NEW YORK - When Thomas O’Grady decided to build a house on East Atlantic Beach, the neighborhood he grew up in, he wasn’t very happy learning that he couldn’t build his main floor because of new local building codes that would require him to elevate his home to the area base flood elevation (BFE).
BFE is the elevation of surface water resulting from a flood that has a 1 percent chance of equaling or exceeding that level in any given year. Despite their hesitation, the O’Gradys built four feet over the required 11 foot BFE, which conforms to the minimum National Flood Insurance Program requirements as well as state and local building codes. Their decision ultimately paid off.
“My parents have lived in this neighborhood, right next door, since 1967 and we’ve never had an inch of water on our street,” said O’Grady.
However, when Hurricane Sandy made landfall in October 2012 and severely damaged many homes throughout Long Island, because their home was elevated, the O’Gradys survived the storm. Though the slow-moving storm swamped other houses in their area, the O’Grady home stayed snug and dry.
In addition to elevating their home well above the BFE, O’Grady built to other state and local codes that would enable the structure to withstand hurricane force winds. By building stronger, the family ensured that their home could withstand a disaster like Sandy. “We were upstairs during the storm and we felt the wind,” O’Grady said. But we were never worried about any serious damage from the wind.”
The storm surge came up about three feet above the water line and breached the dunes on the beach near the O’Grady home. In contrast, all their neighbors who had not elevated their homes received at least three feet of water in their living areas. As for the O’Grady house, the living area received no water at all. “The water went through the crawl space, through the flood vents and out the flood vents, so once the tide subsided, the water was gone,” O’Grady said.
When a structure is elevated and tied together with the proper hardening measures, evidence shows it survives significantly better. “They [local building officials] all know how upset I was in the beginning that I could not build that main floor, said O’Grady. Now they are all laughing at me saying, ‘Aren’t you thankful now you elevated your home?’ I sure am.”
Editor’s note: Video featuring interview with Tom O’Grady: