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Stricter construction codes for NJ homes in flood zone

Sandy victims still trying to rebuild and elevate their homes in floodplains are being dealt a potential blow that they may not even realize exists.

New Jersey recently adopted updates to its existing International Residential Code, which places stricter construction requirements on structures in the new Coastal A zone.

Home being removed from Barnegat Bay
Home being removed from Barnegat Bay (Townsquare Media NJ)

The Coastal A zone is included on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood maps as the LiMWA line, which stands for the “limit of modern wave action.” However, the new construction requirements go above and beyond what FEMA requires, according to officials with the agency.

Structures located in this area must be able to withstand waves of up to 1-1/2 feet, while those in the V zone are required to be built to withstand damage from waves of up to 3 feet, explained Toms River Township Engineer Robert J. Chankalian. He said the municipality was informed of the construction code change last month by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and posted the information on the Township’s website.

Lisa Ryan, for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, said the International Residential code predates Sandy.

“The requirements in the International Residential Code are based upon the best available data on foundation types that are required to protect structures given the soil types primarily found in these Coastal A zones,” Ryan said. “In any construction, regardless of area, design professionals like architects and engineers are going to test the soils to determine the required foundation elements, and based upon the testing, design professionals can’t propose alternative foundation systems provided that the testing supports their recommendation.”

Ryan said the state is allowing a six-month grace period to phase in the new construction code adoptions.

“This means that any homes right now that are in the permit pipeline, they don’t have to be redesigned as a result of the amended code. So, it’s only for homes for which a permit will be applied after March 21, of 2016. Those are the homes that will need to comply with these new code regulations,” Ryan said.

The stricter construction requirements for the Coastal A zone are similar to what already is required for homes located in FEMA’s V zone, which can be more costly. However, Ryan said the cost of construction on piles would actually be less than a traditional foundation.”

“So I think that that’s important because due to the typically sandy soils found in Coastal A zones, a home in Coastal A zones can’t just be built on block foundations. It would be block foundations, and it would require piles, a grade beam and also something called concrete masonry units,” Ryan said. She added that design professionals likely would opt for piles because it is the less expensive option.

Ryan said the Department of Community Affairs has posted the information about the construction code change on its website and has been notifying builders, design professionals and municipal code officials.

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