Are you dreaming of beachfront real estate? Much of Florida’s coastline is at risk from storm erosion – Update Flor

On the Florida coast in November 2022, stormy hurricanes left a disturbing scene: Several homes and even swimming pools were left hanging over the ocean as waves eroded the property below. Dozens of homes and apartment buildings in the Daytona Beach area were deemed unsafe.

The destruction raised a troubling question: How much property along the rest of Florida’s coast is at risk of collapse and can be saved?

As director of iAdapt, the International Center for Adaptation Planning and Design at the University of Florida, I have spent the past two decades studying climate adaptation issues to help answer these questions.

Rising seas, aging buildings

Living by the sea has a big appeal in Florida – beautiful beaches, ocean views and often a nice breeze. But there are also risks that are exacerbated by climate change.

Sea levels are expected to rise an average of 10 to 14 inches (25-35 cm) on the US East Coast and 14 to 18 inches (35-45 cm) on the Gulf Coast over the next 30 years as the planet warms. Rising temperatures also increase the intensity of hurricanes.

With higher sea levels and larger storm surges, ocean waves more easily erode beaches, weaken seawalls, and submerge cement foundations in corrosive salt water. Along with land subsidence or sinking, it makes life on the coast more risky.

The risk of erosion varies depending on soil, geology and natural coastal changes. However, it is widespread in the coastal areas of the USA, especially in Florida. Maps created by engineers from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection show that most of Florida’s coastline faces a critical risk of erosion.

Aging or poorly maintained buildings and seawalls and older or poor construction methods and materials can dramatically exacerbate the risk.

Designing better building regulations

So what can be done to minimize the damage?

The first step is to build stronger buildings and fortify the existing ones according to advanced building codes.

Building regulations change over time as risks increase and construction techniques and materials improve. For example, the design criteria in the Florida Building Code for South Florida changed from requiring some new buildings to be able to withstand winds of 146 mph in 2002 to winds of 195 mph in 2021, meaning a powerful Category 5 hurricane.

The city of Punta Gorda, near where Hurricane Ian made landfall in October 2022, showed how homes built to the latest building codes have a much better chance of survival.

Many of Punta Gorda’s buildings were rebuilt after Hurricane Charley in 2004, shortly after the state updated the Florida Building Code. When Ian struck, they survived with less damage than those in neighboring towns. The updated code required new construction to be able to withstand hurricane-force winds, including impact-resistant shutters or window panes.

However, even homes built to the latest codes can be vulnerable because the codes do not adequately address the environment in which the buildings stand. A modern building in a low-lying coastal area could face damage in the future as sea levels rise and the coast erodes, even if it meets current floodplain elevation standards.

That’s the problem coastal residents faced during Hurricanes Nicole and Ian. Flooding and erosion, exacerbated by rising sea levels—not wind—caused the greatest damage.

Dozens of beach houses and apartment buildings that became unstable or collapsed in Volusia County during Hurricane Nicole may have appeared fine at first. But as the climate changes, so does the coastal environment, and one hurricane could leave the building vulnerable. Hurricane Ian damaged seawalls in Volusia County and some were beyond repair before Nicole hit.

How to minimize risk

The damage in the Daytona area in 2022 and the fatal collapse of a condo tower in Surfside a year earlier should be a wake-up call for all coastal communities.

Data and tools can show where coastal areas are most vulnerable. What is missing are policies and enforcement.

Florida recently began requiring state-funded developers to conduct a sea level impact study before beginning construction of a coastal structure. I believe it is time to apply this new rule to any new construction, regardless of funding source.

The requirement for a comprehensive sea level impact study should also allow for risk-based enforcement, including preventing construction in high-risk areas.

Similarly, vulnerability audits—especially for multi-story buildings built before 2002—can check the integrity of the existing structure and help identify new environmental risks from sea-level rise and beach erosion. Prior to 2002, the building standard was low and enforcement was lacking, so many of the materials and construction used in these buildings do not meet today’s standards.

What property owners can do

There are a number of techniques that homeowners can use to fortify their homes against flood risks.

In some places, this may mean elevating the house or improving the terrain so that surface water drains away from the building. Installing a sump pump and remodeling with storm-resistant building materials can help.

FEMA suggests additional measures to protect against coastal erosion, such as replenishing beach sand, strengthening seawalls and anchoring homes. Engineering can help communities, at least temporarily, through seawalls, ponds, and increased drainage. However, in the long term, communities will need to assess the vulnerability of coastal areas. Sometimes the answer is to move.

But there’s a troubling trend after hurricanes, and we see it with Ian: Many damaged areas are seeing a lot of money for rebuilding in equally vulnerable places. An important question that communities should ask themselves is, if they are already in high-risk areas, why rebuild in the same place?

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: houses-to-collapse-like-daytona-just-saw-194492.


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