In October 2015, three years after superstorm Sandy tore into Long Island, a handwritten sign was tacked to the moldering ruin of a once-lovely house on Barnes Street in Long Beach. By 2015, the badly damaged house was awaiting impending demolition, but the sign trumpeted, “WE’LL BE BACK.’’
Now, a year later, that promise has come true as Matthew and Kathleen Dwyer and their two adult children settle into their new home: the storm-inspired Sandy Cottage, designed by Bay Shore architect James Bouler.
With this, Bouler joins a handful of peers who are trying to resurrect and protect Long Island shorefront neighborhoods that were devastated by flood, wind and fire in the October 2012 superstorm. Their efforts to design houses that will withstand the wrath of nature are driven by tightened building codes and new solutions for beating the storms.
The 2,000-square-foot home was constructed according to Federal Emergency Management Agency-compliant building codes designed for floodplains and high wind in areas like the South Shore. Code requirements include 2-by-6-inch studs rather than 2-by-4 studs, large-diameter rebar reinforcement in the poured concrete foundation and steel strapping to reinforce the framework beam connections.
Building components such as impact-resistant windows, spray foam insulation, metal helical pilings and mechanical equipment for electrical and geothermal connections installed in the house’s upper reaches, out of harm’s way, provide layers of protection from the weather. There are two stories above a mandated 8-foot elevation, so that water drains before reaching the upper floors. The siding is a waterproof, maintenance-free, cement-based composite.
But the Dwyers’ newly constructed home — the prototype for the design Bouler has dubbed The Sandy Cottage — also was conceived as a green, energy-efficient replacement. “The cottage is a repository for FEMA-approved technology,” says Bouler.
The cottage’s solar panels, installed by GreenLogic of Roslyn Heights, and its electricity-fueled heating-cooling system, by PGI Geothermal of Northport, promise near-zero electricity costs. Bouler says. “While the floor plan, size, finishes and budget are as flexible as the client requires,” Bouler says, “the style remains contemporary in order to provide the flat roof needed for its array of solar panels. The roofs on traditional-style homes are not always suitable.”
Bouler signed his first contract with the Dwyers in November 2015. The total cost for the project is $450,000, which was funded by the client’s flood insurance, New York Rising and private resources, says Matthew Dwyer, 58, director of the Nassau County Office for the Physically Challenged. The cost does not include upgrades such as solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling system and other extras.
The three-bedroom cottage is equipped with an elevator, one of the upgrades — a boon for Dwyer, who is mobility challenged. There is also an interior stairway instead of the exterior stairs often found at elevated houses — what Dwyer calls “slippery suicide stairs.” Both access the living area from the one-car garage. The amenities are both part of the client’s customized package. They cost a bit more upfront, he says, “but the overall benefits will be immeasurable.”
Two more of The Sandy Cottages, both of Bouler’s design, are in the early stages of production by contractors who worked on the Dwyer house: Eric Daly of Atlantic Beach and Ben Wagman of Long Beach.
“I’ve built over 1,000 houses in this area, and The Sandy Cottage is my favorite,” says Daly, the Dwyers’ general contractor. “As far as I know, it’s the only one with all the green features as well as the state-of-the-art technology, all in one house. It’s built to code like all the shorefront houses, and those features will keep it safe in bad weather. And although it’s small by some standards, when you walk inside into that open space, it feels huge.”
CORRECTION: The number of bedrooms, the size of the garage, the property size and the total cost of the home were incorrect in a previous version of the story.
TIME AND RECOVERY
Kathleen Dwyer, 62, an administrator at a private university, says that after more than three frustrating years butting heads with local and federal agencies, it was actually a relief to watch the remains of the family’s house being pummeled into a pile of split boards and soggy furniture.
The Dwyers, with their two children, Sarah, 25, and Eamon, 23, had moved into a temporary apartment for the duration and slowly recovered by searching for a way to rebuild on their 40-by-56-foot lot.
“We wanted to get back to Long Beach,” says her husband, Matthew. “We were victims of Hurricane Sandy, and the demolition was only the last straw. The real heartbreak happened right after the storm, when we realized that our home was unliveable due to 5 feet of water that flooded into it. Most of our neighbors’ homes were burned to the ground and they lost everything, but what little we salvaged were just broken pieces of our lives.”
Dwyer says he cherishes an elegant chandelier, a family heirloom that now hangs over his new dining table. “I cleaned every bulb and crystal drop before the holidays for years as I grew up,” he says. “I’m so grateful that it was undamaged. The only other thing we have left is my grandmother’s 1929 hope chest. It was OK once it dried out.”
“Everything else is new, even my ponytail,” he says, explaining that after the storm, as “a gesture of defiance,” he decided he would not cut his hair until the family moved into a new house. The ponytail is now a foot long.
“We’re looking ahead to retirement, and we wanted a house that would be salable sometime down the road,” he says. But for now, he says, “We want livability in an environmentally responsible house, and now the future is here and we are it.”
— JAN TYLER
WEATHERING A STORM
In 2012, on the heels of Sandy’s rampage, a newly constructed waterfront house in Sag Harbor won an Archi award for sustainability from the Long Island chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Designed by Stuart Narofsky, past president of the chapter, the house weathered the superstorm as well as more recent storms without damage.
By manipulating two design components — the architectural profile and orientation of the structure — Narofsky guides the wind slip over and around the house. He designed the windy side’s facade with a minimum of mass and sited the house on its lot at an angle aimed at forcing the wind to sweep around it instead of hitting it head-on. Also, Narofsky adds, “although it wasn’t a code requirement, the client requested that it be built on an elevation of 4 feet in anticipation of future storms and it came through unscathed.”
“The owners later told me they watched the storm cozily from the widow’s walk, sipping wine, and saw their boat dock fly off on its way to Europe,” but the house itself was unharmed, he says.
— JAN TYLER
PROTECTING A HOUSE
Suggestions from Garden City architect James Prisco for houses in moderately threatened floodplain areas:
- Install a gas-fired generator that can be converted to propane.
- Install a car lift in the garage.
- Consider rebuilding with modular units.
- Store small boats, kayaks and bikes on brackets high on garage walls.
- Direct water away from the house with drainage ditches.
- Raise oil tanks and boilers on concrete platforms.
— JAN TYLER