Ocean-front property owners, it’s time to move or floodproof your home
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With rising sea levels, coastal flooding is occurring more frequently and with greater intensity than ever, thanks in large part to climate change and global warming.
As Americans living on the East Coast and West Coast of the United States experience higher water levels and coastal erosion, it’s crucial to consider the impact that floods can have on belongings and personal safety. It’s also important to understand the difference between temporary storm surges and more long-term water inundation.
If you live in a flood zone or have a vacation home in a coastal area, here’s how to prepare your home for rising sea levels in its many forms.
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What’s the difference between coastal flooding and coastal inundation?
Flooding, as we typically think of it, is the result of a storm surge or excessive rain.
An abundance of water encroaches on an area temporarily before receding. Depending on the amount of water in and around your ocean-front property, flooding can range from being a nuisance to being a destructive or even fatal situation.
More recently, the threat of coastal inundation, meaning permanent flooding caused by rising sea levels, has become a larger problem for many people with homes close to the ocean.
As homeowners (and prospective buyers searching for their dream house) consider the locations of their homes and how to floodproof them to endure rising seas levels, there are a few options to think about, especially if a move further inland isn’t desired.
Two options for floodproofing your ocean-front property
Wet floodproofing means that there are certain measures taken to allow the flow of flood waters to enter enclosed areas of a house.
The primary benefit of wet floodproofing is to reduce the effects of hydrostatic pressure—“pressure exerted by or existing within a liquid at rest with respect to adjacent bodies,” according to Merriam-Webster—on a house. With the release of that pressure, the load imposed on the house is decreased, as is the chance of structural damage.
According to FEMA, wet floodproofing can be an effective way to limit damages to enclosures below elevated buildings, including basements and crawl spaces, or even attached garages.
When done correctly, wet floodproofing should ensure that flood waters can enter and exit the house, and that the water levels in the home rise and fall at the same rate as flood waters outside.
This typically involves constructing or retrofitting your home with openings in the foundation that will allow the flow of flood waters into your home’s basement or garage. It may sound crazy to basically cut holes into your foundation to allow for flooding, but giving water the opportunity to flow in and out greatly reduces pressure on your home. This can prevent major foundational damage.
A few major caveats with wet floodproofing: This type of intentional flooding should never be done in areas of the home used as actual living space, given that it will result in water exposure —and contaminated water at that—throughout the floodproofed areas.
In addition, any part of the home or foundation that is used in wet floodproofing must be constructed with flood-resistant materials. These include concrete, stone, masonry block, ceramic and clay tile, pressure-treated and naturally decay-resistant lumber, epoxy paints and metal.
Vulnerable materials that should never be used around wet floodproofed parts of a house or property. These include drywall, blown-in and fiberglass batt insulation, carpeting, non pressure-treated wood and plywood.
Openings in a house’s foundation may be covered by screens or louvers. It’s crucial to properly maintain them and ensure they’re not blocked by debris so that water can flow freely.
If wet floodproofing is installed in a secondary residence where you may not be present all the time, make sure you or a caretaker clear these vents before a storm.
It’s also vital to make sure any HVAC, electrical components or oil and propane tanks are secured and located above your home’s base flood elevation when wet floodproofing. FEMA explains that the BFE is “the elevation of surface water resulting from a flood that has a 1% chance of equaling or exceeding that level in any given year.”
This level changes depending on where you live.
It also goes without saying that any items stored below your home’s BFE should be relocated to higher ground.
Once a flood has come and gone, a wet-floodproofed home will require some cleanup.
Flood waters are usually contaminated and, as a result, the surfaces in your flooded home will have been exposed to them. Once the floodwater in your home has receded, disinfect all surfaces with a cleaning agent, like Clorox bleach or Pine Sol.$33.90 at Amazon $17.32 at Amazon
Using a wet vacuum like the Ridgid NXT wet/dry shop vacuum can prevent water from puddling or sitting too long and causing mold, mildew or other water-borne bacteria from congregating.$79.97 at The Home Depot
There are plenty of reasons why a homeowner would not want to wet floodproof or is prevented from doing so. If your home cannot be wet floodproofed or does not have a basement, dry floodproofing may be a suitable alternative.
With dry floodproofing, a home is sealed off to keep flood waters out. All areas below the building’s flood protection level are made watertight using plastic or rubberized sheeting or special waterproofing compounds.
Exterior walls and/or floors are sealed with compounds that are applied directly to the surface of the structure to help the building resist water penetration. A drainage line around the home is installed, and, typically, plumbing check valves and a sump pump are installed to remove any water that does penetrate the home.
While wet floodproofing is best for homes where deeper flooding is expected, dry floodproofing is recommended for homes where flooding is not expected to exceed three feet. It’s important to note that dry floodproofing does not alleviate the buildup of hydrostatic pressure like wet floodproofing does. Structural damage to the home is still a possibility.
Both wet floodproofing or dry floodproofing an ocean-front property requires professional construction and/or installation of waterproof materials.
Floodproofing alternatives: Elevation or relocation
As an alternative to wet floodproofing and dry floodproofing, elevating a home or relocating it to higher ground are two additional ways to mitigate future risk of damage and destruction caused by rising sea levels.
The National Center for Healthy Housing states, “Elevation or relocation are the only reasonable ways to protect your home if it is subject to coastal flooding or to deep flooding (more than 6 feet deep.) Elevation and relocation are also the most dependable measures for floodproofing your home.”
Elevating a home involves rebuilding a new foundation that’s higher than the flood protection levels. Relocating a home to a new plot of land or higher ground on an existing area of the property is another alternative. Both obviously require the assistance of a contractor with experience handling these kinds of situations.
For instances where a home has already sustained damage from prior flooding and requires some kind of repair, preventive work may be eligible for federal Hazard or Flood Mitigation Grant programs. This typically covers the cost of this type of repair.
The consequences of climate change and all its off-shoots, from global warming to extreme, dangerous weather, are here to stay. Prepare now. With these flood mitigation tactics, you can help prevent a natural disaster from turning into a devastating property loss.
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