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Upper Keys Architect

Old 02-24-2019, 08:49 AM
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Default Upper Keys Architect

Looking for suggestions for an Architect with experience in designing residential properties in the FL Keys and the unique requirements that come with building in this area. What I'm looking for specifically is someone who is (obviously) licensed and has a solid understanding of Monroe Co. Building codes and navigating the building department. What I'm NOT looking for is an award-winning design firm that works on million dollar plus estates with sweeping views of the ocean, vaulted ceilings, elaborate and ornate details etc...

I am a regular Joe that is lucky enough to have a small lot (+/- 50 x 100) in a built-up area of Key Largo near MM100. We are just down the road from Key Largo Fisheries. We have single family homes on 3 sides and a townhouse-type development across the street so yes, built up neighborhood. I do not have a generous budget and need to watch my costs to make this happen. My intent is to build a small "fortress" if you will - a 2 (maybe 3) story reinforced concrete home that will laugh in the face of a Cat 5 or 6 hurricane...at least that's my plan.

My old man lives in KL as well and he dodged a huge bullet during Irma. Even so, I flew down there for two weeks in the aftermath to pitch in with the clean up. Some neighbors of his were not so lucky and had substantial damage - even as far north as KL. I was still living in FL when Andrew rolled thru Dade and experienced Hurricane Sandy after I moved up here in NJ. Now I'm planning to return back to FL and want to design a home that will withstand a major storm ( within reason of course ).

If you happen to know anyone that fits the bill, I would appreciate contact info. Thanks for any help you may be able to provide.
Old 02-24-2019, 05:42 PM
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Old 02-24-2019, 06:01 PM
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I hate to ask this, but can you give us a rough budget on what you are looking to do? I only ask as you do have a few options, including a modular home that believe it or not can meet your requirements.

However what you posted so far, as a regular Joe that wants to build a small "fortress" if you will - a 2 (maybe 3) story reinforced concrete home that will laugh in the face of a Cat 5 or 6 hurricane is going to most likely cost you literally millions.
Old 02-24-2019, 06:08 PM
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I live in Marathon, so I know what IRMA was like. There are several decisions that you can make, besides Architect that will have a huge impact on how well your house holds up and how safe it will be. Some I did right, some I did wrong.

#1 Elevation. Bring fill in and make sure ground level is up and above flood. My house was on stilts so it was basically OK, but the cars and stuff stored under the house... well not so well. I would state 8' is minimum, but I would recommend 10-12' over flood.

#2 Concrete or CBS home will hold on better with wind pressure IMHO

#3 Metal roof, Tiles in my area had a high failure rate especially older tile roofs. If in budget look into a concrete roof.

#4 Impact windows, and doors. When I built it was optional, but when people leave for a trip, or run fast from a storm, a lot say I do not have time for shutters and thus take a risk

#5 Garage doors, They do sell Hurricane reenforced doors, Might as well.

#6 Ground floor electric, Do not put it on floor level, put it up 4' or so, Thus hopefully keeping all it above flood. My electric was fine, but garage door safety's were flooded and had to get replaced.

#7 Not sure what to do about it but outdoor things like screens especially those around a porches are not going to hold up well. I currently think of that as consumables if there is a hurricane.

#8 Not a requirement but Whole home generator or at least a good generator. Many ppl survived the storm OK, but choose to throw out the frig. which sat with rancid food for weeks and could not be made to smell normal every again.

Good Luck and live the dream.
Old 02-25-2019, 02:16 AM
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Thanks for all the replies so far - appreciated. I saw this house at the Jersey shore this summer and thought it would be a good starting point. The house in the pic is a wood frame home - mine would be a reinforced concrete box w/ hurricane windows, doors and garage door as highflier mentioned. Something simple, on the smaller side.

Where an architect would really show his or her value to me is how to take a structure like this and "soften" the elevations so the place doesn't look like a maximum security prison. I have have some ideas on how to clad the home, I just don't know if they would be approved for use in Monroe Co.

Last edited by EdwardB; 02-25-2019 at 03:00 AM.
Old 02-25-2019, 02:47 AM
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Originally Posted by mikeloew View Post
I hate to ask this, but can you give us a rough budget on what you are looking to do? I only ask as you do have a few options, including a modular home that believe it or not can meet your requirements.

However what you posted so far, as a regular Joe that wants to build a small "fortress" if you will - a 2 (maybe 3) story reinforced concrete home that will laugh in the face of a Cat 5 or 6 hurricane is going to most likely cost you literally millions.
Thanks Mike - know that I'm juuuuust getting started in this process so the number in my head at the moment for construction costs is $350K. I realize I did not put out a ton of info but unless I've been under a rock and construction costs have skyrocketed into ridiculous levels, I doubt that what I want would run more than 500K on the high side. Then again, perhaps you are right - I havent gotten that far yet. I just don't think a RC home on the scale as shown in the pic would run into the millions. I'm basically looking for a 3 story concrete box:

Ground Floor: Garage and storage space
Second Floor: 3 BR - 2 Bath - Kitchen - small(er) DR and LR
Third Floor ( if I can afford it ) Half the floor plate being a large room for family gatherings with a kitchen and the other half an exterior terrace, similar to the pic in my prior post but with a larger terrace.
Roof: Flat concrete slab roof - Perhaps a second terrace as in the pic?
Old 02-25-2019, 03:06 AM
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Thanks for your reply HF...see below

Originally Posted by highflier1 View Post
I live in Marathon, so I know what IRMA was like. There are several decisions that you can make, besides Architect that will have a huge impact on how well your house holds up and how safe it will be. Some I did right, some I did wrong.

#1 Elevation. Bring fill in and make sure ground level is up and above flood. My house was on stilts so it was basically OK, but the cars and stuff stored under the house... well not so well. I would state 8' is minimum, but I would recommend 10-12' over flood. Good point but I just don't know if I could actually do that - like I said earlier, I have other homes all around so dumping a ton of fill to raise the lot would look weird....I gotta dig up a pic of the lot so youse guys can see what I'm working with. The ground floor will just be a garage (crib!) for my boat and the balance would be storage - the ground floor will be on stilts / columns with no habitable space as required by code.

#2 Concrete or CBS home will hold on better with wind pressure IMHO No doubt but I've seen pics of CBS walls blown out by storm surge so that's why I'm leaning towards poured concrete walls

#3 Metal roof, Tiles in my area had a high failure rate especially older tile roofs. If in budget look into a concrete roof. Yep, flat concrete roof is the plan.

#4 Impact windows, and doors. When I built it was optional, but when people leave for a trip, or run fast from a storm, a lot say I do not have time for shutters and thus take a risk Again, agreed. Either impact windows and doors or some type of shutter system _ i'll see whats available at build time and what I can afford. My folk's place has a combination accordian shutters on the second floor ( looks like ass ) and aluminum panels on the ground floor.

#5 Garage doors, They do sell Hurricane reenforced doors, Might as well. Yes sir - that's the plan.

#6 Ground floor electric, Do not put it on floor level, put it up 4' or so, Thus hopefully keeping all it above flood. My electric was fine, but garage door safety's were flooded and had to get replaced. I envision the few outlets I would need on the ground floor to be on coiled cables (like the ones on your land line phone) hanging from the slab above so in the event of a storm, I can just grab them and hang them up and away and as far from the ground as possible.

#7 Not sure what to do about it but outdoor things like screens especially those around a porches are not going to hold up well. I currently think of that as consumables if there is a hurricane. I plan on few (if any) softer features such as screens for that very reason - just loose furniture and such - things that could be brought inside when needed.

#8 Not a requirement but Whole home generator or at least a good generator. Many ppl survived the storm OK, but choose to throw out the frig. which sat with rancid food for weeks and could not be made to smell normal every again. After living thru 2 major hurricanes, I not fond of admitting it but have become somewhat of an amateur "prepper". My buddies laugh when they go into my basement - I typically have 20 of the clear blue 5 gallon water bottles ( we have an dispenser in the kitchen and rotate the bottles to keep the supply fresh), non perishable food and other supplies to hold out during the aftermath of storms. AND power! 1 Honda 3000 genny, 2 Honda 2000 gennys and a 2 cheapy Harbor Freight gennys. Also a ton of gas cans to feed them. If I could afford it, a whole house genny installed on the top floor would be ideal - let's see. In the aftermath of Sandy, my immediate neighbors kept thier food in my "back up" fridge for a week and a half!

Good Luck and live the dream.
Thank you sir!

Last edited by EdwardB; 02-25-2019 at 03:31 AM.
Old 02-25-2019, 04:26 AM
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I would call some local Key Largo contractors and get their opinions on architects. Let them know what you are looking for. Ultimately, you will need a good architect/contractor team although the contractor will be more important than the architect for your simple design. You may even be able to find an off the shelf plan that can be adapted for the flood and wind design.

Go here: https://msc.fema.gov/portal/search and look up your address. This will give you a base flood elevation for your area and a flood zone. A lot of what you can and cannot do will be based on this information.

CBS walls on the ground floor are typically designed as breakaway walls that are supposed to blow out. This actually protects the upper levels of the house. If you are in a V zone, all of your lower level walls will need to be breakaway. If you are in a zone where you do not require breakaway walls you still need to design for the flood load. This will cost a lot of money as flood loads are very high. You can wet floodproof as another option but at that point breakaway walls probably make more sense.

FEMA has a bunch of references on residential construction in coastal areas. Spend some time looking at these and they will help you understand some of the reasons for what is done and why.
Old 02-25-2019, 05:03 AM
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Let me throw in a thought here from my experience 6 miles to the dirty side of the eye of Irma at landfall.
We had a dozen or so homes here in our neighborhood destroyed. Granted most of those were built prior to current code and likely taken out by tornadoes but...........
the biggest issue concrete or CBS houses had were soffits. The house looked untouched on the outside but the inside was severely damaged or destroyed to the point it had to be gutted because the storm got in through the soffits. I'm not sure anyone has figured out the foolproof solution but just make sure your guy understands that challenge and has a strategy. And I'm still willing to bet some of it is just $hit luck based on orientation of the house to the storm direction.

I have a 2008 vintage modular on stilts (hardiboard, metal roof, hi-impact windows + shutters, etc) rated for 180 that structurally did great with the exception of the porch getting all blown out but even we still had some water get through the ridgevent, enough to grow mold along the ridgepole and stain the ceiling in places but fortunately nothing structural. My guess is that building approach is way cheaper than concrete and also don't forget, the higher you build, the more exposed you are and there's a limit on height in the county anyway.
Old 02-25-2019, 05:35 AM
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You are better off using existing plans and making small changes to fit your needs. When you take your lot size and subtrack the setbacks there are only so many footprints to work off of. There have been alot of spec homes built in the past few years that are probably in line with what you are looking to do. Take those plans, change the roof from truss to concrete and you are done. 500k is a realistic number for what you are looking to build. Feel free to message me if you have more questions, I live locally and am nearly finished building my house.
Old 02-25-2019, 05:37 AM
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Originally Posted by LongJohnSilver View Post
Let me throw in a thought here from my experience 6 miles to the dirty side of the eye of Irma at landfall.
We had a dozen or so homes here in our neighborhood destroyed. Granted most of those were built prior to current code and likely taken out by tornadoes but...........
the biggest issue concrete or CBS houses had were soffits. The house looked untouched on the outside but the inside was severely damaged or destroyed to the point it had to be gutted because the storm got in through the soffits. I'm not sure anyone has figured out the foolproof solution but just make sure your guy understands that challenge and has a strategy. And I'm still willing to bet some of it is just $hit luck based on orientation of the house to the storm direction.
Yup, those Densglass soffits popped right off when the attic got pressurized through the vents. I ended up foaming my attic and going with non-vented soffits because of that.
Old 02-25-2019, 06:27 AM
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Originally Posted by highflier1 View Post
I live in Marathon, so I know what IRMA was like. There are several decisions that you can make, besides Architect that will have a huge impact on how well your house holds up and how safe it will be. Some I did right, some I did wrong.

#1 Elevation. Bring fill in and make sure ground level is up and above flood. My house was on stilts so it was basically OK, but the cars and stuff stored under the house... well not so well. I would state 8' is minimum, but I would recommend 10-12' over flood.

#2 Concrete or CBS home will hold on better with wind pressure IMHO

#3 Metal roof, Tiles in my area had a high failure rate especially older tile roofs. If in budget look into a concrete roof.

#4 Impact windows, and doors. When I built it was optional, but when people leave for a trip, or run fast from a storm, a lot say I do not have time for shutters and thus take a risk

#5 Garage doors, They do sell Hurricane reenforced doors, Might as well.

#6 Ground floor electric, Do not put it on floor level, put it up 4' or so, Thus hopefully keeping all it above flood. My electric was fine, but garage door safety's were flooded and had to get replaced.

#7 Not sure what to do about it but outdoor things like screens especially those around a porches are not going to hold up well. I currently think of that as consumables if there is a hurricane.

#8 Not a requirement but Whole home generator or at least a good generator. Many ppl survived the storm OK, but choose to throw out the frig. which sat with rancid food for weeks and could not be made to smell normal every again.

Good Luck and live the dream.
I agree with all of this except #8, it was impossible to find fuel after Irma, generators are loud, and they can be stolen. Use the solar tax credit, fkec loan, and whatever else you can and go solar power with a battery backup. This is my next step for our house in Marathon. We just went solar in Pembroke Pines. The loan payment for the panels will be less than the cost of electricity for the month. Also, when the grid goes down, as long as you have a battery backup, you can continue to make power for yourself and be "off-grid."
Old 02-25-2019, 09:33 AM
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to the OP,
Better hurry up, read todays 2/25 Herald article that in 2023 no more permits are to be issued in The Entire Keys, I don't know if this will in fact take effect, but its in the paer so it must be real.
Old 02-25-2019, 09:42 AM
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Originally Posted by ChannelTwo View Post
I would call some local Key Largo contractors and get their opinions on architects. Let them know what you are looking for. Ultimately, you will need a good architect/contractor team although the contractor will be more important than the architect for your simple design. You may even be able to find an off the shelf plan that can be adapted for the flood and wind design.

Go here: https://msc.fema.gov/portal/search and look up your address. This will give you a base flood elevation for your area and a flood zone. A lot of what you can and cannot do will be based on this information.

CBS walls on the ground floor are typically designed as breakaway walls that are supposed to blow out. This actually protects the upper levels of the house. If you are in a V zone, all of your lower level walls will need to be breakaway. If you are in a zone where you do not require breakaway walls you still need to design for the flood load. This will cost a lot of money as flood loads are very high. You can wet floodproof as another option but at that point breakaway walls probably make more sense.

FEMA has a bunch of references on residential construction in coastal areas. Spend some time looking at these and they will help you understand some of the reasons for what is done and why.
Thank you - that is a good suggestion. I've thought of that - I only know of 2 that I could approach and another member on here recommended one to me as well. If I need to infill between the piers with breakaway CBS ON THE GROUND FLOOR I would have zero issue ( like I would have a choice) but it's the upper floor(s) is where I would want solid concrete - Perhaps someone with knowledge will chime in but I can't see poured exterior walls being cost prohibitive versus block.
Old 02-25-2019, 09:48 AM
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Originally Posted by LongJohnSilver View Post
Let me throw in a thought here from my experience 6 miles to the dirty side of the eye of Irma at landfall.
We had a dozen or so homes here in our neighborhood destroyed. Granted most of those were built prior to current code and likely taken out by tornadoes but...........
the biggest issue concrete or CBS houses had were soffits. The house looked untouched on the outside but the inside was severely damaged or destroyed to the point it had to be gutted because the storm got in through the soffits. I'm not sure anyone has figured out the foolproof solution but just make sure your guy understands that challenge and has a strategy. And I'm still willing to bet some of it is just $hit luck based on orientation of the house to the storm direction.

I have a 2008 vintage modular on stilts (hardiboard, metal roof, hi-impact windows + shutters, etc) rated for 180 that structurally did great with the exception of the porch getting all blown out but even we still had some water get through the ridgevent, enough to grow mold along the ridgepole and stain the ceiling in places but fortunately nothing structural. My guess is that building approach is way cheaper than concrete and also don't forget, the higher you build, the more exposed you are and there's a limit on height in the county anyway.
LJS - I know the point on soffits to be true and I *believe* that after Andrew that litlle metal angle known as the hurricane clip was brought into code where bottom member of the pre fab trusses are attached to a sill plate or the bond beam at the top of the uppermost exterior wall. Thanks for the suggestion on modular - I know nothing about them so I'll need to look into it.
Old 02-25-2019, 09:59 AM
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Originally Posted by 2fastlx View Post
You are better off using existing plans and making small changes to fit your needs. When you take your lot size and subtrack the setbacks there are only so many footprints to work off of. There have been alot of spec homes built in the past few years that are probably in line with what you are looking to do. Take those plans, change the roof from truss to concrete and you are done. 500k is a realistic number for what you are looking to build. Feel free to message me if you have more questions, I live locally and am nearly finished building my house.
Funny you should say that - this is not my first attempt to build on this lot. In 2002 I scrapped together 8-9 grand and had an architect draw up plans for a 3 story home and submitted during the ROGO years. In the middle of the last recession (2010) I received notice that I had been "awarded an allocation" to build and had a 90 notice to pull permits. At that time I was in no financial position to think about building and so that window opened and closed.

Fast forward to last year, I asked my old man to stop by the DOB and ask if we could some how "revive" that application. He was basically told to trash those plans and start over as the codes had changed substantially since that filing. I figured it was just as well since what I want top build has changed quite a bit from what I had originally.

I will use these plans as a starting point I guess, but I'm sure whoever I hire will want to start with their own design from scratch. Thank you for your offer to help out with questions - you may come to regret it though!
Old 02-25-2019, 10:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Ricci View Post
I agree with all of this except #8, it was impossible to find fuel after Irma, generators are loud, and they can be stolen. Use the solar tax credit, fkec loan, and whatever else you can and go solar power with a battery backup. This is my next step for our house in Marathon. We just went solar in Pembroke Pines. The loan payment for the panels will be less than the cost of electricity for the month. Also, when the grid goes down, as long as you have a battery backup, you can continue to make power for yourself and be "off-grid."
Great suggestion and I've thought of that as well but aren't they permanently attached to your roof and very susceptible to getting ripped off in Hurricane force winds?
Old 02-25-2019, 10:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Robert Cibran View Post
to the OP,
Better hurry up, read todays 2/25 Herald article that in 2023 no more permits are to be issued in The Entire Keys, I don't know if this will in fact take effect, but its in the paer so it must be real.
Yep - that was the catalyst for this thread!! Last year is when I started to turn the wheels on this but that article has given me a tremendous sense of urgency!

Link to article
Old 02-25-2019, 10:19 AM
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Regarding your original request.

Try: Timothy James Slawson, PA
102025 Overseas Hwy
Key Largo, FL

I used Tim and found him to be very knowledgeable about the local requirements. I do remember he was in high demand and quite busy. But that didn't impact my project as he met all of his commitments.

You can google for a phone number and web address.

Also

Ireno Bello
Ibello Architect, LLC
Boca Raton, FL

No affiliation but he was referred to me by a local contractor. I never used him but he was very responsive.
Old 02-25-2019, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by 2fastlx View Post
Yup, those Densglass soffits popped right off when the attic got pressurized through the vents. I ended up foaming my attic and going with non-vented soffits because of that.
^^ This is a good start - Icynene with sealed NON-vented attic.
There are a lot of other weak points to address.

And an FYI. When you guys are talking "my house is designed for 180mph", keep in mind, that's for a 3 SECOND gust. So don't get to excited.

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