Point Pleasant: Raise

Point Pleasant homeowners Carlos and Maria Santos raised their house above flood level requirements, before getting the go-ahead from FEMA.

Point Pleasant residents Carlos and Maria Santos.
Courtesy of Kevin O'Connor

In the almost nine years Carlos and Maria Santos have owned their 59-year-old house on a lagoon off Barnegat Bay in Point Pleasant, it has come through storms unscathed. “Before we purchased the property,” Carlos says, “we asked around, and no one in this area experienced any kind of flooding.”

All that changed last October. While Maria and their three children sought shelter at the high school, Carlos rode out Sandy in the house, where the family lives year round. Soon the ground floor was under water. Next morning, Carlos paddled to safety in his kayak.

“The house was sitting too low,’ he says. “Before we even heard about [new] flood level requirements, we decided to see if we could lift it.”

“They made the decision to lift before FEMA and the town knew how high they should go,” says This Old House host O’Connor. “It was like ping-pong. They were told they had to go up nine feet, then four feet, then 13.”

Beyond that lay a technical problem. Because of the way the house was situated, conventional telephone pole pilings wouldn’t work. “There was no room to move the house out of the way,” says O’Connor. “They had to insert the pilings under the house while it was in the way.”

A fairly new technology called helical pilings provided the solution. Helicals look like huge steel screws and are literally screwed into the ground. They come in lengths as short as four feet, making them easier to install in tight quarters.

The Santos house sits on sand, which sits on fill. “Soil testing proved that the piles had to go deep, a minimum of 20 to 25 feet,” says O’Connor. Engineers determined that to provide adequate support, 51 helicals were needed. To get the installation equipment in place, the house had to be lifted by hydraulic jacks, a process that was done a foot at a time over three days. Carlos is amazed how gentle it was. “We left all the glasses and china in the cabinets,” he says. “Nothing was broken.” After the helical pilings were installed, the house was lowered onto them at its new elevation, nine feet higher than before.

What has been the biggest challenge? The insurance company, Carlos answers at once. “We received about half of what we needed. It’s just not right. It doesn’t help the recovery process at all.”

Luckily, Carlos’s contractor is his father. “He is the only contractor I know,” he says, “who would wait for payment. ”

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