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Flooded Twice Before, Houston Family Vows Never Again

The Shefman family has taken drastic measures to protect their home from storms like Harvey.

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Arkitektura work crew in front of the Shefman residence
Photo courtesy of the Shefmans

When Pam and Drew Shefman of Houston heard last week that a tropical storm was barreling toward the Texas coast, they both had the same thought: Not again.

On Memorial Day of 2015, Houston received ten inches of rain in ten hours, causing the city’s bayous to overflow their channels and flood large portions of the city. One of the worst-hit areas was the low-lying Meyerland neighborhood in southwest Houston, just outside Loop 610, which has the misfortune of being bisected by Brays Bayou. About 730 houses in Meyerland were damaged or destroyed by the flood, including the Shefmans’ one-story, 3,000-square-feet mid-century modern, which took in 27 inches of water. “It ‘s really unpleasant to have to walk through your house when the water is up to your thighs, trying to save your things,” Pam Shefman said.

The Shefmans were forced to move with their two young children into a rental house for ten months as they waited for about $280,000 worth of repairs to be completed. Much of that was covered by their insurance, but not all. (The Shefmans said that their insurance company declined, for example, to pay for rewiring the electricity in the house.)

Finally, in March 2016, the repairs were finished, and the Shefmans were able to move back into their house. They were there all of six weeks before another monster storm, the “Tax Day Flood” of April 17-18, sent thirteen more inches of water into their newly remodeled house. “We had just finished installing this really nice new carpeting,” remembered Drew Shefman, a software engineer for Major League Baseball. “We hadn’t even walked on it yet, and suddenly we were ripping it out with box cutters. It was just a waste.”

The Shefmans had considered moving after the Memorial Day flood, but they loved their house and were deeply attached to Meyerland’s tight-knit community and central location. “We know everyone in the neighborhood,” said Pam, who works at the University of Houston. “We can walk our kids two blocks to their elementary school in the morning. I can drive to work in fifteen minutes.”

The Tax Day flood once again forced the Shefmans out of their home. This time they borrowed an RV from friends and camped out in their driveway while the house underwent another $160,000 in repairs. To assure their house wouldn’t flood for a third time, they decided to literally lift it ten feet off the ground with the help of Kemah-based Arkitektura Development, Inc., which specializes in elevating homes in flood-prone areas of the Texas coast.

Shefman residence during the 2016 Tax Day flood in Houston

Photo courtesy of the Shefmans

The process is time-consuming and expensive, but it was about half the cost of another option the Shefmans considered: tearing the house down and building a new flood-proof home from scratch. The work crew started digging tunnels under the house earlier this month so they could place about a hundred new pilings that would be used to jack up the house.

The actual lifting was scheduled to take place on September 1, but when Arkitektura owner Phillip Contreras heard about Hurricane Harvey last week he quickly pulled a crew off a job in Austin and sent them to Houston to expedite the process. On Thursday, a crew of about 25 workmen jacked the house four feet and eight inches into the air before filling in the space under the house with the dirt that had been excavated while building the tunnels. “We finished up around Friday at three, just as the rain was starting,” Contreras said. “It was close, but we got it done.”

The Shefmans are eager to help their neighbors in Meyerland. “Having been through this twice, we kind of know what to do,” Drew said. Once the storm blows through, the Arkitektura crew will pour a new concrete foundation and jack the house another five or so feet into the air, leaving it ten feet above ground level. That, the Shefmans believe, will be enough to withstand even the most biblical of floods. Best of all, they didn’t have to move any of their furniture during the operation.

“I feel like it’s now high and dry and well out of the storm’s way,” Drew said. “The only way for it to flood now would be if Houston were literally underwater. Like, in the ocean.”

Since Contreras founded Arkitektura in 2002, the company has elevated hundreds of homes across Texas, often with FEMA grant money. In addition to the Shefmans’s, they’ve lifted eight other homes in Meyerland, with a couple more jobs in progress. “When we first started out, we were doing one or two houses a year,” Contreras said. “After Hurricane Ike, business really blossomed. And I would anticipate there to be a lot more work after this storm is over too.”

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  • anonyfool

    It seems like the 100 year flood plain which encompasses Meyerland has become a 10 year flood plain. I can see helping people a few of times but two years in a row? – it seems like federal flood insurance is making people choose to live in what should be uninhabitable areas, though the federal flood insurance program running out of money is bringing this to a reckoning now.

  • N1234

    Local communities should think 1 million times bigger than this. Dig deep fresh water reservoirs and canals for flood buffer zones and use the earth to form high ground hills around the water reservoirs and canals for urban and resident areas. it will improve local environment with large body of fresh water, house value will increase dramatically, considering those las vegas.

    • anonyfool

      The Texas Tribune article from 2016 linked all over this website (https://www.texastribune.org/boomtown-floodtown/) touches on this, the communities chose not to spend the money and chose to keep replacing open land that absorbed the rainfall with housing (also due to poor planning/lack of much zoning). There is no reward for planning long term as long as the National Flood Insurance Program will rescue the home owners and the greater Houston area/Texas continues it’s no zoning is good zoning policy.

    • Jed

      “Dig deep fresh water reservoirs and canals for flood buffer zones and use the earth to form high ground hills around the water reservoirs and canals for urban and resident areas.”

      you just described houston.

      • anonyfool

        The Addicks and Barker reservoirs were built for the Houston of the 1940’s. There’s no concerted effort to build/fund adequate infrastructure for the Houston of today – that would mean zoning/taxation.

        • Jed

          seems like a state issue to me.

          • anonyfool

            In a forward thinking state, yes, but the Texas state legislature is too busy with imaginary transgender bathroom predators, and decreasing school funding to think about the fourth largest city in America flooding every year.

  • anonyfool

    The family in this story lives less than three blocks from Braes Bayou.
    https://www.click2houston.com/news/meyerland-home-raised-ahead-of-hurricane-harvey
    There are at the least several hundred homes we are going to raise after this year’s 500 year flood.

  • ““I feel like it’s now high and dry and well out of the storm’s way,” Drew said. “The only way for it to flood now would be if Houston were literally underwater. Like, in the ocean.””

    Uh… how is their house now?

    • Bethany Brandon

      They survived Harvey, high and dry, just as advertised. The next-door neighbors, however, who were SCHEDULED for lifting the week of Harvey, were inundated of course…

  • Randy822

    This technique is amazing! I had no idea you could raise a home with a slab. Sure wonder what the cost of this would be.