As the cameras from This Old House captured the moment, a crane lifts Rita Gurry’s new house into place – high above the ground and placed on pilings that will render it much safer and sounder than her original home. Find out how factory built prefab homes stand up to future storms.
TOM: Before Superstorm Sandy struck the New Jersey coast on October 29, 2012, most Jersey Shore residents associated the name Sandy as the title of Bruce Springsteen’s iconic classic, set in Asbury Park, New Jersey. But the storm by the same name, that roared up the coast that day, will forever displace the haunting strains of that Springsteen melody in the memories of the millions whose lives were turned upside down forever.
But just like the theme of so many Springsteen ballads, redemption is what residents are focused on right now. Today is one of those days and one that Rita Gurry has been waiting for for almost an entire year. As the cameras from This Old House captured the moment, a crane lifted Rita’s house into place, high above the ground and high on pilings that will render it much safer and sounder than her original home, which was torn apart by the storm surge that Sandy brought here to Manasquan, New Jersey.
When Rita first saw the devastation just a few days after the storm, she was crushed and knew immediately there was no way of rebuilding her home: one, in fact, she had just renovated and finished paying off the mortgage on weeks earlier.
The process that brought her to tearing it down and starting over was a long and painful one. But for Rita, redemption is finally within sight and the wait was all well worth it.
RITA: The house came in in two pieces and they’re finishing it upstairs. Like they’re just scurrying around like little mice and in a matter of hours, my house has come together and I’ve gotten my life back. And I feel so alive again; I feel so animated. I feel like – I feel that this is the old me. I’m back in Manasquan and it was worth the seven months and it was worth waiting and it was worth going back into debt again. It’s just absolutely awesome. And I can’t wait until they’re finished. This is just the beginning.
TOM: Directing the cranes and crews assembling Rita’s house is builder Anthony Zarrilli, who explains why this home, built a full 2 feet above the federal requirements for Rita’s flood zone, will be safe and secure, even if a superstorm like Sandy were to ever strike again.
ANTHONY: The base flood elevation is determined by FEMA. If we go a minimum of 2 feet above the flood, all of your mechanicals and all of your home’s structure is above that flood which, from a construction standpoint, is stronger, safer and from an insurance standpoint, will get you the best rate. If this home was here, as we’re building it today, you’re looking at a few thousand dollars’ worth of repairs, as opposed to building a whole new structure.
TOM: Raising a house well above flood levels is part of what makes it able to withstand future storms with little damage. Making sure it stays there is the job of the foundation. And Zarrilli says there are a number of options to consider and explains why, for many homes, wood pilings were the best way to go.
ANTHONY: We used the piling foundation system here. We had a couple choices. We could have went with a block-wall foundation or we could have went with wood pilings or helical pilings, which are metal pilings. The helical pilings are typically used to retrofit an existing house and are much more expensive. The block-wall foundation – being that we were in a flood-related area, the block-wall foundations aren’t as strong and don’t hold up as well as the wood pilings.
The wood pilings are much less expensive than the helicals and are easier to install when there’s nothing in the way. We put them at an elevation more than 2 feet above the new base flood elevations that were just given out by FEMA, so we are far exceeding the requirements of the state.
TOM: With so many homes destroyed by Sandy’s path, one of the most efficient ways for many to rebuild was by going with factory-built modular homes. But these are not the flimsy prefabs of years ago. Today, factory-built modular homes are not only quick to assemble but Zarrilli explains they’re much stronger and more energy-efficient once complete.
ANTHONY: Purely from a time standpoint, the house will be ready to move in much quicker. From the day, today, of setting the home, she will be in her house in less than three months. From a construction standpoint and actually, how it’s built, it’s 2-by walls construction. They build the modulars from the inside out, which you can never do in the field.
And what I mean by that is we build the exterior walls, we put the sheetrock on first, we insulate behind the sheetrock and then we put the plywood on and siding. Obviously, you could never do that in the field because of weather conditions. And this makes for a much stronger built and much more efficiently built home.
The homeowner will notice this with their heating and cooling bills, will notice it from a noise standpoint. Being on the road she’s on, with the insulation in the walls, it – she will be able to see the benefits of going with the modular construction.
TOM: This Old House plumbing-and-heating expert Richard Trethewey was on hand for this renovation, every step of the way. And he’s a big fan of modular, prefabricated homes and that says a lot coming from a guy who’s an expert in old houses.
Richard says, "When you take into consideration that this is probably not the last severe storm the Jersey Shore will see, the old adage that they don’t build them like they used to is probably a good thing."
RICHARD: Well, I’ll tell you, in building near the shoreline, you’ve got to think about the next storm that might come. And so when I look back at this building, driving the pilings, I think they’ve proven that the pilings turn out to be as good a foundation as you can get because the pilings will let the water run by. A lot of times, concrete block will resist too much, even though you have the breakaway panels.
On top of it is this box – this series of boxes – that have been built in a factory. Everything has been glued, everything has been screwed together. All the boxes are lagged together so that it’s as tight as you can ever get. It’s 2x6 construction. If I’m taking a storm, I’m feeling really good about a modular house.
TOM: Aside from the construction that surrounds the Jersey Shore, a big part of the economic recovery of this area depends on the shoreline itself. But when Sandy struck, the combination of both high tide and a full moon delivered a storm surge that not only washed homes away, the beach itself was carried from the Atlantic Ocean, across the barrier island and right into the Barnegat Bay. And getting that bay back to pre-Sandy levels has been a major effort.
RICHARD: Well, you’ve got to remember, when that Hurricane Sandy – or Superstorm Sandy – came, all the debris from all those houses washed into the bay and it was really a big story. And so, over the last seven or eight months, they’ve gotten all the debris out. But what’s left is the entire beach that used to be on the ocean side is now in the bay, so the level is much higher. So now the challenge is to get in there and dredge and bring that back to the same depth that it was so it can be used for navigation. A lot of the people have marinas that they can’t even put boats at anymore because the sand is so high. So it’s a big, digging story, as they say.
TOM: So, as we begin to see the progress, it’s nice to know that this story does have a happy ending for at least some of the folks who live and work here. And while there are still, very likely, years of work ahead, every step ahead brings a very welcome sight.