Raising Homes and Raising Contractor Profits

Make homes more resilient to flooding and increase home value with home lifting


People will always want to live by the water. “Salt Life” isn’t just a cute phrase — for some, it truly is a way of life.

Current building codes and Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) regulations are greatly reducing the risks that affect homes in the floodplain. These are all good news for homeowners and insurance companies. For the contractor, new homes are a great source of production and income.

But what about the thousands of homes that are still sitting below the floodplain? What worthwhile options are available for contractors?

The 50 percent FEMA rule has two categories:

  1. Substantial Improvement: This rule prevents spending more than 50 percent of the home’s value on improvements. That means the contractor’s income is capped. It adversely affects both the homeowner and the contractor.
  2. Substantial repair: This rule is far worse. If the value of repairing a home exceeds 50 percent of its value, the house must be lifted or torn down and rebuilt above the floodplain.

If the homeowner has the resources to rebuild, that’s a plus for the contractor. If they don’t, that’s not good for the homeowner or the contractor.

So, I bet you’re wondering what your options are. Let me give you a few.


Adding More Stories

One apparent solution is to design a new living level on the existing home structure, turning the ground-floor level into a garage or storage area. In a perfect world, you could start building up from there. However, the foundation of a single-story home is not designed to hold the weight of two or three stories. Thus, this process must begin with the reinforcement of the existing foundation. There’s also a possibility of needing helical piles (a steel anchoring system to reinforce foundations) if the soil is not sturdy enough for the additional weight.


Lifting A Home

Now, let’s take a look at an option that has not been considered by most contractors or building designers.

If your client’s budget is not high enough to build a new home but is high enough to do major renovations, you can still find yourself restricted by the FEMA 50 percent rule. This next option has benefits for both the contractor and the homeowner.

First you must understand that any house can be lifted. I’ll repeat – ANY house can be lifted. Even a masonry home with a monolithic footing (a concrete foundation) and a slab on grade can be lifted by a professional home lifter.

This option might seem impossible if you haven’t seen a masonry home lifted. Usually the first response is: Block walls? Concrete floors? Won’t they just crack and fall apart? The answer is no. It’s fascinating to see.

In this option, a qualified home-lifting professional would raise the house. Then, when completed, lower it to its final level.

The contractor does the rest of the work. Getting in on this growing trend is a smart business move for contractors; once the house is lifted above the floodplain, FEMA limitations no longer apply. This means a full home renovation of any limit is possible.

Let me give you an example.

The Grant family in Belleair Bluffs, Fla., was unable to repair or renovate their storm-damaged home because the costs exceeded 50 per- cent of their home value. A new home design also proved too expensive for their budget.

But, by lifting their home, they were able to not only complete a total renovation, but they also were able to add two bedrooms and two bathrooms. And they gained a three-car garage to boot.


The Benefits of House Lifting

The benefits of lifting homes are selling points that all homeowners should be made aware of.

1. Flood insurance rates would decrease.

2. Future repairs or improvements would not fall under the 50 percent rule.

3. A major flood event in their area could leave hundreds of homes abandoned and greatly reduced in market value if repairs are over the FEMA 50 percent rule.

a. A raised home’s value would then increase because the number of livable homes would be reduced.

4. Rebuilding or raising a home after a major flood event would likely be more expensive.

5. Wait times and construction delays could last years due to lack of materials and manpower.

By taking the initiative before a disaster strikes, you will be investing in a future with less stress and loss.

Any home can be raised and subsequently eliminate FEMA restrictions. This is good business news for savvy contractors and homeowners alike.


Randy Young is the CEO of ArcDesign, a residential design and drafting firm in Florida. The company is experienced building to FEMA codes in Flood Zone-heavy regions.

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