Coastal Construction: On the Waterfront

Building a home near the water is a dream come true, but there are important considerations.

Coastal-construction-waterfront-home-by-Chinburg Properties
December 18, 2019

With breathtaking views, fresh air, and the calming sounds of nature, a waterfront home offers peaceful living. It’s one of the most coveted places to build a new house.


However, the effects of climate change have become a concern for many. As of January 2019, rising sea levels have decreased the value of New England coastal properties by $403 million and have threatened nearly $1.5 billion worth of property in Hilton Head, S.C.

Chinburg Properties has three decades of experience building waterfront homes in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, both on the Atlantic Ocean and on many beautiful lakes in the region. What we’ve learned is that building a home to withstand the elements requires methodical construction practices.

Evaluate the soil

The soil surrounding the home varies depending on the location and its proximity to the water. That, in turn, determines the bearing capacity of the house, so builders should test this as soon as possible. 

After a storm, water will need to drain quickly to avoid flooding or damage. If the area has poor soil, the home may need a reinforced foundation. 

Start with a solid foundation

Erosion, storm surges, and flooding can chip away at the structure of a waterfront home, which is why a sturdy foundation is essential.

Some waterfront locations will need elevated foundations so floodwater can move below the home without causing any structural damage. Some waterfront properties may need “breakaway walls,” which are not part of a building’s structural support but collapse without causing damage to the elevated part of a home.

Some foundations require special bracing, frame strengthening, or an elevated lift to withstand conditions. Builders may also suggest installing shear walls, which help strengthen the frame. 

Choose the right materials

The resilience and longevity of a waterfront home will depend on the type of materials you choose. This includes large items, such as roofing, and even the smallest, like nails. 

First, the exterior should be as waterproof as possible to avoid excess maintenance costs. That means using the best water-resistant building materials, wraps, tapes, caulks, windows, decks, and beyond. Depending on the location, the home may also need materials that can handle the corrosive effects of saltwater exposure. Stainless steel, copper, and rot-resistant woods are good options.

Be prepared for storms

Even with a solid foundation and the most resilient materials, residents must be prepared for the storms that will come. Getting water away from the home is a priority, so properly sized downspouts and gutters are important.

This is merely a sample of the many considerations a waterfront property requires. You can’t beat Mother Nature every time, but with the right planning, good building practices, and robust material choices, your custom homes near the coast will stand the best chance of surviving a storm.

Paul Kerrigan is the chief operating officer at Chinburg Properties, a builder and developer based in Newmarket, N.H.

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