Published July 31. 2014 11:40AM Updated August 01. 2014 7:51PM
Couple replacing storm-damaged house with modular unit built for rising sea levels
Groton — As the living room of their new home swung suspended from a cable fixed to the long arm of a crane, Peter and Lorraine Grader reflected on the past months of dealing with city officials, contractors, banks and an architect.
“We just found out what we had to do and how high do we have to jump,” said Lorraine Grader, as she and her husband looked skyward toward the hanging section of their house, one of four that crews from Shoreline Modular Homes of Madison were maneuvering into place Thursday. “The next section has the kitchen in it.”
The four sections were being joined atop 10-foot concrete pilings anchored into the narrow waterfront lot at the Jupiter Point neighborhood, which overlooks Baker Cove and Long Island Sound. This winter, the Graders’ home of 27 years was torn down to make way for the taller, modular replacement, a dwelling the older, active couple chose as their response to the realities of rising sea levels and more frequent intense storms.
After the 1,372-square-foot home they had loved was severely flooded in Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and again by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, they decided that simply making repairs to the 1940 structure wasn’t practical. With the help of their architect, they opted for a custom-designed modular home on pilings with an elevator the 80-year-old Peter Grader figures he’ll need as he ages, and living areas on the second and third floors out of the flood zone, over the ground-floor garage.
“I’ve got five more of these going up along the shore, all being elevated,” said Tom Wilcox, owner of Shoreline Modular.
“You either have to follow FEMA’s guidelines or they won’t insure you,” he added, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Graders have been living in a small apartment as they await their new home, much of their furniture stored in garages. While the undertaking of the last several months has been complex and time-consuming, especially as they both keep up their work responsibilities at their family business, Grader Jewelers, the couple believe they may be setting an example many shoreline property owners in the state will want to follow.
“Maybe this will be a lesson for others,” Lorraine Grader said.
Earlier this week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office sent a message encouraging more residents with homes and businesses vulnerable to the rising sea levels and severe storms linked to climate change to elevate their properties as the Graders did. A state loan program first announced in October, Shore Up CT, is now set up to take applications for low-interest funding to help residents pay for the work, the governor announced.
“With continued severe weather impacting Connecticut,” Malloy said in a news release, “Shore Up CT is a forward thinking approach to assist our state’s residents by taking action and fortifying our infrastructure before the next storm causes even greater damage to homes and businesses.
“Preparing for and adapting to a changing environment is something we must address long term, and that’s exactly what we’re setting out to accomplish with this loan program,” Malloy said.
Fifteen-year loans of $10,000 to $300,000 with 2.75 percent interest rate will be available to elevate primary and secondary homes and businesses out of the two most frequently flooded coastal areas, designated as FEMA Flood Zones VE and AE, in 24 towns along the Long Island Sound shoreline. Included are seven southeastern Connecticut communities: Old Saybrook, Old Lyme, East Lyme, Waterford, New London, Groton and Stonington.
Terms of the loan require that residential properties be elevated at least one foot higher than the FEMA’s calculation for the height of a 500-year flood at a particular site. Commercial properties must be raised one foot over the 100-year flood elevation.
The program was created in October with $2 million for startup costs and an initial pool of $3 million for loans. This spring, the state legislature infused the program additional funds when it approved up to $25 million bonding for the program.
David Bednarz, spokesman for Malloy’s office, said homes like the Graders’ that are being rebuilt rather than simply raised are eligible for Shore Up CT loans for the portion of the construction costs used to elevate the structure. Homeowners like the Graders who have already done the work can refinance and apply for one of the loans for the elevation portion, he added.
The Graders said they inquired about the new loan program but decided it wasn’t the best option for their situation.
“Maybe it would be helpful for someone whose house just needed to be elevated,” Peter Grader said.
The couple used a combination of their own savings, bank financing at virtually the same low rate as the state is offering, and some FEMA storm relief funds they received after Irene and Sandy. Peter Grader said he’s not sure what the total cost will be, especially since elements such as installing carpeting, flooring, exterior siding and landscaping haven’t been figured in yet.
“Ask me three months from now when it’s all over with,” he said.