What to Consider When Constructing a Waterfront Home

By Brian Ki, P.E. | October 6, 2021

Whether for weekend, seasonal or year round use, building a beautiful waterfront home is exciting!  The demand has and always will be a hot commodity. Having natural landscapes, wildlife, and a secluded place to relax is desired by many. Of course, there are a limited amount of water features in the world, and the land for these types of properties is often very expensive. On top of that, the homeowners often like to take advantage of the surrounding aesthetics and design a home to match the location. We all know waterfront homes are expensive, but here is a short list of key features as to why…

Supply and demand. The supply for these types of properties is extremely low. For reasons already mentioned, the demand is exponentially high. This leads to a surcharge in costs, and it is not unheard of for a waterfront lot to cost two or three times the cost of more in-land locations.

When building near the shoreline, special permitting and approval is required by town and state agencies. This usually requires more in-depth site plans, variances, and various other paperwork that needs to be filed and/or approved before construction can begin.

Most waterfront homeowners like to take advantage of the view. This means numerous windows with most being very large (floor-to-ceiling), and/or custom shaped (i.e. ellipse, eyebrow, triangular, etc.). With all this glass, energy (heat and air conditioning) is lost much easier, and therefore mechanical systems are more robust or running more often.

With so much glass, there is less structurally sheathed braced walls to resist wind and earthquake loads applied to the home. This often leads to structural steel and custom moment frames to be designed by a structural engineer. These frames are often much more slender than wood-framed shear walls and allows for these fully window-framed walls with minimal impact to the building’s other features.

If the building is located too close to the shore, ground water can become an issue. This may prevent a full basement and/or play a factor for the type of foundation you may choose to install. The traditional concrete foundation may not be the best option.  A pier- or pile-type foundation may be more suitable for the home’s conditions.

It is not unusual for construction of these types of properties to be more hectic than normal. If on the water’s edge, cofferdams may be required to prevent water from flooding the construction site. Materials may not be easily delivered to the site and may need to be shipped by boat. Because soils are often wet and generally soft, there might be additional site work needed just to create a suitable base to construct off. Using a barge with cranes is sometimes the only option.

With all the reasons above, and many more not listed, a structural engineer is often required to help design these types of homes. Team Engineering specializes in structural design and can assist you, your architect, and your contractor. Give us a call today and we will help you create your beautiful waterfront home!

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