New federal maps released this summer have redrawn flood plains, placing thousands of properties formerly considered relatively safe into high-risk zones. These new designations are expected to send flood insurance — required on all houses with mortgages — soaring, sometimes by double-digit percentages. And while many homeowners are challenging the accuracy of the maps, others are considering another tactic: lifting their houses above the flood zone to avoid the higher insurance rates.
Pictured: In 2010, the Oceanside Inn was lifted out of the floodplain and elevated onto 12-foot-tall pylons with the help of a hazard mitigation grant administered through the town of Scituate.
Flood insurance rates are determined by height in relation to the flood zone. If a house’s lowest floor is above the base flood elevation, its owner will pay a lower insurance premium than a neighbor whose bottom floor is below the new flood-water mark.
“We do raise a lot of houses because of the flood zone, but usually it’s because they’ve been flooded already,’’ said Gary Sylvester, owner of Sylvester Building Movers. “Now we’ve probably gotten phone calls because of the proposed changes.’’
Pictured: The Oceanside Inn lifted in 2010.
Local contractors say they’ve already noticed an uptick in inquiries about home elevation services. Jamie Kline, whose Harwich house-lifting business serves much of the South Shore area, said his phone has been ringing more since the Federal Emergency Management Agency started holding community meetings to explain the new maps.
Pictured: Project manager for the Gary Sylvester’s Building Movers and Excavators Company, George Ellis, checks on the house at 21 Manomet Avenue in Plymouth.
According to FEMA documents, a homeowner with a $250,000 policy on a single-story house without a basement in a high-risk A Zone would pay a $9,500 annual insurance premium if the home’s bottom floor was 4 feet below base flood elevation.
Pictured: Sylvester checks on the house at #21 Manomet Avenue in Plymouth that was elevated.
Joe Balboni, owner of Clippership Insurance in Kingston, has also seen an uptick in clients, and expects inquiries will continue to come in as people currently without insurance who are paying off a mortgage learn of the new requirements.
Pictured: Company worker Bladen Tisdell checks one of the lifts in Plymouth.
Balboni is already seeing jumps in next year’s insurance rates. He said one client in Marshfield had her premium increase by 20 percent, and another in Cohasset saw insurance costs skyrocket from $458 to $4,300 this year. Lifting a house is a significant investment. The process takes several months, and costs at least $30,000, with prices varying dramatically depending on the size of the home and the difficulty of the job.
Pictured: The house at 21 Manomet Avenue in Plymouth being elevated.
Local and federal emergency management agencies offer hazard mitigation grants for flood-prone areas, including money for home elevation. In the past 16 years, the state has awarded a total of $1.9 million in federal funding to elevate 53 houses in Scituate.
Pictured: House being elevated in Plymouth.
Most area residents whose homes have never flooded might balk at the idea of elevation, even with the high insurance premiums. But for residents like Katie Kenneally, it has become a consideration after her living room was flooded during winter storm Nemo.
“With the grant, I believe we can raise the house and avoid future risks of flood-related damage,’’ she said in an e-mail.
Pictured: Company worker Bladen Tisdell levels the dirt around the lifts.