Located in Sarasota & Naples, Florida

Architecture License: AR 94536

Architecture Firm License: AA0003661


Resilient construction attempts to solve risks of beachfront living

This Bay Isles modern home on Longboat Key, designed by DSDG Architects, recently won the Aurora Award for Custom Home of the Year (5,000 sq ft – 10,000 sq ft) at the South Eastern Builders Conference. It features resilient deign aspects such as fake wood made of aluminum and solar panels.

Waterfront real estate continues to attract new construction, despite the risks posed by tropical weather. 

Building resilient homes in vulnerable locations requires a number of adaptations including, but not limited to, elevating houses and building them with more durable materials. 

Local architects Daniel Lear of Lear Studio and Mark Sultana of DSDG Architects agree that building up is a key to improving storm resiliency, but materials are equally important and allow for a higher degree of creativity 

Sultana’s firm DSDG has done work on both the Aria and Infinity condos on Longboat Key. The firm also has a new construction listing currently active for $16,995,000 million at 6489 Gulfside Road.

In recent years, Sultana said resiliency has been on everyone’s minds, and his office ensures that from the start there are multiple resiliency measures in place. 

“These structures are made to hold up,” Sultana said. 

Know your zone

Homes built in Zone V, i.e. on the beachfront, need to be raised to 18.3 feet off the ground, Sultana said. 

These homes’ plans must first be approved through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, before getting the construction permits from the town of Longboat Key. 

Another issue when building a home so close to the water is resisting scour. 

Scour occurs when heavy waves, such as storm surge, surround a structure and wash away the sediment around it. Lear said that storm surge can often be a more pressing issue than wind impacts. 

To combat this, Sultana said the beachfront homes need dozens of pilings — concrete cylinders that are driven as far as 30 to 40 feet into the ground to provide strength and stability to the foundation. 

Sultana said after the pilings are driven into the ground, another layer of concrete goes over top of that and no one ever sees these important and expensive structures.

Farther from the beachfront, homes built in Zone A don’t require pilings, but still need to be raised about 10-12 feet off the ground, according to Sultana. 

“Really, the biggest challenge by the water is having (to) build up,” Lear said.

One of the challenges is the fact that having a structure built so high can seem intimidating. Lear said he can use certain strategies to make the homes feel shorter, or closer to the ground. He likes to try to make the stairs seem like an adventure, rather than an obstacle.  

But at the same time, a raised house gives him more to work with in terms of finding places for water to percolate. Raised houses can be designed to allow for natural areas under the house that allow water to drain. 

To Lear, having a natural landscape is better all around, both for drainage and aesthetics. Mangroves are a more desirable choice than a sea wall a lot of times, Lear said. 

Having a raised house with space underneath can also accommodate outdoor living spaces, which Sultana said are increasingly common. 

With that design, Sultana said hurricane doors are a very popular addition, with about 50% of his clients asking for them. With the flip of a switch, heavy doors can be lowered from the hidden overhead storage, making patio furniture and the house more storm resistant. 

Evolution of windows 

With houses built near the water, current Florida Building Code requires windows in the Sarasota area to be able to withstand 160 mph winds, according to Sultana. That’s near the minimum speed of sustained winds during a Category 5 hurricane. 

While wind-resistant windows seemed like a big innovation years ago, they came with drawbacks at the start. 

“It was really like a backward step in design,” Lear said

The issue was how small they were. The smaller panes weren’t able to cover the larger windows, which required some adapting in the design phase. Often, steel bars needed to be used in between the small panes to cover larger areas. 

“Now, we’re really not limited any more,” Sultana said. 

Over time, the wind-resistant windows have grown enough to create large windows to allow for a view of the entire beach. Some companies even have sliding glass doors that are rated to endure these high winds. 

Not only did larger, stronger windows allow for more creativity, but they also added to the sense of security for a homeowner. The added benefit is that if 160 mph winds can’t break through the windows, it makes it difficult for intruders to break through. 

Even more secure are impact-resistant windows, which Lear noted are also increasingly popular. Impact-resistant windows are able to withstand projectiles crashing into windows, whereas windows with a certain degree of wind resistance may not be able to stop a heavy tree branch coming at the window. 

Smarter materials 

Starting from the top, Sultana said there have been many different roof designs he has implemented in recent years. 

A newer trend he’s seen is the desire for concrete roofs. 

“I would say five years ago, we never did a concrete roof on a house,” Sultana said.

Now, he said he has dozens of projects with concrete roofs given their durability in storms, though they tend to be more expensive than other roofing materials. 

Overall, concrete is a durable option for storm resistance. Lear said in previous projects he has enjoyed using inspiration from other architects to make concrete feel “lighter,” in the visual sense. 

Both Lear and Sultana talked down using wood in modern, storm-resistant designs. The issue with wood is that it doesn’t hold up in Florida’s climate. Whether it’s termites, humidity or storms, both architects said finding creative alternatives is essential. 

But a lot of people like the look of wood. That prompts the need for materials that look like wood from afar, but are easier to maintain. 

Sultana often turns to a material that is made of aluminum, but gives the appearance of natural wood. 

Lear uses materials like NewTechWood, a composite material that also looks like natural wood, and somewhat feels like it.

These materials are more adaptable to Florida’s climate, and are less likely to need renovations as frequently as wood, which would need to be refinished almost every year. 

Whether it’s materials or laying the foundation, Lear urged the importance of adapting to the market, while also making sure the structures last. 

“The question is how do we build something that’s resilient but also desirable?” 

Original posted on the Observer | By Carter Weinhofer | 6:00 a.m. August 29, 2023

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