Are Floating Houses in Virginia's Future?

Apr 16, 2019

For residents along Virginia’s coasts and rivers, flooding is a growing problem.  That’s why planners, architects and scientists in Hampton Roads are studying a new way to protect homes from water damage.

David Stanhope, Field Research Manager at VIMS' Center of Coastal Resource Management with a floating shed.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science has what it calls a “teaching marsh” – a coastal area where students can learn about sea level rise, water pollution and erosion.  Field Research Manager David Stanhope keeps his gear in a small shed near the marsh.

“We’ve been getting more and more flooding in that area, and the shed and the electricity started falling apart,” he recalls.

Working from designs developed in Holland and other flood-prone places, he moved the shed onto a wooden deck.

“We put some floats under it, and then we anchored it with some poles, so It would slide up the poles  and then settle back down when the tide receded," he explains.  "The floats I actually got at Walmart.  They're just dock floats.”

Doing this with a house built on a slab or on stilts is more complicated, but  Zane Havens, a fellow at Virginia Sea Grant, says there is a way  to deal with the pipes and electrical lines that are part of a modern home.

“It has self-sealing breakaway connections for sewage and gas, and for electric and water it’s got umbilical cords underneath," Havens says. "There is very little damage to the structure, and honestly people can come back and live in this house pretty soon after.”

Building codes, insurance and mortgage requirements don’t include this design.  Still, there’s an incentive to change.  Experts say more than 800 homes in Hampton Roads will flood at least 26 times a year in the next decade, dropping property values dramatically and costing the area $3.6 million in lost property taxes.