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Modular Home Fortress Survives Irene Hit
In September of 1938, one of the largest hurricanes to ever hit New England devastated homes all along her coastal waters. One of these homes, a mansion on 1.5 acre Sumac Island, just off Southwestern Connecticut, was sitting only 10 feet above sea level.
When the waters receded, there was nothing left of the mansion but the foundation, which sat abandoned for decades. Finally, the island was purchased in 2006 by a family wanting to build their own paradise retreat in the same spot.
The fear that another hurricane would devastate this island inspired the new owners to seek a home design virtually immune to water and wind devastation. “We knew nothing would be perfect,” mused the owner, “and that there would be more bad hurricanes in the future, but we wanted to live there and we had to try.”
They landed in the offices of Douglas Cutler Architects in Wilton CT, one of only a handful of firms specializing in high-end, modular-designed home construction.
Cutler and his team were inspired by the serenity of this small island and challenged themselves to create the perfect architectural compliment… a home that would draw the eye from the mainland, and at the same time dismiss the stigma of boring, boxy modular homes… forever.
“Our client told us they wanted to live on this island in style with their dogs and their boats,” says Cutler. “They did not want to wait three years to move in and, most importantly, they wanted their home fortified against mother nature with state of the art materials and construction.
The result was a 4,100 sf, Georgian style, custom modular home, built in a factory and delivered to the island on a barge. (see photo) “There is no doubt this home is gorgeous,” says the owner. “But what really surprised us was how quickly it was built (6 months) and how all our worries about building on an island just vanished. We were delighted with the entire process, something very few who construct a home from scratch will tell you.”
“Our commission required us to design the new building to the new FEMA regulations,” says Cutler, “with an open, reinforced, foundation raised up 16 feet above sea level in order to resist the ocean wave force of nearly 1,000 pounds per lineal foot. Furthermore, we designed the super structure to resist 120 Miles per hour winds. It was a challenge but definitely worth the effort as we all soon found out.”
Tropical Storm Irene strikes Sumac Island on August 27, 2011… at high tide.
With a new moon causing extreme tides, the sea level during Irene equaled that of the terrible 1938 hurricane. To make matters worse, wind gusts of over 85 miles per hour also made this storm devastating to the many homes on the mainland coast of Long Island Sound which received serious structural damage.
“So you can imagine our pleasure when our Sumac Island client recently contacted us with an update about how his island house performed in Tropical Storm Irene” says Cutler. “Apparently, the storm surge completely engulfed the island and the raging sea water came within 2 feet of the underside of his raised structure but our modular building performed perfectly. Even better, Irene’s strong winds were only able to whisk away some landscaping and a few pieces of architectural detail.”
“We are very pleased but not at all surprised, said Cutler. “This is what modular construction is about and, combined with FEMA regulations, we built them a tough, yet beautiful, home.”
“Our client couldn’t be happier… but not quite as happy as his insurance company” Douglas Cutler added, smiling as he pictured the relief. “This storm illustrates how modular construction, with redundancy of structure and shear walls designed to resist lateral force, has proven to be the very best, and safest, way to build a luxury home.”