Rebuilt: Breezy Point’s fire zone


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Few neighborhoods were as ravaged by Superstorm Sandy as Breezy Point. In the seaside community of just over 2,800 homes, 220 were lost to floods, and a raging fire in the densely populated wedge area destroyed another 135. In the weeks and months after the storm, rebuilding plans in the fire zone seemed in doubt. Before any new construction could get underway, infrastructure lines – gas, water and electricity – had to be rebuilt. And uncertainty over FEMA flood zone guidelines added to the delays.

 

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October 30, 2012: Post-Sandy fire in the wedge area of Breezy Point

 

But the residents of the tightly knit community rallied, and three years later, 115 homes in the fire zone alone have been rebuilt. And Breezy Point is now a showcase for sustainable, sensible ocean side living.

Many of the new homes in the fire zone adhere to a base flood elevation of eight feet. The elevation drastically changes the feel of the community that still had many original bungalows, but is necessary to qualify for flood insurance. The opportunity to rebuild from scratch allowed homeowners to incorporate other resiliency features.

James Willmer, a homebuilder and Principal of Leeward Living, has rebuilt several homes in the area. Some of the new resiliency features in his homes include adherence to enhanced wind code specifications, the use of double mat reinforced concrete decking, and concrete roofs. The homes are built on reinforced slabs that will prevent uplift from storm surge, and all the pipes are enclosed in a dummy concrete column to prevent water damage. Leeward’s concrete homes also have a three-hour fire rating.

The houses are also built for energy efficiency, using tempered, shatterproof glass windows, and are completely encased in spray foam. “We did a blower door test,” said Willmer, “which checked how airtight the house is. The city code requirement is 5.0, Energy Star is 3.0. One of our homes got a 1.6, which is insanely airtight. You’re not going to have energy loss in the summer or winter.”

In terms of upkeep, Leeward Living homes require very little maintenance. Since no wood is used in construction, there is no threat of rotting or mold, a common concern when building so close to the ocean, and there’s never a need to replace the insulation.

Now that summer is over, rebuilding efforts in Breezy Point have resumed, with dozens of new homes under construction, or being elevated.

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