When a home is flooded, extensive repair work often triggers a code requirement to elevate the house. That's because National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) participation comes with strings attached for coastal communities — including a requirement for towns to enforce FEMA's rule that if a renovation, improvement, or repair job costs more than half of the existing home's value, the owner has to elevate the house above FEMA's Base Flood Elevation (BFE).
But the required measures only relate to flood risk. Typically, even a major renovation costing more than 50% of the home's value doesn't trigger any similar requirement with regard to wind. For example, the thousands of homes on the Connecticut shoreline whose construction wouldn't meet today's code rules for wind-resistant wall and roof construction or for structural connections between the wall and the roof, still won't have to meet those codes — even if the house has to be elevated to protect the structure from storm surge flooding.
For the Connecticut Mirror, a non-profit investigative news service covering Connecticut public issues, that difference in requirements is a head-scratcher. In an area that's exposed to hurricanes, why require houses to be flood-resistant, but not wind-resistant? The paper takes on the topic in this report (see "Wind becoming a new Connecticut shoreline storm concern," by Jan Ellen Spiegel).
"What you touch has to comply," Connecticut building inspector Dan Tierney told the Mirror.
"But in the post Irene and Sandy world, many people don't touch anything," the paper observes. "They just elevate the home because FEMA forced them to, and occasionally because they want to."
" 'I ask people if they want to retrofit for the wind loads,' John Grant, a designer who has done 27 elevations since Irene and also serves on Milford's zoning commission, told the paper. "The response 99% of the time is that they have just enough money to raise the house."
And engineer Tim Reinhold, an expert on storm-resistant construction who is a senior vice president of the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), an insurance industry think tank, says that flood risk is worth addressing even if you don't address wind risk at the same time. Reinhold told the Mirror: ""The greatest danger is getting hit by waves. When you get a one-and-a-half-foot wave, it's like getting hit with a 120 mile-per-hour wind."