South Shore Rising

Raising the roof — and everything else

Those who don't want to retreat to higher ground have an alternative: building higher


The way we live is always changing, and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the way we think about our homes is changing, too. Many of us are thinking about raising them — literally rebuilding them higher.

So many people have been flooded out — some more than once, in previous storms as well — and never again want to face the harrowing experience of seeing water flowing through their house, mucking out their belongings and having to rebuild. They have had enough.

I am flooded, so to speak, with questions about how to raise a home in order to avoid damage in future floods. Will the Federal Emergency Management Agency help me elevate my house? people ask. How is it done? Is it complicated? Is it expensive? Are there situations in which a house can’t be raised?

My first job as an intern architect was designing the Port Authority building in Monroe, Mich., in a harbor off Lake Erie where 1,200-foot-long freighters dock. Today the building stands on poles, and there’s a bridge leading to its front door. We received the Michigan Environomics Award for the structure, but I was most gratified in 1980, during a 100-year flood, as I watched the River Raisin flow underneath, leaving the building unscathed.

This year, on the South Shore of Long Island, history, for me, is repeating itself as we face the same kind of challenge. Residents are anxious to explore solutions that will allow them to stay put while working with, not against, the elements.

For some, raising a home is either impossible or not advised. I spoke with one woman whose sons had gutted her one-story concrete-block home, and when I saw that the only thing to lift was the finished ceiling and the attic, I told her that it would be cheaper to rebuild. The concrete floor slab and block walls couldn’t be lifted, and the roof structure wasn’t worth lifting by itself. That’s the case with all concrete-block homes; if you own one, raising it just isn’t an option.

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