Alright! You’re well versed by now (if you’ve been keeping up with our coastal blogs!) on the ins and outs of renovating and building on the coast. We understand that if you find yourself in a V-Zone, your house is going to have to be elevated out of the ground. So then we ask ourselves: how do you make your elevated home not look odd; what can we do with all the space below my house; and what exactly are break-away walls?
LET’S BREAK IT DOWN
An elevated home is at least seven feet above the ground (if you want to drive a car beneath it, that is). Depending on the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) your property lands in, the space beneath your home could be even taller. The space beneath the house has so much opportunity, so much potential! How can we utilize it?
HOW DO WE GET UP TO OUR HOUSE?
First things first, if we lift the house out of the ground at least seven feet, how do we get up there? One of the ways we try to meld the home to the earth to make it feel a bit more grounded is to design welcoming stairs. Often we break up the stairs with multiple landings. These can be used for planters to help break down the height and not feel so daunting. Now that the stairs are within the flood zone, they need to be built in a specific manner. The vertical portion of the stair (the riser) needs to be connected loosely so they can “break-away” in the event of a flooding storm. This is to allow water to flow freely throughout the stair.
WHAT CAN I DO BELOW MY HOUSE?
A typical solution we see in our small beach communities in Old Lyme and Old Saybrook is the need for parking! An elevated house creates a perfect covered parking area for you and your guests. But that’s not all! While parking spaces are a practical solution for tight lots, in lots where afforded we’ve designed a play space for children with a built-in sandbox, dining areas, living areas and even sleeping! Exciting right? We love to imagine a nice hot summer day lounging in the shade beneath your house, toes in the sand and a pina colada in hand. Ahhh.
These two photos are great representation of how to use the space below your elevated home. It can remain open for car and boat storage like Bates Masi Architects did in Long Island, or can be a cozy hang out spot like Ruhl Studio Architects did outside of Boston.
WHAT ARE BREAKAWAY WALLS?
When lifting a house significantly out of the ground, to help make the space feel a bit cozier and enclosed, adding walls or some type of privacy screening is desired. There are several ways to accomplish this, but they all must have one thing in common: break-away construction. This means anything built below the BFE (other than the structural piers holding up the house) must be built in such a way to not withstand the flow of water. The walls must easily be separated from the structure. Remember, the goal is to have the house remain standing in the event of a storm. Anything that qualifies as “non-structural” must be able to detach to allow free and natural water flow.
Breakaway walls can come in all different shapes, sizes and styles. Our mind may typically go to lattice, but we are constantly trying to rethink the norm. We’ve even discussed putting these break away walls on pulley systems to get them out of harms when when a flood does come. However, we have not yet executed it (but you’ll be the first to know when we do).