Many people dream of owning a house on the coast someday. My wife and I certainly did, and in 2011 we made it a reality. By that point in time, I was an experienced homeowner and a do-it-yourselfer, at that. But boy was I in for some surprises about what it means to live right next to the beach. This article is a collection of the most common advice I give new beach house owners.
We love, love, love our beach house. So nothing in this article is intended to scare you away from buying your dream house on the beach. Rather, much like someone that might be considering living off the grid in the wilderness or on a small island, I want to arm you with some insights that will help optimize your experience.
One disclaimer is that my personal experience is only with the Texas coast. I assume most of the recommendations I share are also valid with any house next to a saltwater beach, but I can’t say for certain.
When I say “beach house”, you should realize that the houses closest to the beach are affected by things like corrosion and wind much more than houses that are 1-2 blocks away from the beach, and definitely more than houses even further away from that.
The coastal wind carries a light amount of saltwater mist in it, and the higher the wind the more saltwater content. The saltwater mist is worst at low elevations and it must progressively fall to the ground with distance.
I think you’ll also find that unique building ordinances and various additional restrictions might exist for the row(s) of houses that are closest to the beach. That’s because just across a line of sand dunes is the actual beach and many people/municipalities are trying to ensure a healthy beach ecosystems for generations to come. Digging holes for palm trees, installing a new fence, or building a walkover across the sand dunes might all require special permits.
The continuous attack of the corrosive wind means any exposed metal that’s not aluminum, stainless steel, or brass is going to rust or get pitted, and more quickly than you might think. A zinc-plated screw that is on a beach-facing surface and within 10 feet off the ground will start to show signs of rust within 30 days and be completely rusted within 6 months.
I look for aluminum options for things that don’t require the strength of stainless steel. And I use stainless steel for all exterior wood fasteners. Stainless is much more expensive than traditional fasteners, but will last a long, long time. In the end, it’s definitely worth it. 316 grade stainless is the most expensive, and also the best. 304 grade (also called 18-8) is also good and not as expensive as 316. I don’t use brass for many things, mostly because it discolors pretty quickly.
You’ll want a collection of various screws and washers. I love an online retailer of such components named Bolt Depot. For most types of fastener and fittings, you’ll see one or more stainless steel options.
The other thing you might learn is that your power outlets and light switches on the beach-facing wall corrode much quicker than those on other walls. And I’m talking about on the inside of the house! I have to replace them about every 5-6 years. Maybe I need to insulate my walls with some type of spray insulation that prevents the wind from getting inside.
Any exterior outlets and switches need to be protected with a cover, and even then you’ll need to replace them every 5-6 years.
The coastal wind is constant, blowing 10-15 mph most of the time and 18-22 mph isn’t unusual at all. You actually get used to anything in those ranges. But it has an effect on various home-related things.
Trash Can Lid – It will easily fly open if you don’t do something. The trash can provided to me by the City is a large, plastic one on wheels. I secured a 15-18″ 2×4 to the underneath side of the lid, near the front, by screwing it from the top of the lid. Problem solved, except for winds above about 25 mph.
BBQ Grill – Try starting a grill or maintaining steak-grilling heat with wind directly hitting your grill. You’ll either need to locate it on the leeward side of some house wall or construct a wind block wall somewhere. I constructed a grill area with a wind block and learned to stop the wall at about shoulder height so that the smoke gets taken away, instead of swirling all around me.
Wind Direction & Speed Indicator – I tried a couple of fancy gadgets that included a wireless display that I could keep in the house. But the corrosion took care of the exterior sensors too quickly. Now I just have a small flag with aluminum swivel fittings on a 4′ aluminum pole that I mount in an aluminum flag pole holder that’s on my dune walkover. It is in my line of sight when looking at the beach. I can tell the wind direction and also get a pretty good approximation of the wind speed, just by glancing at the flag. I have to replace the flag itself somewhat frequently, due to it getting battered by the wind. So I buy 4-5 at a time.
You’re about to see every weed known to man, due to the constant winds blowing their seeds everywhere. Whatever weeds/vegetation are on the beach is going to find its way to your yard.
Certain varieties of weeds can easily be pulled up while others are stubborn. Sticker burrs are the hardest to deal with, because there’s almost no product that will kill them and pulling them up requires heavier gloves to avoid getting “bit”.
The best remedy I’ve found for weeds and sticker burrs is to maintain a healthy lawn. It means regular mowing and watering. Dense grass tends to squeeze out the undesirable stuff. But I’ve learned to live with a hybrid of grass and weeds.
By this point in reading the article, you won’t be surprised to learn that treated lumber lasts half as long near the beach versus anywhere else. So a big decision you’ll need to make for your deck material is treated lumber or a composite decking material like Trex or Azek.
Composite material is something like triple the cost (maybe more), but lasts a long, long time. I decided to use Trex for my deck replacement in 2011. I’m writing this article in 2022 and, other than some general fading to the color, it is in excellent shape. I predict I’ll get 25 years out of it.
I used Trex for the deck boards and handrailing, but not the 2×2 vertical spindles. The elements (sun, standing water) aren’t near as brutal on the vertical spindles, and I determined they could more easily be replaced when needed. As I write this article, I haven’t yet had to do that replacement but probably will in the next year or two.
Insurance Cost Sticker Shock
It’s no surprise that you’ll need traditional homeowner’s insurance. But you might fall on the floor once you learn about the cost of two other forms of insurance that are almost always required for houses on the coast: windstorm and flood. Most flood insurance policies are actually underwritten by FEMA. Each of these additional policies is double to quadruple what homeowner’s insurance costs. So make sure to do a little research into that before you buy your dream beach house, so that you can budget accordingly.