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Post-Sandy Flood Maps Come With Big Changes

FEMA is releasing new post-Sandy flood maps.

Technically known as Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFE), these are updated estimates of the water levels associated with a flood event that has a 1% chance of being equaled or exceeded in a given year (the notorious 100 year flood). These maps are being released to the municipalities and the municipalities will likely accept them and incorporate them into their code.

Closing the Breach at Mantoloking, NJ
(Click to enlarge)
They’re going to show higher elevations than those on the current maps. They’re also going to show coastal flood areas extending further inland than those on the current maps. They’re including re-drawn AdvisoryZones, areas of structurally damaging wave action and Hurricane Sandy high water marks.

FEMA began releasing the ABFEs for New Jersey’s inland counties last week. Those for the shore counties are coming out this week, and New York City and Westchester’s new ABFEs will be released next week (12/17/2012). FEMA has not yet decided if Long Island’s maps need to be updated, but the devastation we saw in Amityville alone would tend to imply they do.

A complete re-study of the New York and New Jersey coastline was already in process when Sandy hit. The new maps were scheduled to be released in Mid-2013, but recent events compelled FEMA to put out these advisories in advance of the official release so that intelligent re-building can get underway.

Between the new ABFE flood maps and the ramifications of the Biggert-Waters bill, it’s clear that homeowners in the affected areas need to take some action or they stand to find flood insurance premiums going through the roof.

Biggert-Waters is the law that reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program. It was signed in July 2012 and makes a lot of changes. For instance, subsidies will be phased out for many building types other than primary residences. Even primary residences that have incurred excessive losses in the past will lose the subsidy.

Under Biggert-Waters, rates are also going up if there’s a change of ownership, a lapse in coverage, substantial improvements or -get this- “a mapped change in flood risk.”

Houses on left were properly elevated and substantially
undamaged. Houses on the right were not so lucky.
Building owners should evaluate actions they can take to reduce that risk. Not just because the new rates will reflect the full flood risk of the insured properties, but in order to avoid the heartbreak of being wiped out by another flood.

FEMA recommends strategies to reduce future losses. One of the best is to raise your building above the minimum required elevation. Generally, the higher the building is over the minimum required elevation, the lower the premiums and the lower your flood risk. 
That just makes sense. And it’s not as complicated as it seems.  

If you’re covered under the National Flood Insurance Program and have damage valued at 50% or more of the pre-market value of the house, you may be able to get $30,000 towards the cost of elevating the house. It’s called an ICCClaim. If your damage is less than 50%, there are other scenarios and programs that may be able to help you cover the cost.

The actual process of elevating the structure is usually pretty straightforward. Your contractor will pierce the existing foundation and slip steel girders under the floor joists. Hydraulic jacks are then used to raise the building up off the foundation.

Concrete block foundation washed
away  by Sandy's storm surge
If your existing foundation is damaged or made from concrete block, your contractor should remove it and replaced with a cast in place concrete foundation. Polycrete ICFs are a very fast, economical way to retrofit a cast in place foundation on an existing structure.

Different categories of flood advisory zones call for different types of foundations, so bear in mind that you’ll need to check with a structural engineer and your local building officials to determine what sort of new foundation is required for your structure.

We have a list of qualified architects and structural engineers who can advise you on the proper foundation for your building, and we also have a list of recommended, licensed contractors who can handle the job. 

Depending on your particular circumstances, it's very likely you can have your structure elevated and new foundation formed in the next several weeks. In many cases, Polycrete foundations can be poured right through the winter. 

Please call or email us to get started, and don't forget, for every square foot of Polycrete ICFs sold in the region through the end of 2013, we're contributing to New York and New Jersey's rebuilding funds.  

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