Southeast
Dozens of homes were left unstable in the Daytona Beach area after Hurricane Nicole’s erosion. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

FL - Much of Florida’s Eroding Coast is Risking Home Collapses. Why Is Construction Continuing?

Back-to-back hurricanes left an unnerving scene on the Florida coast in November 2022: Several houses, and even swimming pools, were left dangling over the ocean as waves eroded the land beneath them. Dozens of homes and condo buildings in the Daytona Beach area were deemed unsafe.

The destruction has raised a disturbing question: How much property along the rest of the Florida coast is at risk of collapse, and can it be saved?

As the director of iAdapt, the International Center for Adaptation Planning and Design at the University of Florida, I have been studying climate adaptation issues for the last two decades to help answer these questions.

Rising seas, aging buildings

Living by the sea has a strong appeal in Florida – beautiful beaches, ocean views, and often pleasant breezes. However, there are also risks, and they are exacerbated by climate change.

Sea level is forecast to rise on average 10 to 14 inches (25-35 cm) on the U.S. East Coast over the next 30 years, and 14 to 18 inches (35-45 cm) on the Gulf Coast, as the planet warms. Rising temperatures are also increasing the intensity of hurricanes.

With higher seas and larger storm surges, ocean waves more easily erode beaches, weaken sea walls, and submerge cement foundations in corrosive salt water. Together with subsidence, or sinking land, they make coastal living riskier.

Map showing red lines along most of Florida's coast, except at wetlands areas and at the bend toward the Panhandle.
Florida’s erosion risk map shows most of the state’s coastline at critical risk.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection, CC BY-SA

The risk of erosion varies depending on the soil, geology and natural shoreline changes. But it is widespread in U.S. coastal areas, particularly Florida. Maps produced by engineers at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection show most of Florida’s coast faces critical erosion risk.

Aging or poorly maintained buildings and sea walls, and older or poor construction methods and materials, can dramatically aggravate the risk.

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Read also

Dreaming of Beachfront Real Estate? Much of Florida’s Coast Is at Risk of Storm Erosion / EcoWatch

Key Biscayne estimates $2.8 million needed to address beach erosion damage from Hurricane Nicole / Islander News.com

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Designing better building codes

So, what can be done to minimize the damage?

The first step is to build sturdier buildings and fortify existing ones according to advanced building codes.

Building codes change over time as risks rise and construction techniques and materials improve. For example, design criteria in the Florida Building Code for South Florida changed from requiring some new buildings to be able to withstand 146 mph sustained winds in 2002 to 195 mph winds in 2021, meaning a powerful Category 5 hurricane.

The town of Punta Gorda, near where Hurricane Ian made landfall in October 2022, showed how homes constructed to the latest building codes have a much better chance of survival.

Many of Punta Gorda’s buildings had been rebuilt after Hurricane Charley in 2004, shortly after the state updated the Florida Building Code. When Ian hit, they survived with less damage than those in neighboring towns. The updated code required new construction to be able to withstand hurricane-force winds, including having shutters or impact-resistant window glass.

Read more.