Properly designed, waterfront homes are some of the most memorable and beautiful architectural designs, particularly in the water-filled landscapes of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. In this short two-part article I’ll outline our approach to waterfront architecture. In Part One, I’ll discuss some of the most common challenges presented by waterfront sites – if you haven’t yet selected your site keep these in mind as you search for the perfect waterfront property. In Part Two, I’ll discuss the techniques we use to maximize the livability and beauty of your waterfront home. The challenges of waterfront sites are as varied and as unique as the sites themselves. These are some of the most commonly encountered:
Shoreline regulations: Governing regulations are getting more conservative regarding shorelines. If you are close to working on a waterfront project, check with your local jurisdiction about upcoming changes to any shoreline regulations: this may have an affect on your schedule. There have been a few instances where we have accelerated our work to stay under a deadline that would allow us to submit the project under older and more permissive regulations. Newer regulations seem to be focused on interventions at the water’s edge such as bulkheads and docks. Also, shoreline plantings are starting to be prescribed that create a more natural shoreline vegetation. I believe that generally these are positive steps that seek to maintain the health of the water body and promote an environment conducive for aquatic life.
Soils: As in any building site, it pays to do your homework on soil type. Soil type dictates both bearing capacity and permeability. If there are poor soils, it could mean tens of thousands in additional foundation costs. Permeability is how well the soil drains. This affects stormwater runoff from the site and, for more remote locations, the size and expense of septic systems. This is one of the most important considerations when buying any land, and particularly waterfront property for residential architecture.
Gound water: it is a rare water front site that doesn’t have some sort of ground water issue. The standing level of ground water can be at lake level or higher – be careful when planning basements that the basement floor is not below the water level of the site. Failure to design appropriately can result in very expensive waterproofing and control. Also, water bodies are collectors for the surrounding stormwater that falls on land. It is common to discover underground springs during excavation. Proper waterproofing and drainage control around foundations can usually control underground water in a cost effective manner.
Docks, bulkheads, etc.: Constructed elements on the water can be very challenging from a building permit perspective. Obtaining permits to construct docks and bulkheads can be a very lengthy process – usually longer than it takes to permit the home. The reason is that there are usually multiple jurisdictions that review these waterward interventions. For example, in Seattle you will deal with the city, Corps of Engineers and the state department of Fish and Wildlife. It is important to take the time factor into account when your are planning your project.
Proper planning, and inspired design that focuses on the connection of your life to the water are the keys to a successful waterfront home. In the next installment we’ll talk specifically about how design can make that connection.