wood frame house 12 feet off the ground. It was already 4 feet off the ground, and had never flooded during a hurricane, but after Hugo, the codes all changed. They refused to grandfather it in. We tried to have it declared an historical site, due to some other structures on it, and they certified the other structures, but not the house. We had to sell the property after owning it for over 300 years because we could not afford to do what they wanted. My grandmother, mother and aunt grew up in that house. I spent all my summers there. My aunt lived there until the county came in and condemned the house after she was reported by some rich Yankee bastard she wouldn't let launch a huge boat from her dock. My grandmother died in that house. My aunt wanted to as well, but she ended up miserable in another state with her daughter. Doctors say she died of a broken heart, and my cousin said that she begged her to take her home to die, but they couldn't do it.

    Now the land is owned by more rich yankees and they have torn down the house and will build some monstrosity there that is up to the absolutely ridiculous, paranoid codes instituted after Hugo, when that house didn't sustain one bit of damage from Hugo except a couple of sheets of tin torn off the roof and a chicken coop that had a limb from an ancient oak fall on it.