The Delaware River… beautiful in summer! But prone to flooding. Our studio is located steps from the Delaware River, so we’ve seen first hand how the flooding in the last ten years has affected our community of Hopewell Township, NJ. We’ve helped many homeowners navigate the additional construction and approvals required for building in a flood zone. We’ve guided homeowners in the towns of Pennington, Lambertville, Princeton, as well as the Jersey Shore and Bucks County, PA through the residential regulatory design and construction process for this specialized area. A home raised on piles for flood compliant design often brings to mind the Jersey Shore, however flood zones are not limited to coastal areas. Streams and rivers swell in the spring or fall causing flooding. In the last ten years, the communities along the Delaware River, including Lambertville, NJ, New Hope, PA, Yardley, PA and many others, have experienced several major floods. Most of the homes in these areas, given their historic character, were not designed to withstand storm driven waters.
In Lambertville, NJ in 2004, the first of three major floods destroyed a family’s home when its foundation collapsed under the pressure of rising flood waters. They hired Inside Architecture to create a new custom home located on the same flood prone lot. The new structure is completely flood code compliant, including living spaces and utilities set almost 9′ above grade. The lowest section of the house is below the potential flood elevation so flood vents were installed to allow any flood waters to flow through. Sounds extreme, but we developed a design that compliments the Victorian neighborhood by analyzing the area’s historic architectural character and incorporating those patterns into the new custom residence. The at grade parking below the elevated living areas is “disguised” from the street by adding traditional french doors facing the road and locating the garage door to the side.
There can be quite a bit of misinformation regarding flood zones. Even locations near streams can trigger flood regulations. One Princeton homeowner called us for help, saying the flood zone prohibited any additions to their home, although their home is not near any visible stream. We did a code analysis, and by working with the Princeton township engineer, followed a simple approval process and creative solution for a home addition, giving the family much needed extra living space
What are the initial steps for a home renovation or new construction in a flood zone?
- Determine if the property is in a flood zone: Flood zone requirements are very specific to each individual property. Reach out to local municipal offices to ask about flood zone boundaries and requirements for the block and lot number. Other resources are FEMA’s Digital Federal Insurance Rater Map (DFIRM).
- A professional engineer determines the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and flood zone for a specific property. This may be completed in conjunction with a property survey. A professional engineer will be required to provide a certification of the BFE and flood zone before a building permit can be obtained. What is a Base Flood Elevation (BFE)? The FEMA definition of a BFE is: “The computed elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during the base flood.” Flood resistant design requires that living areas are above the anticipated level of flood waters. The BFE and local codes will determine how many feet above the grade the home’s finished areas will be located.
- Required approvals are very specific to each individual property. Reach out to local municipal offices to ask about flood zone boundaries and requirements.
- Aesthetics – If the home must be elevated due to flood zone requirements, how will the architectural design make it welcoming? Special consideration should be given to the front entry. The ideal design is a few exterior steps leading to a welcoming porch. An interior foyer and stair will complete the entry sequence.
We specialize in architectural design for homes in flood zones of all types. Please feel free to contact us if we can help.