Bubil: When building, elevate and save


While touring Casey Key recently, I took special notice of houses that date to the days when building at ground level was standard operating procedure.

They are dwarfed by the new ones built way up high.

Under the National Flood Insurance Program, new houses have to be elevated to at least the “base flood elevation” as set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

With flood insurance in the news after the passage of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, many house owners, especially those with mortgages whose lenders require them to carry flood insurance, are worried that the higher premiums for flood policies will swamp them.

Even though some in Congress are trying to delay the rate hikes for owners of primary residences, it is a good time for all house owners to consider what they can do.

If the house is on grade, raising it is one option, although an expensive one. On the barrier islands, it would probably cost more than an old structure is worth. There, as rates rise, the modest on-grade houses will disappear at an even faster rate as waterfront becomes affordable only to the very wealthy.

Regardless of the property’s location, there is a way to slash the insurance premium: Build higher than you need to. At the start of construction, it might cost less than $5,000 to add some dirt and a couple extra courses of concrete block to raise the house a foot and a half above the BFE, said Rampart Homes’ John King, greatly reducing the flood premium, depending on the location, flood zone and elevation certificate.

Elevating the air-conditioner is another good idea that will reduce premiums.

T.J. Nutter of Nutter Custom Construction notes that other factors come into play when elevating new houses.

“Yes, it is a good idea,” he said, “depending on the lot and how much dirt we can have. There are so many other things to take into account other than the flood insurance.

“If you have plenty of room on the lot and you can establish the drainage that you need, and you are not impacting the 35-foot height rule, then it is a great idea. But consider all factors.”

On a narrow lot, Nutter said, “you can’t just do it with dirt because you can’t establish the drainage, so you might have to do an extra course of stemwall.”

But, he added, not every owner wants the main living floor to be higher.

“We have folks who are not interested in navigating stairs on a regular basis,” said Nutter. “We have a retiree component to our market; they don’t want to deal with stairs. If the difference is three stairs versus five at the front door, they may say, ‘It is not worth it to me.’ ”

At least not until they get that first flood insurance estimate.

Before building up, raising your house or doing anything to mitigate higher flood premiums, check with your insurance agent as well as a contractor, surveyor and even a house mover who can raise the house.


Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: November 23, 2013
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