Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Given their natural beauty, building on wetlands may seem appealing to some. However, trying to build a house on these delicate ecosystems can have consequences. You might even wonder if it’s possible.
You can build a house on wetlands, though it has challenges. With the right paperwork and planning, it is possible to construct a home near open water. Also, the building cost may be higher because of the additional precautions that must be taken.
In this article, I’ll cover all the basics of building on wetlands so you can decide if it’s a good option for you. I’ll talk about what wetlands are, what regulations cover them, and the benefits and risks of having a wetland home.
Things To Know Before Building a House on Wetlands
Building a house on wetlands is generally not recommended due to the potential environmental risks. Also, it requires more paperwork and regulations than building on dry land. There’s also a risk that homes in wetlands may be less stable than those built on firm ground.
If you’re looking to invest in a home near or on wetlands, there are some essential things to know before you start the process. For example, wetland projects must adhere to the Clean Water Act (CWA) and other regulations.
With the proper measures in place, you can build a house on wetlands.
Here are things to consider when building a house on wetlands:
1. How To Determine if a Piece of Land Is a Wetland
Before you build a home on wetlands, it’s essential to determine if the land falls under the legal definition of “wetland.” To do this, you need to hire a professional who can conduct tests and surveys of the area.
The US Army Corps of Engineers has a Wetlands Delineation Manual that provides detailed guidance on identifying and classifying wetlands. It’s essential to refer to this manual before you start the building process.
Other signs you should look out for include:
- The ground is often wet or has water standing on it, even if it’s only for a brief part of the year.
- The color of the soil is black, and it smells like mud or rotten eggs.
- The plants growing around the area are typically adapted to wet conditions, such as cattails, reeds, and sedges.
- The property is lower than the surrounding area and has poor drainage.
2. The Importance of Wetlands
When you think of wetlands, you might picture a swampy area full of bugs and weird plants. In fact, wetlands are critical habitats that provide homes for living things of all sorts.
They also play a vital role in the environment by absorbing excess water, filtering pollutants and chemicals from the water, and helping to prevent flooding.
Despite their name, they’re not just found in the wet, marshy areas you might expect. Wetlands can also be in open fields, forests, and urban areas.
3. Types of Homes You Can Build on Wetlands
When building a house on wetlands, there are different construction types to consider. The kind of home you choose will depend mainly on the size, shape, and type of wetland you’re building on.
For example, if the wetland is large enough, you could opt for a traditional stick-built home with a full basement. Otherwise, a modular or mobile home might be an ideal choice.
You can also look into prefabricated dwellings consisting of pieces built off-site, brought in, and assembled at the location. This type of construction is usually much faster and more affordable than traditional stick-built homes. Also, you’re less likely to run into issues like finding a good spot to put your construction materials on-site.
No matter what kind of home you choose, ensuring your design considers local regulations and specific wetland requirements is essential.
4. What Permits Are Needed To Build on Wetlands
You need several permits and approvals from the relevant authorities before you can build on wetlands.
Depending on your location, this might include permission from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or local governments. These permits are designed to protect the environment and ensure that your construction project will not harm the local ecology. They can take a while to get approved, so planning in advance is essential if you want to build on wetlands.
Considering how extensive these regulations are, hiring a consultant who’s an expert on the matter is strongly recommended. Among other things, your consultant will help you figure out what permits you need and what boundaries your wetland home will cover.
5. How Much It Costs To Build on Wetlands
Building on wetlands can be more expensive than building on dry land. This is due to the need for additional precautions and permits.
Not only will the foundation need to be treated differently, but the wetlands you disturb will also have to be restored. This means that for every acre of wetland you build on, you must buy and restore an additional acre of wetlands. If you’re a regular homeowner, this may prove to be a significant hurdle, but if eco-friendliness is your main priority, you may not have a problem shelling out the additional cash.
The exact cost of your project also depends on the size of the wetland and the type of home you’re building. It’s best to consult a professional contractor or engineer for an accurate estimate.
6. Features You Can Include in a House Built on Wetlands
When building a house on wetlands, there are certain features you can include that will reduce your environmental impact and make the home more efficient.
For example, you can use green roofing materials and rainwater collection systems. These technologies will help minimize runoff and improve energy efficiency.
You may also want to look into methods of restoring or protecting the wetlands around your home, such as planting native vegetation and installing erosion control structures. As mentioned earlier, you must meet a 1:1 ratio of building on versus restoring wetland areas.
These features will ensure your construction project complies with local regulations and beneficial to the environment.
7. Benefits of Building on Wetlands
While some people might view wetlands as nothing more than wastelands, building on them has a few benefits.
For one, wetlands are home to incredibly diverse plant and animal life, which can provide a welcome addition to any landscape. In addition, properties near wetlands in well-functioning and metropolitan areas have a much higher chance of increasing in value.
Wetlands also allow homeowners to enjoy stunning views of nature while still being close to all the conveniences of city living. Considering all these factors, it’s no wonder more and more people want to build on wetlands.
8. Selling a House Built on Wetlands
Fortunately, you can sell a house built on wetlands. The home’s value may be affected by factors such as whether it complies with local wetland regulations and if any additional permits are needed for future development.
It’s important to note that while properties near wetlands often appreciate in value, the same is only sometimes true for homes built on wetlands. Before making an offer, potential buyers should know all the costs and restrictions of building or owning a house on a wetland.
These costs could include additional fees for permits, specialized foundation treatments, and other restoration efforts. It’s best to consult with a real estate agent with experience selling wetland homes before listing your property.
9. How To Protect Wetlands During Construction
When building on or near wetlands, it’s essential to take steps to protect the environment. This can include using erosion control methods such as silt fences and soil stabilization, minimizing the amount of land disturbance, and restoring any wetland disturbed during construction.
In addition, it’s vital to use building materials that are safe for the environment, such as non-toxic paints and sealants. Finally, it’s essential to properly dispose of any debris or materials that may pollute the wetlands.
By protecting wetlands during construction, you can help ensure that your home has a minimal environmental impact and make sure it complies with all local regulations.
10. Requirements for a Wetland-Friendly House
A few requirements must be met to create a wetland-friendly house. The house must be built in compliance with local wetland regulations. This includes having a proper permit and respecting any buffer zones or other restrictions to protect the environment.
The home should also be designed with features that take advantage of the wetland environment, such as using native plants and materials to reduce runoff and providing access to the wetland for recreational activities.
Homeowners should also consider ways to reduce their environmental impact, such as installing energy-efficient appliances and using sustainable building materials. A waste management and disposal system must also be in place that will not significantly harm the native ecosystem.
11. Choosing an Architect or Builder To Build on Wetlands
When choosing an architect or builder to construct a house on wetlands, you want to find someone with the necessary experience and expertise.
They should be familiar with all the regulations and permitting processes required to build on or near wetlands and understand how to design and construct a wetland-friendly home.
Furthermore, it’s essential to find an architect or builder committed to protecting the environment and minimizing the impact of their work on the wetlands.
With the right team in place, you can be assured your project will be completed successfully and with minimal impact on the delicate ecosystem.
12. Design Elements for a Wetland-Friendly House
A few design elements can be incorporated when designing a home on or near wetlands to make it as eco-friendly as possible. These include selecting materials compatible with the wetland environment, such as native plants or stone instead of concrete.
Other design elements may include access to the wetland for recreational activities, such as a boardwalk or nature trail, and incorporating features that take advantage of the wetland environment, such as rain gardens or green roofs.
You can also incorporate features to reduce energy consumption and water usage, such as solar panels and xeriscaping. Combining these design elements, you can create a beautiful and sustainable home.
Dangers of Building a House on Wetlands
When you build a house on wetlands, there’s always the risk of environmental damage. Wetlands are fragile ecosystems, and any construction can disrupt the delicate balance of these areas.
Also, building on wetlands can lead to soil erosion, water pollution, and flooding. It can also disrupt the water flow and drainage of nearby areas.
Other potential dangers of building a house on wetlands are:
- Poor building foundations: Wetlands are prone to flooding and poor drainage, leading to foundation problems. The soil in these areas is often very soft and unstable, which can cause building foundations to sink or move.
- Damp conditions: Wetlands are often wet and humid, leading to mold and mildew. The extra moisture in the air can also cause paint and wallpaper to peel and furniture to rot.
- Soil contamination: Wetlands are susceptible to pollutants, and any construction can lead to soil contamination. This can have severe consequences for the health of people and wildlife in the area.
- Loss of wildlife: The disruption caused by construction can also lead to a loss of nature in the area. Wetlands are home to various species, including birds and amphibians, and any development can disrupt their habitats.
- Danger from wildlife: For example, if you build in an area swarming with crocodilians, you can occasionally expect a run-in with these potentially dangerous creatures.
Building a house on wetlands is an ambitious endeavor that can have positive outcomes if executed properly. However, you need to take the necessary precautions and ensure you know all potential consequences, guidelines, and regulations before starting the project.
With an informed and trustworthy team facilitating the process, you can successfully build your home in a wetland area. Remember to think ahead and ensure any construction doesn’t damage the sensitive wetlands ecosystem.
- EPA.gov: Permit Program under CWA Section 404
- Delaware.gov: Wetlands Purify
- EPA.gov: Guidance on Developing Local Wetlands Projects
- NPS.gov: Restoring Wetlands
- PS Group: 5 benefits of living close to wetlands
- Jstor.org: Valuing Urban Wetlands: A Property Price Approach
- EPA.gov: Stormwater best management practice
- Ferc.gov: Wetland and Waterbody Construction and Mitigation Procedures
- US Army Corps of Engineers: Corps of Engineers
- Michigan.gov: WETLAND INFORMATION
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