Salvatore (Sam) Caruso
How a modular rebuild and elevation strengthened a Louisiana family
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast. Slidell, which sits across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, was ravaged by storm surge flooding. Salvatore (Sam) Caruso’s 120-year old family home in Slidell was destroyed in the storm. Using a federal grant and a low-interest loan to partially fund the construction, the Carusos rebuilt their home, exceeding local building code requirements. Mr. Caruso felt strongly that his family had an obligation to build back as resilient as possible.
During Hurricane Katrina, storm winds forced water from the Gulf of Mexico into Lake Pontchartrain, resulting in storm surge with elevations of 10.5 to 13.5 feet extending north of the lake into Slidell and the surrounding communities. The Caruso family’s 1,200 square foot home, which Mr. Caruso purchased in 1997 for $60,000, was elevated on 18-inch piers. During the storm, the structure collapsed where the original home and a 1970s addition met. Their home was unsalvageable, but the family had flood insurance. “My dad had told me always over-insure,” says Mr. Caruso.
Mitigation project details
After Katrina, the family considered moving instead of rebuilding and had even put an offer on a house in a different area. Then Mr. Caruso got a call from the US Small Business Administration (SBA). Eager to prevent the Caruso’s neighborhood from losing its population and economy post-Katrina, the SBA offered him a low-interest loan of $150,000 if he stayed and built a new, stronger home on his original land.¹ That was, says Mr. Caruso, “a deal too hard for us to pass up. We cancelled the offer on the other house and in January of 2009, focused on how to build on the original property.” The Carusos were able to use the SBA funds in combination with $30,000 from Increased Cost of Compliance coverage through the NFIP², and another $30,000 from a FEMA hazard mitigation grant to cover a substantial portion of the building costs.
By June of 2009, Mr. Caruso, his wife, and their two young children were in their new home. At just under 3,000 square feet, the home was built in the style of a 1920s fourplex. They opted to use modular construction, which was cheaper ($111 per square foot vs. $160 per square foot for a conventional home) and quicker to build – the house was delivered to the site for finish work in 10 weeks.
Exceeding local building code requirements for St. Tammany Parish³ (where Slidell is located), the new home was elevated two feet above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE)⁴, or the elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during a 1-percent-annual-chance flood. In addition, the house was built to withstand up to 165 mile-per-hour winds. It sits on a steel reinforced concrete foundation, steel reinforced concrete pilings, and 94 steel braces that tie the house to its foundation. Mr. Caruso explains, “We exceeded the code requirements of the City, Parish, and State in taking these measures, which aligned with the international residential building code. We wanted to be at least that strong.”
1 - Small Business Administration (SBA). Disaster Assistance Program. https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/
2 - FEMA. "Fact Sheet: Increased Cost of Compliance Coverage." https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1447-20490-5393/increasedcostofcompliancecoverage_2012.pdf
3 - St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. Code of Ordinances. https://library.municode.com/la/st._tammany_parish_/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIILADECO_CH115DRFLCO_ARTIIFLHAAR
4 - LSU AgCenter. Louisiana Flood Maps. http://maps.lsuagcenter.com/floodmaps/#
Implications for homeowners
Mr. Caruso’s commitment to not only meeting but exceeding building codes reduced the risk to his home from future flood events. Furthermore, elevating his home also translated into a dramatically reduced flood insurance premium. “I pay $525 a year for flood insurance now. I thought it was morally wrong for me and my family to take that money and have done anything less than ensure that we won’t have to be bailed out for that reason ever again.”