Stilt Built Homes in Florida Keys Survive Storm

KEY LARGO, FL – A recreational vehicle (RV) park that was redeveloped into a modular-home condominium community with stilt-built homes has demonstrated the benefits of mitigation.

During its decades-long existence, the character of the 22-acre oceanfront RV park in Key Largo, Florida, has gradually changed. The land is in a special flood hazard area. Residents had been constructing additions to RVs and permanent structures that did not comply with the county’s zoning and flood restrictions.

“The property was originally zoned as a Recreational Vehicle District where permanent structures were not allowed, just temporary RVs and campers,” said Monroe County Assistant Administrator Christine Hurley. “Through the years, some of the RVs had constructed add-ons such as porches, sun rooms and decks, which created an overcrowded development with fire hazards. The county, from a safety and building code perspective, was forced to intervene.”

Reportedly, propane tanks were located too close to some homes, narrow passageways existed that could not accommodate emergency vehicles, and substandard building materials and techniques had been used during construction of add-ons.

According to Hurley, trying to reach a compliance consensus among the homeowners became a challenge, due to the fact that the land was owned by co-op shares. Shareholders could not reach an agreement. However, a 2006 fire destroyed several homes and a court-ordered decision to demolish the RV campsite development was made in 2010. Life-safety issues that had not been resolved were cited in the court decision.

In 2011, the shareholders agreed to a site plan, which resulted in creating Key Largo Ocean Resort, a 285-unit modular-home condominium community. The individual single-family residences may be occupied six months a year. Not all have been fully built, but elevated modular homes in the condominium community serve as examples of modern stilt-built homes.

Coastal homes require different materials and construction practices than homes built in other regions, especially under the Florida Building Code. The code regulates development based on wind loads and requires structure hardness to prevent or mitigate damage to structures caused by storm events.

The modular homes in Key Largo Ocean Resort are elevated on stilts (piers or column) made of concrete reinforced with rebar. Each column is augured eight to 10 feet into a rock base. The rock base is said to be the strongest base foundation in the Florida Keys. Monroe County’s building codes specify the height of the foundations. Skilled contractors handle the excavation, foundation and installation of the homes.

“In the past two decades, most of the new homes in the Florida Keys have been built at least 10 feet or more above the floodplain,” said Hurley.

A modular home is constructed in a factory environment and engineered and built to the state and local building codes where the home will be located.

The homes are built to specifications recommended by consulting engineers who are aware of the Florida State Building Codes. They are built to the same standards as traditional site-built homes, adhering to specifications for coastal construction.

In September 2017, mitigation measures employed at Key Largo Ocean Resort were put to the test. Hurricane Irma (a Category 4 storm) rolled into the Florida Keys packing winds in excess of 130 mph with an accompanying storm surge of 3.3 feet.

While Irma left a trail of destruction in the Keys, all new homes in the condominium development were unscathed, a fact confirmed by Hurley and the property manager for the condominium.

“The majority of the structures in the Keys were built in the 1970s and ’80s,” said Hurley. “Stilt-built homes were not as popular then. The modern construction is a perfect example of how you can build more resilient. It’s also an example that shows the importance of adhering to building and flood codes.”

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