Leeward Living – Breezy Point Community

When the ocean is surging around your beachfront home during a storm and the wind is howling against the windows, a resilient concrete house built to withstand the forces of Mother Nature sounds like a pretty good idea.  For some residents of the aptly named Breezy Point – a final spit of beach inside the limits of New York City before the Atlantic Ocean takes over – a new concrete home design from Leeward Living makes sense.

“We really designed the home with the most resilience we could,” President James Willmer points out. The exterior of the homes look like they are covered with regular clapboard siding, but instead of the siding ripping off in high winds, it is molded into the concrete exterior walls. “Nothing rips off in a storm,” Willmer insists. “Even the pitched roof and gutters are concrete.” The outer concrete shell of the house protects a conventional home inside. “Inside is all normal sheetrock,” Willmer points out. “You never know you’re living in a concrete bunker except when you need it to protect you.”

The home is poured concrete and shotcrete so it is a single monolithic structure. Inside, metal studs with drywall create essentially a second home inside the concrete house. Closed cell foam is sprayed onto the concrete in the two-and-a-half-inch space between the concrete and the studs to create an airtight, monolithic structure which also leads to an extremely energy-efficient and sustainable home, as well.

A limited palette of colors can be molded into the home’s exterior, so many concrete homes use a special waterproofing exterior paint with a wide range of color selections and a 10-year warranty.

Thermal breaks keep the interior 20-gauge metal studs separate from the concrete exterior so no thermal bridging occurs. This design also eliminates condensation in the corners of the structure and subsequent formation of mold. Because the homes use no wood, no shrinking, swelling or pests are a problem, especially in a coastal environment. The interior is totally isolated from the outside elements.

Poured in Stages

The concrete pour is done in stages, with first the footing, columns and the elevated platform deck designed per FEMA guidelines for a Coastal V-zone being poured. The deck is comprised of double-reinforced steel and rated significantly above the local New York City wind code. This assists in reducing the cost of flood insurance for homeowners.

The next stage is to pour the reinforced walls and the roof over the edge of the walls to give the look of trim. Because the home is monolithically sealed, Willmer says it is 99 percent impervious to water. Special taping and flashing is applied to the hurricane-resistant doors and impact-resistant windows.

The concrete homes are being built in Breezy Point – a co-operative community of single-family homes which has undergone a massive rebuilding process since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Four of the homes are finished and another five are breaking ground or in different stages of construction. Five more concrete homes are in the approval process prior to construction.

The concrete homes have been built in traditional, transitional and modern styles but can be built in any style. “We’re a younger group, so we try to push a little more modern, contemporary aesthetic,” Willmer says. But he estimates the average ages of his customers range from 60 to 85. About half the homes in Breezy Point originally were second homes, but as the population has aged in place, more have become primary residences.

The semi-custom concrete homes are approximately 10 percent more expensive than an equivalent wood frame home, Willmer estimates, but the increased cost is offset by the homes being approximately 80 percent more energy-efficient than standard homes, according to third-party modeling by Steven Winter Associates Inc. Leeward Living’s average concrete home prices range from $500,000 to $1 million for a two-story dwelling. They measure on average approximately 20 feet wide by 43 feet long per story, which is due to local zoning codes

“I came up with the idea following Super-Storm Sandy, as I saw a need to rebuild not just faster but better, more resilient and sustainable homes,” says Willmer, who grew up in his family’s construction business. He earned a graduate degree in real estate and urban and city planning at the University of Pennsylvania, in addition to having worked for homebuilders in real estate and finance.

Leeward Living is a design/build firm with in-house architecture and project management. “This allows us to design semi-custom homes for clients so they get exactly the project they desire.,” Willmer says. “It also allows us to build efficiently, delivering homes in approximately four to six months.” 

Energy-Efficient

Leeward Living subcontracts the electrical, plumbing and HVAC on its projects and self-performs the rest, such as the concrete and drywalling, with its own crew. The average home employs up to five or six subcontractors. The homes are aiming for LEED Platinum certification. They use on-demand hot-water heaters and electric heat pumps without ducts located high on the walls to provide energy-efficient heating and cooling. Because the homes are so airtight, energy recovery ventilators circulate 70 percent of the air in each house every hour. All appliances are Energy-Star-rated, and all lighting is with LED bulbs.

Leeward Living also elevates existing wood-frame houses in the New York City area to meet new flood requirements. Like its own homes, these repaired homes are set on concrete columns with breakaway panels to enclose them. When a storm surge hits the panels, they break away, and the surge continues past the columns. A solid raised foundation would enable the surge to push against it and move the house. 

“What we’re doing is trying to be very forward-thinking,” Willmer says. “We’re trying to build the most resilient and sustainable homes in New York City. We’re really trying to change the way people think about housing and living on the coast. Everything we do is integrated and thoughtfully designed for living in a fragile ecosystem on the water.

“We’re really trying to make sure that these homes are next-generation homes that can survive generations of New York City residents,” he continues. “Out of this storm, we are now able to rebuild more resilient and sustainable structures that will not only provide a home for residents to create family memories, but also better housing stock for the future of New York City.” 

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