NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

August 13, 2012

Built on Stilts and Built to Last


Zillow

Syndicated — If you've ever attempted to walk on stilts, you may have noticed that it's not the steadiest form of transportation. However, in terms of construction, a home built on stilts is a solid option, especially in the hurricane- or tsunami-prone locales. From Southeast Asia to Hawaii as well as up and down the Gulf Coast, a stilt home is not only the safest option for housing, but in some places it's absolutely required.

"It's mandatory if you're in flood or tsunami elevations," explained Hawaii real estate agent Paul Pacuilla. "The idea is that water flows through the house, rather than knocking it down."

This Kilauea home for sale is an elevated beachfront home.

Elevated homes are established housing option

Building a home on stilts is nothing new, especially in swampy Florida, says Rob Kolanowski, vice president of SandCastle Coastal Homes in Valrico, FL. "People have been building homes up off the ground since they started living here."

But the stilt homes of today are far different from the stilted shanties prevalent in the 1930s, Kolanowski says.

"We've learned lessons from the old rickety ones that people imagine. It's a totally different build right now," he said.

Each stilt home is constructed differently. From a soil analysis to the wind zones to the type of waterfront, the construction varies in each area, enabling the strongest structure - able to withhold whatever a hurricane throws its way.

Basically, what's important is in the ground, says Kolanowski. "Some homes have pilings going 25 feet into the ground. Then the columns can be up to 16 to 18 feet."

Most elevated homes are at least 10 feet above ground, allowing for a garage or storage space below. While the areas can be enclosed, in FEMA flood zone areas, the living areas are not allowed below the flood plain. Granted, some homeowners have bars or extra living space on the ground level, but with the understanding, explains Pacuilla, that it could be washed away.

This elevated Saint James City home in Florida has a two-car garage below its first level.

The stilted appeal

Coastline development has exploded, particularly in Florida. Homeowners want oceanfront living, and with improved elevated home technology, it's possible.

Of course, the downside of all elevated homes is the climb to the first level.

"If you're going to live by the beach, people tend to pay a premium and sacrifice certain things," explained Pacuilla. "Some people aren't interested in climbing stairs, and some people aren't interested in living in flood and tsunami zones. Some people are willing to put up with that."

However, notes Kolanowski, with an elevator, a home on stilts looks a lot more appealing.

"The cost of residential elevators has gone down," he said. "Florida is a retirement area. A lot of people come down for what we have - which is endless sunshine - and it makes elevators a necessity."

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