We love what we do! Building people’s actual dream homes right on or near the beach is always an amazing experience. But specializing in the design and construction of beach homes requires us to consistently consider the surrounding elements and potential for extreme weather. Intense sunshine, strong winds, flooding, and actual hurricanes are all taken into consideration when we build a home from the ground up.
I recently created a video series focusing on what it takes to build oceanfront homes—check out some behind-the-scenes footage of what goes into building a structurally sound yet beautifully designed beach house.
In order to achieve today’s popular (and often huge!) open floor plans, steel is required to literally hold up the home’s roof in the absence of walls. Steel beams in the ceiling and along the sides of a home absorb an entire load of a home, all the way into the foundation. Another major reason we use steel is that its deflection is less than wood (deflection is the degree to which a structural element is displaced under load as it deforms).
So it makes sense to use steel in certain situations, for example, when holding up massive doors as it’s stronger and can span a lot further than conventional lumbar. Many of our beach builds incorporate large glass windows to maximize scenic views, so steel is also used to hold everything up and in place without deflection.
2. Flooding Prevention
When building at the beach, a base flood elevation measurement exists so no finished living space can be built below this point. Below the base flood elevation line is the home’s actual foundation, which we create using cinder blocks filled with solid concrete so if water comes through the home, it will break away sections of the foundation’s wall, allowing hydraulic pressure to push through the house, instead of destroying the main structural components of the home.
On the garage floor, we create a frangible slab of concrete—which if in the event of a hurricane and water comes in, the slab will release from the home in small pieces as to not damage surrounding structures. The slab is only 2” thick vs. 4” thick for that very reason—to break away in the event of water coming in.
3. Hurricane Requirements
Strong winds and hurricanes can cause a house to rack or to tilt, as structural components are forced out of place. To prevent racking, we incorporate metal straps throughout the home, which quite literally strap and secure structural headers into surrounding posts, all of which are reinforced into the home’s steel framing.]
This is especially important in homes with a lot of glass and few interior walls. We also use a “tie down” system for each floor, in which metal straps are again used, in this case, to tie the floors together (to the floor above)—another hurricane requirement to prevent racking.
Good windows are an important element of any home but especially at the beach. To avoid leaking while providing a barrier between the interior and exterior temperatures, we always install windows that meet or exceed Energy Star requirements for the North Central Climate Zone.
When selecting windows, the U-Factor (which measures how well the window insulates), and the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (the fraction of solar radiation admitted through a window), should be low. This allows the window’s overall R-Value to remain high (the rating of thermal resistance aka insulation).
We also take special care in selecting window and door manufacturers that provide options exceeding Performance Grade and Design Pressure requirements for our jurisdictional codes.
5. Capturing the View
The most important factor in designing a beach home is to focus on the view. This obviously requires a lot of glass windows, glass doors, and open unobstructed rooms—some of which we detailed above. But because our projects are custom design builds, our clients have the flexibility to change things up as they build. For example, we started building an amazing oceanfront home with wall-to-wall waterfront views; then the owners realized they wanted more of a view from the side of the house as well.
No problem! We got creative, changed the design, and added more windows and natural light.