Lee and Allen Kaplan still feel like they’re on vacation, even 25 years after moving to Charleston.
“It’s fascinating because you keep finding new things,” Lee Kaplan said of walking the city. “We keep switching out the routes and the houses look different at different times of year. You peak into the gardens and look, especially now because you’re going to be planting. It still feels wonderful.”
The Kaplans live in a historic home on Logan Street. It was built in the 1860s in the famous “Charleston single house” style — long, narrow, and close to sea level.
“It’s just bright, and the light is wonderful,” Lee Kaplan said. “The rooms go all the way back. It’s actually a great party house. But just the flow. We love the flow. It’s just homey.”
Living on Charleston’s peninsula means coexisting with the water. The coast, harbor, rivers, and marshes that make Charleston unique also pose a threat as the city experiences increased flooding due to hurricanes and tropical storms, rain accumulation, tidal flooding, and drainage issues.
“We have definitely been experiencing increasing flooding events in recent years, which is definitely attributed to climate change,” said Erin Minnigan, the director of preservation at the Preservation Society of Charleston.
“In recent years we’re also experiencing more severe storm events, which causes really devastating damage to our built environments,” Minnigan continued. “In reaction to that, our city has become very proactive in exploring adaptation strategies to protect our very sensitive and significant historic buildings for future generations.
The Kaplans are among those who have experienced reoccurring property damage due to flooding. For years, they navigated localized flooding without much issue, but then a series of storms brought water into their crawlspace.
“At least four times we had the flooding beneath the house in the crawlspace, which destroyed ductwork and some electrical work,” Allen Kaplan said. “After the fourth time, we said we can’t do this because the fifth one could come into the house.”
Lee and Allen Kaplan paid more than $500,000 to raise their historic home in Charleston.
The repetitive damages also disqualified the couple from their private flood insurance. Instead, they were stuck paying nearly $10,000 a year for a National Flood Insurance Program policy.
“We knew this was going to get worse,” Lee Kaplan said.
That’s when the Kaplans decided to hire Rockwell Construction to lift their home six feet off the ground. Due to the value of their house, the Kaplans didn’t qualify for federal assistance to pay for the project. They dipped into their savings and took out a home equity loan. The project took about six months and cost the couple more than $500,000.
“I think one issue is affordability. Not everybody is able to do it,” Allen Kaplan said.
The Kaplans are among a growing number of Charleston homeowners who are paying out of pocket to raise their historic houses out of flood zones. The solution was only recently embraced by the city and its preservationists, who originally worried about the negative impacts raising historic homes and buildings could have on the original structures.
“Ten years ago, if you would ask me if we would be supportive of elevating buildings like this, I would have laughed,” said Winslow Hastie, president and CEO of the Historic Charleston Foundation.
“Is it better to let a historic building, in its original configuration, get flooded over and over again, where homeowners won’t want to invest in this building and they’ll leave it, and then it languishes empty? That’s not a good preservation move, frankly, because these buildings need owners. Those owners invest significant funds to not only do things like this, but just to maintain them year over year,” Hastie added.