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Construction Considerations


Is a design professional liable for property damages sustained in a flood?

On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall over Rockport as a Category 4 storm. Harvey stalled inland and poured up to 60.58 inches of water over parts of Texas. Harvey was categorized as a 500-year flood event. Major waterways in Texas reached unseen levels. Reports show nearly 200,000 homes were damaged statewide with the governor’s office estimating approximately $180 billion in property damage. Whether a storm meets the criteria for a 100-year storm, or more severe, many issues should be considered by design professionals related to residential design and construction.

Flood Plain Management Regulations and Building Codes

Residential construction guidelines are usually based on the 100-year flood: a 1 percent chance of flooding per year. A 500-year flood designation has a 0.2 percent chance of flooding per year. A flood plain designation impacts the property’s flood zone designation on the Flood Insurance Rate Map, or FIRM, adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The flood zone determines applicable flood plain management regulations, building codes, and permitting processes. With no state regulations, local communities determine flood regulations in Texas. Most communities participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, which adopts FIRM, and requires communities to enforce local regulations so buildings in 100-year flood plains are designed and constructed with elevations sufficient to resist flood damage. For example, in unincorporated Harris County, properties may be developed within the 100-year flood plain only by meeting certain restrictions on elevations and materials. These regulations require elevations for the subfloor of the lowest habitable floor of new homes and structures to be at least 24 inches above the 500-year flood elevation or 12 inches above the crown of the nearest public street, whichever is higher. Special Flood Hazard Areas, or SFHAs, include all “A”, “V”, and “X-S” zones. When a structure is built in the “X-S Zone,” the builder must provide documentation that shows the elevation of the Lowest Adjacent Grade, or LAG, next to the proposed development and the Base Flood Elevation, or BFE, for the property. The BFE is the computed elevation to which floodwaters are anticipated to rise during the base (100-year) flood event. If the LAG is below the BFE, the property will be permitted as if it lies in the SFHA. If the LAG is equal to or above the BFE, the property will be permitted as if it lies outside the SFHA.  

Read the rest of the article at Texas Law Journal, here.

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