Eileen Benner says elevating her home in Atlantic City, N.J., was a “no-brainer” after it suffered extensive flood damage during Superstorm Sandy. “I would tell anybody who has the money available to go ahead and do it,'' she says.
John Paynter's Long Beach Island, N.J., vacation home now stands 13 feet higher than it did before the storm a year ago. He, too, says he's glad he did it, though the process itself was nerve-wracking: “You heard a lot of cracks and creaks.”
Nationwide, insurance claims for flooding damage totaled on average more than $3 billion annually from 2003 to 2012, according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). And rising sea levels and more severe storms mean that in some areas, more homeowners are finding themselves in flood zones for the first time or in higher-risk ones.
The most common way to reduce the risk: elevating the home, the NFIP says.
The process can cost a lot more than $100,000 in many cases, depending on the home's size, location and foundation. But homeowners may be eligible to get some help from flood insurance policies and grants.
Flood elevation maps determine whether a property needs to be raised and by how much. Homeowners in high risk zones who choose not to raise their homes could see their flood insurance premiums skyrocket.
Roderick Scott of L&R Resources, a Mandeville, La., company that does home elevations, recommends lifting a house 1 or 2 feet above the minimum needed to get a flood elevation certificate.
“You don't want to elevate structures more than once in their lifetime,” he says.
Homes with an open foundation with a basement or crawl space are the easiest and least expensive to raise. “It's easy to get underneath and get the structure of the house from underneath and lift it up,” he says.
Raising those built on a slab foundation takes more time and money. “You have to open up walls and remove lower cabinets,” Scott says.
Any air conditioning and heating systems in the basement must be relocated, as well as power and other utilities. “They have to go on or above the main level of the structure so they won't be damaged,” Scott says.
And then there's the question of how you'll get up to the higher house. Where will you put the stairs, for example?
“A lot of seniors live at the beach. They may need to integrate a lift,” says Scott.