Ten Tips for Building on the Coast

Ten Tips for Building on the Coast

By Jeff Evans | July 21, 2022 | Building on the Coast

Thinking about building on or near the coast? There are a few additional hoops to jump through that you’ll want to understand and consider as you are planning to build your beach house. Here are ten tips for getting started.

Before You Buy Your Property

1) Know Thy Elevation. When you purchase a property, be sure to inspect the elevation certificate. In many locales on the coast you’ll find base flood elevations ranging from 10′ – 15′ above sea level. Elevating your piling (ground) level 8′-9′ will typically be plenty to raise your 1st Floor to the required height. While it is unusual, some properties may require that your first-floor elevation (the height from the ground level to the top of your first living level) be 12′, 13′, 14′ feet or higher. This may not be a deal killer, but the added height to the foundation level will add cost to your project.

2) Setbacks May Cause Setbacks Coastal lots, whether near ocean, lake or river, tend to be a tad smaller than their landlocked counterpart. As such, your setbacks may cause you some headaches in regard to locating a design that will work for you. Assuming you have a reasonable envelope to build within (a minimum of 14’ in width), you’ll have options for choosing a stock plan that will work.

3) Know Your Flood Zones Many coastal properties fall into flood zones. For the most part, this isn’t necessarily bad news. After all, getting close to a body of water is a large part of the allure of coastal living. You, however, do need to know how this may affect the cost of your building project. Generally speaking, building in a V Zone is the most expensive. V Zones are typically oceanfront, or near to ocean front, properties. The building codes that apply to V Zone properties will add about 15-30% to the total cost of the construction project. Much of the added cost will arise from 1) the additional ties, straps, hold downs and anchors required by the building code 2) additional cost for windows with upgraded wind ratings and 3) added cost for elevating the structure. “A” zoned properties carry some of the same code requirements, but will generally only add about 10-15% to the cost of construction.

4) When Being Too Tall is Terrible Many coastal communities are amending their building codes to shrink the total height allowed for residential structures. The idea is to avoid the creation of “corridors of darkness” caused by an excessive number of tall structures on a residential street. This can be tricky, especially because of the need for elevated foundations. The height restrictions can range from 28’ to 50’. As you can image, this will have a huge impact on the design that you choose for your property. In some instances, plans can be modified to squeeze under a given height restriction – just be sure to do the math before you purchase your plan.

5) Be Coastal, Not Cookie Cutter At the risk of being obnoxious, here’s some sage advice for choosing a design for your coastal property. When choosing a design, take into consideration where your residence will be situated. If you’ve moving onto an island, please don’t build a mountain chalet, no matter how nice the A-frame windows capture the view. In the same vein, subdivision-style homes (Colonials, Georgians, Federal-style, etc.) probably won’t work either. You have a wonderful opportunity to build a home that looks just right on your lot. There are dozens of coastal architectural options to choose from, so why not avoid the every day and pick something with style?

Before You Start Construction

6) Choose a Builder Who’s Done It Before Many coastal markets have been booming in recent years. Combine this with the fact that margins are higher for homes in “specialty” categories and you’ll find that builders from outside the market may decide to give the coast a go. Don’t go there. Choosing a builder who has experience in your coastal market offers the following advantages:

They’ll have a working knowledge of the construction methodologies unique to coastal home construction.
Your local coastal builder is more likely to have solid relationships in place with subcontractors and vendors. You don’t want to be the customer who gets stuck with “the only tile man we could find.”
If they’ve been around, you’ll be able to walk through homes they’ve built – when it comes to quality promises, seeing is believing.

7) Don’t Go Cheap on Materials We’re not suggesting that you import the most expensive tile from Italy or buy absolute top-of-the-line windows. We would recommend, however, that you avoid cheaping out on materials that are exposed to the elements. This would include: the roofing material you specify, the quality of window you choose, the grade of paint you pick, the decking material you buy and the type of ceiling fans you install. The coastal elements are famously tough on building materials – if you try to get by with lesser materials, you’ll lose the saving you realized by having to replace them inside of three years.

8) Details, Details One of the first things your builder may want to talk you into is the elimination of all the “frilly” trim work shown on your set of plans. He or she will make a case for saving money and time by simplifying the design for the fascia boards, balustrades, gable trusses, cornice work, under-eave brace supports, eyebrow dormers, etc. Some compromise is OK, but be careful not too eliminate too much. Often, it’s this type of detail that gives the design its coastal look and feel.

After You Build

9) Build an Outdoor Kitchen One of the joys of living on the coast (whether your coast is lake, ocean or river) is being outside. Over the past five years we’ve seen the introduction of hundreds of great products that make building your dream outdoor kitchen easy and affordable. Why not expand your usable living space to include the great outdoors?

10) Don’t Forget the Green Whether you do it yourself, or hire a professional, get started with beautifying your property with landscaping. You’ve endured 6 – 18 months of dirt during the construction of your home, you deserve this. Adding landscaping, whether it’s formal or casual in design, will make your house instantly feel like a home.

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