Base Floor Elevation – Two Feet Above Grade

We had a lively debate with our architect about how high the finished floor should be above grade. Our site is located about 3 feet above the FEMA base flood elevation (BFE). By city ordinance, the finished floor must be 2 feet above the BFE. So we easily met that requirement, even if the slab was directly on grade.

But, we knew that the area had flooded about 15 years earlier. Ironically, during that time we found that there was a 500-year storm and then a 250-year storm within about a 4 year time-period.  So much for statistics. Plus, we knew that there was a new major 2000+ acre development planned upstream of our area, which could worsen the run-off during storms.

So, it was a judgment call. But, given that we are starting from scratch, there was no reason to skimp on the elevation. We chose to go with a finished floor of the house 2 feet above grade, that will put it just over 5 feet above the BFE. To avoid too much slope on the short driveway, the garage will be 1 foot lower than the main house.



Here is an early draft of the house design elevations. Given the small size of our lot we ultimately concluded that connecting the garage to the main structure met our needs and fit on the lot. In an earlier draft, we had looked at the idea of a separate stand-alone garage with a small bedroom/apartment above it, with access from external stairs. But, that design ate up land space, and would have cost more for less. The final style remains a farmhouse look, that will be a “story and a half” — such that the second floor is built largely into the roof structure. That height, rather than a full two-story, will be more consistent with other homes in our neighborhood.

The Idea

We own an old riverhouse, built in the 1940s which was small and efficient. A former owner had added a bedroom and bath, but altogether the house was about 1100 square feet. While it had charm, it needed lots of work. The foundation moved, doors would stick, air conditioning was by three window units, heating was nearly non-existant. The hot water line to the kitchen sink ran along the outside of the house. The original structure had old knob and tube wiring. The roof was about to go. The garage had large cracks in the walls, and its rickety roof was held up by temporary supports.

But, we loved the location. Near a clear spring-fed river, where we could swim, kayak and fish. Great neighbors. Only about an hour drive from our primary home.

We had an idea. Remodeling didn’t make sense. What if we just started over, with new construction? We found a nearby home design we liked, then found web images of a similar style “sugarberry farmhouse.” We tracked down the architect of the nearby home, and started the design process.