CAPE MAY POINT — When the winds blow and the water rises, there is one house on East Lake Drive that has a good chance of being there when the storm passes.

Richmond Shreve, 73, and his wife, Marguerite Chandler, 70, are retirees who turned a summer home into a year-round residence. They didn’t stop there. They took measures to, for lack of a better term, hurricane-proof their home.

The improvements include threaded bolts that secure the house to the foundation. The bolts go through the sill plate with special brackets that attach them to the studs. They were drilled into the footings and further secured with an epoxy.

The block foundation has special gates that allow water to come in so flooding doesn’t collapse the walls. As flood waters rise, a float rises up to open the gates. Hurricane glass, strong enough to withstand a flying two-by-four, was installed.

The roof was secured to the house so it doesn’t blow off. Two 48-foot beams were added to the support across the entire length of the home.

“The two big beams attach to the roof joists to prevent the roof from bring lifted off,” Shreve said.

The project included a vertical cinder block column from the crawlspace all the way up through the house to support the roof. They bought a natural-gas generator to power the entire house when electric service goes out, a situation that already occurred and resulted in neighbors bringing extension cords over to plug into their outlets.

It was all about $60,000, including adding some solar panels to power the house. The result is peace of mind knowing their retirement home won’t blow down or float away.

“We’re not trying to protect our physical safety,” Shreve said. “If there’s a hurricane alert, we’ll evacuate like everybody else. This is to make the house sustainable in the storm and enhance the recovery prospect. The house will survive the storm and bounce back, whereas some houses will be inundated.”

While many shore dwellers are raising their homes after the damages caused by Hurricane Sandy, their ground floor was already at 10 feet above sea level, one of the higher elevations in this coastal town. Their project pre-dates Sandy and was in progress in 2011 when Hurricane Irene brushed by the coast.

The project began in a roundabout way. Shreve said they were putting solar panels on the home because it was “the right thing to do” when they found out the house constructed in 1979 for summer use wasn’t built all that well and could not handle the weight of the panels.

“There was a sway in the roof when they nailed it up. My engineer said the inside ridge beam they made level even though the whole house wasn’t level. They did that to make it look good,” Shreve said.

To add solar panels, they bolstered the house.

The couple bought the house in 1998 after retiring from jobs owning and running an industrial park in Somerset County. They are strong supporters of alternative energy. They also have a geothermal heating and cooling system for the home. It’s kind of ironic that an alternative energy project led to the storm measures, because they also worry that burning fossil fuels could be leading to global warming that may increase the frequency and ferocity of coastal storms.

They didn’t go it alone. A mechanical engineer drafted plans. Local carpenters Mike Murphy and Mark Heney, independent but working together on the project, did much of the work. They had to do plenty of troubleshooting as the inevitable problems retrofitting an existing house arose.

“They are two people who really know their business. One will be on a ladder and the other will hand him the tool he needs before he asks for it. There were a lot of unexpected issues,” Shreve said.

A crane and jack had to be used to get some of the heavy hurricane-glass doors in place. The 48-foot laminated beams were so heavy they had to be installed in sections. Each one was separated into three 48-foot long sections and bolted together when they were in place.

“It’s definitely easier to do with new construction,” Heney said.

With the frequency of coastal storms in recent years, Heney said, more people should consider such measures.

“Most of the money is going to raising the houses rather than (to) hurricane measures,” Heney said.

Shreve and Chandler have a place to go in Cumberland County if a hurricane hits. They have a “ready bag” of important documents and items to bring with them. The shore will not be a good place to be if a big hurricane hits, but at least they know they have the best chance to have a house to come home to.

Contact Richard Degener:


More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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