In the lowcountry, flooding is a major concern. New structures are required to be elevated above the base flood elevation if they are in a flood zone. Base flood elevations are reevaluated periodically, so an older home may be below the flood elevation and subject to FEMA’s 50% Rule. A surveyor can determine the flood zone the house is located in and provide an elevation certificate to verify that the building is properly elevated.

Flood Zones are as follows:

V-Zone – (Velocity zone) coastal high hazard subject to 100 year flooding and storm surge
A-Zones – High risk of flooding
B-Zone & X- Zone shaded – Moderate risk of flooding
C-Zone & X unshaded – Minimal risk of flooding

Be An Informed Home Or Property Buyer.

Special consideration should be given before buying an existing home where the first floor of livable space is below the base flood elevation. Make sure you receive a flood elevation certificate as part of your closing package when you buy in the lowcountry. A surveyor can provide a elevation certificate.

Beaufort County and the municipalities within the county all participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA establishes a base flood elevation above mean sea level which is revised periodically. New buildings must meet the NFIP requirements which include having the first floor above the base flood elevation or higher depending on the flood zone, along with other requirements.

FEMA’s 50% Rule

If the cost of improvements or the cost to repair a damaged building exceeds 50% of the market value of the building, the entire building must be brought into compliance with the NFIP requirements. The market value is for the building only not the property, any landscape improvements, or detached accessory buildings. The value can be determined by a licensed appraiser or the county’s property assessment.

The only items that are excluded from the cost of improvements or repair are as follows:

  • Plans and specification
  • Surveys
  • Permit fees
  • Cost to demolish storm damaged buildings
  • Debris removal
  • Landscape improvements
  • Detached structures. If the detached structure is habitable space it is subject to the same rules.

Many existing houses in the county do not meet the NFIP requirements and must adhere to the 50 % rule or raise the building out of the flood plain. Most houses built in accordance with the 2009 or 2012 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) meet the NFIP requirements and are not subject to the 50% rule. Municipalities often adopt a cumulative substantial improvement policy which combines any combination of repairs, reconstruction, rehabilitation, additions, or other improvements to a structure during a finite period of time that is limited to the 50% rule. The cumulative substantial improvement policy for Beaufort County and Bluffton is 10 years; the City of Beaufort is 5 years; and Hilton Head currently does not have a cumulative substantial improvement policy.

Lifting your house seems like a very big undertaking, but it is a wise move if your house is below base flood elevation. In a world with rising sea levels and increased instances of severe weather, flooding is a nightmare that is only getting more prevalent. We recently completed a transformation of a dated beach house on Fripp Island, and have a time-lapse video of the house raising here.