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What It’s Like to Live in a Waterfront Home

Homeowners share their insights on living by oceans, rivers and lakes.

For some waterfront homeowners, living by the water means 24/7 access to sun, sand and surfing. For others, waterfront living equals a quiet place to connect with nature. Whatever lifestyle you’re looking for, there’s a waterfront property to suit your needs.

Owners of oceanfront, riverfront and lakefront homes share the pros and cons of their experiences and reveal how waterfront living stacks up overall.

The Oceanfront Experience: Beauty and Convenience

“Even after having been there for almost a year now, it’s still breathtaking,” says cardiologist Arthur Crossman of his oceanfront home in Ormond Beach, Fla.
In a luxury home with “every feature you could possibly ever want” located on a private beach, Crossman, his wife and his two daughters have all the amenities of the ocean at their fingertips. Crossman had previously lived on the river in Florida but now enjoys the convenience of oceanfront living. “The problem in Florida with living on the river is that you can’t just jump in the water because of oyster shells,” he said. “On the beach, you can just walk out your door, walk up and down the beach, and jump in the ocean.”

Proximity to the ocean also means easy access to water sports. Crossman has enjoyed waterskiing in the past and says he would like to purchase a sailboat. When not taking advantage of the beach, the family can still enjoy the ocean breeze while staying protected from the elements on the home’s patio.
Crossman advises potential oceanfront homebuyers that there are issues to be aware of, such as the possibility of damage to the home from hurricanes, tropical storms and nor’easters. In the event of inclement weather, Crossman has equipped his home with automatic hurricane shutters and a generator.

“As long as you go in with that understanding, you’re never going to be disappointed,” Crossman said.

Before You Buy Your Property

1) Know Thy Elevation. When you purchase a property, be sure to inspect the elevation certificate. While it is unusual, some properties may require that your first floor elevation (the height from the ground level to the top of your first living level) be 12′, 13′, and 14’ feet or higher. This may not be a deal killer, but the added height to the foundation level will add cost to your project.

2) Setbacks May Cause Setbacks Coastal lots, whether near ocean, lake or river, tend to be a tad smaller than their landlocked counterpart. As such, your setbacks may cause you some headaches in regard to locating a design that will work for you. Assuming you have a reasonable envelope to build within (a minimum of 24’ in width), you’ll have options for choosing a stock plan that will work.

3) Know Your Flood Zones Many coastal properties fall into flood zones. For the most part, this isn’t necessarily bad news. After all, getting close to a body of water is a large part of the allure of coastal living. You, however, do need to know how this may affect the cost of your building project. Generally speaking, building in a V Zone is the most expensive. V Zones are typically ocean front, or near to ocean front, properties. The building codes that apply to V Zone properties will add about 15-30% to the total cost of the construction project. Much of the added cost will arise from 1) the additional ties, straps; hold downs and anchors required by the building code 2) additional cost for windows with upgraded wind ratings and 3) added cost for elevating the structure. “A” zoned properties carry some of the same code requirements, but will generally only add about 10-15% to the cost of construction.

4) When Being Too Tall is Terrible Many coastal communities are amending their building codes to shrink the total height allowed for residential structures. The idea is to avoid the creation of “corridors of darkness” caused by an excessive number of tall structures on a residential street. This can be tricky, especially because of the need for elevated foundations. The height restrictions can range from 28’ to 50’. As you can image, this will have a huge impact on the design that you choose for your property. In some instances, plans can be modified to squeeze under a given height restriction – just be sure to do the math before you purchase your plan.

5) Be Coastal, Not Cookie Cutter At the risk of being obnoxious, here’s some sage advice for choosing a design for your coastal property. When choosing a design, take into consideration where your residence will be situated. If you’ve moving onto an island, please don’t build a mountain chalet, no matter how nice the A frame windows capture the view. In the same vein, subdivision-style homes (Colonials, Georgians, Federal-style, etc.) probably won’t work either. You have a wonderful opportunity to build a home that looks just right on your lot. There are dozens of coastal architectural options to choose from, so why not avoid the every day and pick something with style?

Before You Start Construction

6) Choose a Builder Who’s Done It Before Many coastal markets have been booming in recent years. Combine this with the fact that margins are higher for homes in “specialty” categories and you’ll find that builders from outside the market may decide to give the coast a go. Don’t go there. Choosing a builder who has experience in your coastal market offers the following advantages:

They’ll have a working knowledge of the construction methodologies unique to coastal home construction.
Your local coastal builder is more likely to have solid relationships in place with subcontractors and vendors. You don’t want to be the customer who gets stuck with “the only tile man we could find.”
If they’ve been around, you’ll be able to walk through homes they’ve built – when it comes to quality promises’, seeing is believing.

7) Don’t Go Cheap on Materials We’re not suggesting that you import the most expensive tile from Italy or buy absolute top-of-the-line windows. We would recommend, however, that you avoid cheaping out on materials that are exposed to the elements. This would include: the roofing material you specify, the quality of window you choose, the grade of paint you pick, the decking material you buy and the type of ceiling fans you install. The coastal elements are famously tough on building materials – if you try to get by with lesser materials, you’ll lose the saving you realized by having to replace them inside of three years.

8 ) Details, Details One of the first things your builder may want to talk you into is the elimination of all the “frilly” trim work shown on your set of plans. He or she will make a case for saving money and time by simplifying the design for the fascia boards, balustrades, gable trusses, cornice work, under-eave brace supports, eyebrow dormers, etc. Some compromise is OK, but be careful not to eliminate too much. Often, it’s this type of detail that gives the design its coastal look and feel.

After You Build

9) Build an Outdoor Kitchen One of the joys of living on the coast (whether your coast is lake, ocean or river) is being outside. Over the past five years we’ve seen the introduction of hundreds of great products that make building your dream outdoor kitchen easy and affordable. Why not expand your usable living space to include the great outdoors?

10) Don’t Forget the Flowers Whether you do it yourself, or hire a professional, get started with beautifying your property with landscaping. You’ve endured 6 – 18 months of dirt during the construction of your home, you deserve this. Adding landscaping, whether it’s formal or casual in design, will make your house instantly feel like a home.


Specifications make the difference for low maintenance tropical and salt air climate coastal home building.

For homes being built in wetlands, coastal and ocean island settings, specifying low maintenance materials resistant to a salt air environment or tropical climate is as important as making sure that the structure is hurricane and storm resistant.

Today’s SandCastle Coastal Homes built in hot or humid tropical climates, salt air and insect infested environments, are built utilizing low maintenance materials, which include treated lumber to resist rot and insects, hot-dip galvanized exposed steel couplings and fasteners, stainless steel fasteners utilized in the manufacturing process, quality vinyl (or vinyl clad) windows and sliding doors, fiberglass entry doors, and stainless steel or composite material door and window hardware. Exterior siding products also include options for cementitious sidings (cement and fiberglass composites), e.g., HardieBoard™ and HardiePlank™, CertainTeed’s WeatherbBoards™, along with stucco and synthetic stucco products like Dryvit® , vinyl siding and many more. And even decking materials are available today in low maintenance synthetic composites for the surface, e.g., Boardwalk®, and railings made of stainless steel cable. All of these and many more low maintenance, long life products are designed into and specified by SandCastle Coastal Homes as house plans are being developed. These specifications help ensure that each home will last a lifetime and hold its value.