Many people whose older homes were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 are getting used to their new houses step by step.
Literally, step by step.
With post-Sandy building regulations forcing elevations in some shore towns as much as 16 feet above ground, longtime residents of bungalows and ranchers are finding themselves coming home to new construction with first floors well above head height. In extreme cases, as many as 20 stairs are needed to reach the front door of new houses in low-lying areas.
“There is no way to get around it but to climb the steps,” said Dean Adams, whose company, Dean Adams Custom Builder, is currently constructing three homes in the Merion Park section of Ocean City and has plans to develop two more lots in the neighborhood. “It’s like an exercise program for the occupant.”
So very true, said Phil and Candy Young. Residents of the 100 block of Victoria Lane in Ocean City for more than 30 years, the Youngs opted to replace their rancher with new construction after 3 feet of floodwater from Sandy surrounded their ground-level home and sent 6 inches of water inside. Their new house is accessed either by climbing 14 steps to their front door or through an interior staircase from the garage, a feature they appreciate in inclement weather.
“For me, it’s good exercise,” Candy Young said. “I don’t run up. I take my time.”
“It’s just getting used to the stairs,” said Phil Young, who moved into his new abode in March, 17 months after Sandy wrecked the property he had owned since 1976. “I’m getting older, and I can feel it when I come up. I just take my time.”
In their household, they said, the one who is least bothered by all the stairs is their 8 1/2-year-old beagle, Scout. “She’s fine, although she doesn’t like going down the inside steps, probably because it’s dark down there,” Candy Young said.
In Longport, where the majority of new homes have been built with elevators in the past five years due to building regulations that became more restrictive pre-Sandy, one post-Sandy change has been to allow steps to encroach on frontyard setbacks, said Bruce Funk, whose many job titles in the borough include that of zoning and flood plain administrator. By allowing the stairs to the first floor, which Funk said in Longport is no more than 7 feet high or no more than 10 steps up, to encroach 3 to 6 feet into the frontyard, access to the home is made easier.
The two methods by which people are reaching their first floors remain stairs and elevators.
“I haven’t seen anybody doing any ramps,” Funk said, nor has he seen anyone pole-vaulting into their homes.
Long flights of stairs is a drawback to more than the home’s occupants. Stairs numbering into the double digits can be an obstacle to a property’s salability.
“It limits the buyers’ market if people can’t afford an elevator or they can’t negotiate the stairs to get in and out of their residence,” Adams said.
A three-stop, one-opening elevator adds almost $25,000 to the cost of construction, he said. One way to defer that cost is to build the home with the elevator shaft but not to install the elevator car and the mechanicals until needed, perhaps when the homeowner begins to feel the effects of aging.
Since Sandy struck and rebuilding began, Adams said, he has installed elevators in 40 percent of the new homes he has built. Pre-Sandy, 20 percent of the homes he built had elevators.
The Youngs, who decided against an elevator their builder quoted at a cost of around $10,000, said their compromise to moving into a house so high off the ground was to make it one story, so that the only stair-climbing they would have to do would be to get into their home.
After a month of living high and mighty, they say they’re happy they made the choices they did.
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