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Homeowners learning new, post-Katrina construction methods

As homeowners have started rebuilding and repairing since Hurricane Katrina hit nearly a year ago, they’ve been learning a new vocabulary and have been bombarded with recommendations.

In many cases, the new or rebuilt structures will be higher than they were before Katrina because of changes in a county’s or city’s flood plain ordinance.

Homeowners also are seeing changes in the construction of their homes, especially those along beachfronts and near areas designated “velocity zones,” which are vulnerable to a hurricane’s high winds.

There also are more stringent building regulations modeled after the International Building Code and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s coastal construction regulations, which can add to the price of rebuilding or repairing.

The choices for construction are as varied as the shells on the beach. One program that has received attention is the development of “Hurricane Homes” and “Katrina Cottages,” small, modular homes that had been touted as a better and cheaper alternative to the FEMA trailers that now dot the landscape along the Coast from Waveland east to Bayou Cumbest.

The wooden frame structures range in size from 360 to 960 square feet and can sleep four people. The buildings are self-contained and range in price from $45,000 to $90,000 or more, depending on the manufacturer and the size.

For people rebuilding or repairing their homes, the range of building materials has expanded past the traditional wood, brick and mortar.

This includes using plastic foam forms that are filled with concrete to make them stronger and more wind resistant. The exterior of the house can be covered with siding or bricks.

The interior also allows for a selection materials for the walls.

Another system uses plastic foam between sections of plywood that are then attached to the normal wall studs.

Building Contractor Mark Cauley of 3-D Custom Homes said some homeowners have talked about using innovative materials.

Cauley, former building official with the Jackson County Planning Department, said the type and cost of construction for a house depends on the size and type of home. The cost can run from $80 to $140 per square foot depending on the nature of the house, he said.

Cauley said he takes the coastal and international codes a step further by using “go bolts,” long bolts that are set in the foundation and used to secure the frame to the house. The bolts are used in conjunction with hurricane straps and other material traditionally used to secure homes in high wind areas.

In some cases, he said, the bolts are also used in repairing storm-damaged homes. Sometimes, he said, a house will not require a total renovation, based on the amount of damage.

“If there is some question,” he said, “we may have to get an engineer involved.”

One issue that many homeowners will face regardless if they build or repair is having to elevate their home above what is called “base flood elevation.”

The base flood elevation is the land elevation based on a 100-year flood. Many homeowners living in areas designated as flood plains will be required to elevate their homes above the base flood elevation to continue to qualify for flood insurance.

“Elevation is still a problem everywhere,” said Jackson County Planning Director Michele Coats. “The advisory base flood elevation now extends further inland than the (previous) flood zone.”

New flood insurance rate maps are expected to come out in November.

Pascagoula Building Official Steve Mitchell said his office has not had many complaints about the base flood elevations since they went into effect on June 1.

“But we’ve got some learning curve issues,” he said, pointing out that adjustments have to be made for electrical circuits, outdoor air conditioning condenser unit heights and plumbing.

There are two ways of elevating a house. One is to elevate the floor of the house. The other is to elevate the entire house.

Raising the floor is possible in some cases, Mitchell said.

He said floors have been elevated in some local homes by pouring a concrete “cap slab” and shortening the interior studs.

“As long as the ceiling stays at seven feet, it can be done,” he said. “But (raising the floor elevation) is something that is possible only in certain cases. Where it can be done, it was good.”

Elevating the entire house, Mitchell said, can run from $30,000 to $60,000 to bring the structure into compliance with elevation regulations.

The Mississippi Development Authority is sponsoring a program that provides $30,000 grants to elevate homes.

Mitchell said there are additional grant programs from FEMA. One is offered to people who have flood insurance and need to comply with the flood ordinance elevation.

There is no limit on FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation grant, but the agency requires the homeowner to provide match funds. The city, Mitchell said, is providing the match for the homeowner through community development block grant funds. He said people should consider elevating their homes as soon as possible to avoid further risk of flood damage.

Ronnie Harper, whose family has been in the house moving and elevation business for more than 50 years, said the cost of elevating a house and putting on a new foundation and possibly installing a second floor costs from $15 to $26 per square foot.

He said homes on concrete foundations can be elevated by breaking the building from the foundation, elevating it and installing a new floor.

“If it’s not a crowded time, it takes about 30 to 45 days (to elevate a house),” he said. “Preparation is the whole key and the most time consuming task of the job.”

Harper said his company was busy before the storm “and it’s increased tenfold since the storm.

“We will be happy when we have taken care of everybody and gotten back to a normal pace,” he said.