TOM: All over the Jersey Shore, they are raising the roof and the walls and the floors to make homes compliant with the new Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood-zone requirement. But lifting a house to a height as much as 13 feet in the air takes a lot of planning, careful maneuvering and many nail-biting moments. Such was the case for Jed and Christine Laird’s 1800s beach cottage in Bay Head.
When Sandy wiped out their first floor, they decided to save the second floor, raising it 9 feet and making room for a brand-new first floor underneath. From day one, the Lairds knew they didn’t want to tear down the historic house. And as This Old House Master Carpenter Norm Abram reported firsthand, lifting this home was a remarkable undertaking.
NORM: We lifted the house from the second floor rather than the first floor. So what they did is they cut some holes through the old floor, built these towers – or cribs, as they’re known – slid in some steel beams front to back, side to side.
And these guys, I mean they’re geniuses. You watch these lifting crews. It’s not – they don’t figure it out ahead of time. The guy who ran the operation, he walked in the house and I was amazed. He said, "Take that window out, take that window out. We’re going to slide a beam in there. We’re going to slide a beam in here." And he walked down, front to back, and he said, "One beam here, one beam here, one beam here, one beam here."
In a matter of – I think it was less than 8 hours, we were lifting that house with four jacks. It’s fun to watch. And as it went up, as we expected, the floor stayed where it was.
TOM: So, essentially, the Lairds saved half of their house. The second floor remains almost exactly the same but with some fresh paint and a small bump-out to add more space to the master bath.
Jacked-up houses are now a familiar sight all along the Jersey Shore, as new FEMA maps guide which homes are considered to be in the vulnerable A and V zones. Now, these are coastal areas determined to have just a 1-percent annual flooding risk but come with hefty flood-insurance premiums if the homes are not adequately raised.
All across the country, some may wonder why Jersey Shore homeowners would even want to rebuild and allow themselves to be put in another vulnerable situation. But like so many things in life, it often comes down to an emotional decision. These residents want their homes to not only be rebuilt but rebuilt exactly as they were before the storm.
NORM: Well, as you can imagine, these are summer homes, for the most part, that we’re working on. There are some full-time residents. And these places are special. I know what that’s like. My family had a cottage. These are very special places where the family has had a lot of interaction and a lot of family time. So, they’re very tied to these houses. And when they get destroyed or damaged severely, like these have been, it’s very heartbreaking for them.
And I have found, talking to them as we start to rebuild their homes – is that they want to bring that back. They want that feeling. They want the same thing that they had before. For instance, on the Bay Head house, there’s this wraparound porch. And in the first tour through the house, the homeowners said, "This is important space to us." Seemed like it was almost more important than the rest of the house because they entertain out there. It’s screened in. The girls sell shells out front, people walking by on the street. And you could tell right away that’s what they wanted.
They want this – they don’t want this house to be different. They didn’t want it to be different; they wanted it to be the same so that it feels the same when they come back into it.
TOM: But not all houses are able to be raised. Some were so badly damaged or so poorly built to begin with, lifting the house just wasn’t possible. And in fact, one of the three homeowners featured this season on This Old House will see her home come down.
Rita Gurry’s house in Manasquan is being replaced with a prefabricated home, factory-built and shipped to the existing lot in two large sections. It’s something that she’s waited more than six months to see happen. And today, as she watches a giant crane swing her new house into place, on a brand-new set of pilings set high in the air, she knows she’s one big step closer to returning to her own home.
RITA: This is just – it’s behind my expectations. It’s awesome. It’s just – it’s so unbelievable. I knew that it would be wonderful but this is – to actually stand here in my – I’m in my kitchen. I can’t wait to move in here. I can’t wait to live here. It’s perfect. I mean I love everything. I love my windows, the fireplace, my kitchen cabinets.
Everything that I see here, that I chose from a book or samples in the showroom, it’s like it’s animated; it’s all come to life. And this morning, there was nothing here but the pilings. And now, my life is – this is my life. I’ve got my life back.
TOM: Contractors all over New Jersey are busier than ever. But finding the right one can be tricky. In at least one case, a house that was raised later collapsed. And another collapsed during the house-lifting process.
Choosing a contractor with the right skills, experience and reputation is key. Builder Anthony Zarrilli leads an expert group of pros at Zarrilli Homes. And he took on Rita Gurry’s job.
ANTHONY: We demo’d the house a few months ago and then we had to go through the process with the township for the permit. And they were very good here in Manasquan. And after we got the permit, we got the pilings set. We had to bring a different kind of crane in to set the – a different kind of machine in, I should say, to set the pilings and get the [ban board] (ph) on, ready for the house to come in.
Everything we built here is – either meets or exceeds the new FEMA regulations and the 120-mile wind zone for our area. Modular homes are built much stronger than a traditional stick-built home. Typically, there’s 20 percent more lumber involved in building a modular. This area calls for stronger-built homes and I just felt a modular would be more appropriate for – in these conditions.
TOM: As a lifelong resident of the Jersey Shore, I can tell you that for the families that live here, there’s just nothing like it, even if it comes at a price. And with all of the heartache Sandy caused, there were so many lessons learned, lessons that will help Jersey Shore communities come back stronger and better than ever before.