Beach Home Design – Be Aware of the Requirements.

by Engineer Designer on September 9, 2010

As in most beautiful things, beach homes are easy to appreciate and love, but there is a significant background of technical and legal issues that must be met to bring them into being. The undertaking, like so many in our country, is now mostly owned by governmental regulators who act, almost daily, to protect just about anything and everything that comes to their minds. Restrictions have become most onerous. But they are finite and can, with professional guidance, be handle. Here are five 5 issues, unique to building on a beach, that need to be considered: Elevation -  Determined by zoning, the elevation of the main floor of the structure must be considered. This is established as a BFE (Base Flood Elevation) which is a specified height above sea level. It is required that the bottom of the lowest horizontal structural member be at or above this elevation. Finish floors will generally be higher. It is VITAL that this be done correctly and verified by a registered surveyor. I have seen projects built just inches below these requirements which had to be demolished and rebuilt. The officials take this quite seriously. FEMA - The Federal Emergency Management Agency has developed codes and requirements that affect structures on the beach. These include what types and the sizes of enclosed spaces that may be built on the ground (below the required elevation), the types of materials allowed, electrical restrictions, and many other requirements. Also, if one intends to enclose the space under the home (for parking or storage) the enclosing walls must be designed to break away during a storm event. These are called “break-away” walls and their purpose is to allow storm water to flow naturally without hindrance. Pilings – Beach homes will usually be on stilts (columns). These will be supported by pilings which are driven into the ground. Pilings are designed to hold if a portion of the soil around them erodes away during the storm. Pilings are designed by a Geotechnical Engineer who specializes in ground investigation and design. Additionally, a Structural Engineer will assure that the loads are adequately supported against water, wind and gravity forces. Windborn Debris – Doors and Windows must be designed to withstand significant winds as well as the impact of high-velocity projectiles. These are known as “Impact Resistant” windows and doors and can be purchased from numerous manufactures. DER – The Department of Environmental Regulation will be intimately involved. They assure that wetlands are considered, beach features remain undisturbed, and that wildlife is protected. Lighting is controlled so that beach mice and sea turtles are not adversely affected by the night lights coming from the structure. Additional setback requirements (in addition to the local requirements) are sometimes imposed by DER. Beach home design, while exciting and aesthetic, is quite technical. However, many consider it worth it to achieve the ultimate in living in Florida and southeastern coastal states. The requirements are numerous – but finite. There are only so many. Hiring a good professional designer is your best bet to assure that you are guided through the process thoroughly and beautifully.