Brickell in Miami Flooded during king tide.

Flood and Climate Risk Assessments: getting your waterfront house adapted to climate change

The world’s richest person has announced that he is committing $10 billion of his own money to fight climate change. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO announced the launch on Instagram, letting his followers know that humans can save the Earth by using an inclusive approach that combines the efforts and resources of all stakeholders.

This move by Bezos may point to the fact that more wealthy individuals are noticing and taking actions related to a change in the way we live. I don’t specifically say take actions against climate change as this is not explicit in many wealthy individuals actions. Many times, their actions are directly related more to the future of their businesses than to the well being of the population. But Bezos new announcement is indeed directly related to climate change – and aims to fund scientists, activists, NGOs to find ways to preserve and protect the natural world – and that is a good thing.

In 2020, we already see challenges associated to emerging impacts, and now is the time to fast-track mitigation efforts to guarantee a livable future. Sea level rise will lead to large scale migration in the future but are we doing anything right now to avoid that?

But what is really this global warming everyone is talking about?

To put in very simple and easy to understand terms, it’s easy to see that since the Industrial Revolution in 1750, humans have been emitting more carbon dioxide into the air. We started burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas that contain lots of carbon to power industries and transportation essential to our progress as a society.

The gases emitted trap the heat avoiding it from dissipating, which will in turn make the planet warmer. We have also burned tons of forests in the last 100 years to make way for a growing civilization and cities. Less forests means less absorption of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by those plants.

As the Earth’s surface temperature becomes hotter, the oceans water level becomes higher as water expands when it gets warmer. But also because warm temperatures make glaciers and ice caps melt. The sea level rise will cause coastal areas to flood. Not only that, if you think you are safe because you live far from the ocean, know that lots of places are only getting drier because other places are getting lots more of rainfall. Strong storms in one place for a long time can cause your local rivers and lakes to flood. Just look at all lakes flooded in the spring of 2019 and 2020 in the Midwest of the United States.

Church in Norfolk, VA, hired the services of Coastal Risk to evaluate their adaptation to climate risks.
Church in Norfolk, VA, hired the services of Coastal Risk to plan their adaptation to climate risks.

What is the future for residential property owners in coastal towns?

No one can control the severity of climate changes. Its impact is hard to manage, and if you think your home is safe from natural disasters, think twice. Houses that are located waterfront are now facing the possibility of being washed out in case the water rises. Houses in the mountain risk getting burned down if affected by droughts, or washed down if rain affects these areas for too long making the soil wet. In the country, the same can occur, either drought, or too much moisture, or even the risk of more tornadoes brought in by warm air. Let’s stick to waterfront properties as that’s the topic of this website. 

Prospective homebuyers and current homeowners should be thinking about issues like flood insurance while also wondering what they should do to prepare themselves for extreme weather. Calculating the cost of owning a home, now needs to account for higher premiums as a critical and costly expense. Unfortunately if you have a mortgage, you will have to pay insurance if you want any financing.

And that is the reason why you need waterfront resilience if you have property located by water. We will explore more about this emerging service below, but when it comes to insurance premiums, due to prior storms, water losses, poor financials, and global insurance market catastrophes, 2020 is set to be a tough year for Florida homeowners. Many insurance companies announced and some homeowners renewing this year started getting higher rates already. Some insurers have already stopped writing in the tri-county area of Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade due to the rampant claims, lawsuits, and fraud.  And homeowners are likely to see some pretty hefty increases starting at 10% to 20%.

The good news is that with proper financing there are now plenty of ways to adapt your house to the possibility of water levels rising.

Waterfront Resilience: an emerging service

Have in mind that increased water level is a natural event that is hard to prevent and the circumstances that can happen are not in the hands of the owners nor the state. It’s an event that can happen gradually due to the negligence of us as a society. But even though the causes are produced by the collective, the effects are felt by the individuals. If you don’t do anything to save your property from the impact, there is a chance that you will lose your house as warming changes hit harder.

Taking into account the negative things that might happen when you are in a coastal town, you are probably thinking of what to do now. Should you sell your properties and move or should you stay and adapt? This is actually a difficult question to answer. If your purpose of living in a coastal town is only temporary, then selling and moving to a more stable city is preferable. If you think you can’t withstand additional expenses to make your waterfront real estate liveable, selling is a better option. It’s easier to move to other places than live with the fact that rising costs may hit you at anytime from insurance, to remodeling for adaptation or from damage. 

However, this is not the case for everybody. Some will choose to stay despite the challenges and they have a couple of good reasons, like sentimental value, lifestyle and because it is and will be a privilege. Those may need to be willing to spend money to adapt to the situation. The good news is that With proper financing there are now plenty of ways to make your house adapt to the possibility of water levels rising.

How to adapt and how much to spend to get your house adapted

In order to adapt, your house needs water resilience. This is an emerging service that may include raising seawall caps, lifting the house on stilts, and even putting elevators on the foundations of the property. These are expensive renovations for one that chooses to adapt.

The cost of getting your house adapted can vary. The cost of elevating your house on stilts can cost about $40,000 if the property is simple, located in a pier and beam foundation. If the house has two stories, the cost can be as high as $250,000 to elevate it above the floodplain. Building seawall caps will require about $150 per linear foot and this cost will depend on the materials used and how large the property to be protected is. Again, the cost for water resilience will depend on how you would want your property to be elevated or protected from floods, which leads us to the next question.

Will coastal cities be affordable only to wealthy individuals?

Considering the possible expenses for adaptation, not every property owner will be willing to pay a $250,000 cost to elevate a house. There will be also repairs and maintenance to take into account to make sure your house can withstand the wear and tear of the water.

Homeowners should also not overlook the cost of getting flood, hazard or hurricane insurance as mentioned before. This is a part of living waterfront. This type of insurance can cost you an extra thousand dollars a month to cover the effects of floods and windstorms. Without insurance, you may have to pay for more damages in the future.

Are there examples of sustainable actions being taken today around the world?

Cities around the world are starting to do their own sustainable actions to minimize the effects of global warming. One of the most notable is constructing efficient buildings. These structures tend to be large sources of greenhouse gas emissions. A huge amount of water, heat, and electricity is needed to run a whole building. Smart city leaders should take control and implement sustainable actions such as smart cooling and heating systems.

Solar panels will also be a trend. Even small houses in simple villages can use solar panels to make their homes more efficient in terms of energy consumption. This is one effective sustainable action that can contribute a lot to combat climate change and global warming.

Improving public transportation is also a method to minimize greenhouse gases. By adding more ways to commute every day, cities are encouraging more people to stop using their own cars to go to work. Public transportation should be more accessible and easier to use.

How to go about property adaptation for residences and companies? 

Some companies can help you grade how storms will affect business property and residences in the future. Coastal Risk Consulting for example, starts by offering a comprehensive assessment of current and future flood risks. From there, the company is able to indicate services to adapt your property to those risks. From hurricane insurance to the best adaptation services for your case in partnership with engineers, architects, building professionals and so on. 

These are the kind of partners you will work with to prepare your home and make it resilient to storm surge and hurricanes. The company also works with municipalities in helping them assess changes to building codes.

After Hurricane Andrew struck south Florida in 1992, Broward County for example learned and strengthened its building codes and enforcement to improve constructions and safety standards. The building codes will make sure that your house is going to be able to survive in extreme conditions and make it possible for people to get out of harm’s way whenever necessary, and that includes making sure roads will be accessible. 

With emerging services such as resilience consulting, one can learn about the renovations needed to prepare their home not only for personal use but for it to be marketable as well in the future.

A little about Waterfront Gurus

Living waterfront allows for great views and peace of mind but keeping a waterfront property can be costly. Waterfront Gurus helps homeowners find boat dock builders, seawall repairs and boat lift installers as well as other service providers for properties by the water. 

Waterfront Gurus lists marine construction professionals in your area.

Made with love in Fort Lauderdale, FL, by Max Francisco, a digital marketer with some years of experience.

Max Francisco