Blog Cabin 2013: Structural Considerations in Coastal Locations

The North Carolina coastal cottage is being reconstructed to withstand floods and hurricane conditions.

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The fact that Blog Cabin 2013 has survived coastal storms and hurricanes may be a stroke of dumb luck. This circa-1892 waterfront home was held together by nails alone and pinned to the earth via a few locally felled and hewn longleaf pine logs.

Now DIY Network is rebuilding the home to withstand the toughest forces Mother Nature has in store, relying upon science rather than coastal building tradition to drive the renovation. “Every hurricane teaches us more about the impact of flooding and wind on architecture,” says Blog Cabin 2013 Project Contractor Ryan Crosser.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the primary enforcer of coastal construction practices, has drastically upgraded its requirements in the aftermath of recent hurricanes. Even so, the DIY Network team plans to follow an even stricter standard, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s “Fortified” program, during this remodel.

“Much like green-building certifications, IBHS is a voluntary procedure,” says Ryan. “We will follow its guidelines and then apply for designation that gives homeowners (and their insurance companies) increased peace of mind about the house’s storm resistance.”

In addition to sealing the house’s shell — the roofing, siding and windows — against wind and rain, the DIY Network team will do two major structural retrofits, says Blog Cabin 2013 Project Manager and Designer Dylan Eastman.

Raised Construction

Heavy wave action is not a major threat thanks to the home’s location along Core Sound, a body of water protected from the Atlantic Ocean by North Carolina’s barrier islands. The home’s placement, 300 feet away from the shoreline, also provides a buffer.

Still, to prevent water infiltration, says Dylan, Blog Cabin is set on a masonry foundation that raises the first floor to eight feet above sea level. The home also features 10 foundation wall flood vents that allow storm waters to flow in and out without damaging the structure and a basement drain that feeds flood water through an underground pipe and to an old irrigation ditch.

Wind Resistance

Wind poses a bigger threat than water at this location, so Blog Cabin is being rebuilt to withstand gusts of 130 miles an hour. Locking one component of the structure to its neighbor, thereby constructing one strong, monolithic mass, is key. “Hurricane-force winds tend to lift up on roofs,” says Ryan. “So we’re tying the roof down to the walls, to the floors and to the foundation.”

Steel rods, buried two feet beneath the soil, run from the foundation footings up through the girder beam, the main wood support member under the perimeter walls. And all the structural components above the first-story floor are being rebuilt to the exact same footprint as the original walls, but with new boards that are tied to their neighbors with beefy metal plates.

Doing Your Own Retrofit

Though this level of structural upgrade requires a complete gut renovation, there are simpler steps a contractor can take to protect coastal buildings, Dylan notes. A metal detector can be used to check the nailing patterns in the roof sheathing; additional fasteners can be added where necessary. And it’s sometimes possible to add flood vents to an existing foundation.

Existing framing members can be locked together via metal brackets bolted at key locations in the structure, such as where roof rafters meet wall framing and where floor joists meet wall studs at the outside corners of the building. “This takes opening up some walls, so there are repairs to do afterward, but it’s a relatively affordable — and highly effective — solution,” says Ryan.

Of course, a structural retrofit is unique to each home and its construction. “You’ll want to hire an engineer to inspect your house and make recommendations,” says Dylan. “But first talk with your local building department to see what experts recommend.”

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