Tybee couple’s home designed to withstand major hurricane

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TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) —  Driving around Tybee Island, you might not see a house quite like that of Julee and Greg Wilets.

The tall, contemporary home with its bright blue exterior walls and red awnings certainly stands out. 

The couple had the home specially built to withstand powerful hurricane-force winds up to a Category 3.

Its height off the ground before the structure reaches the first floor also helps protect against storm surge, Julee Wilets told News 3.

Julee and Greg Wilets had their re-built Tybee home designed to windstand a major hurricane.

“We would need about 23 feet storm surge before it would hit the first floor,” she said.

When they decided to move from Denver to their retirement property on Tybee Island, their initial plan was to lift the lot’s existing house, which was a ranch, off the ground due to the high flood insurance rates.

“But by the time we were ready to lift the house and they gutted everything inside, the builders didn’t want to touch it, they wanted to build new,” Wilets said. “So we thought, ‘Okay, we need to start over again.’”

My builder, who grew up on this island, said, ‘If there was ever a storm that came through here, I would want to be in two places: One is your house, and the other one is the lighthouse!'”

JULEE WILETS, HOMEOWNER

At that point, the Wilets hired an architect in Maryland to design the house. They were fully aware of Tybee Island’s vulnerability to tropical cyclones, storm surge and sea level rise.

Keeping that in mind, they opted to build a sturdy house that could withstand a pounding from high winds and floodwaters.

“We found out that Miami had strict standards, stricter than Georgia,” Wilets said.

South Florida has significantly ramped up its building codes in the wake of 1992’s devastating Hurricane Andrew.

“We said [to the architect], ‘We want Miami standards.’ So, that’s what we built,'” Wilets said.

They chose to cut back on some of the house’s size in the design so that more money could be invested in making the home safe.

Check out these safety features of the Wilets’ home: 

When the Wilets first had the house built, some of the people were a bit perplexed that they would build a contemporary home on Tybee “because it doesn’t look like anything else around here.”

“Really, it was not to stand out, it was to be safe because the houses that had made it in New Orleans had had a flat roof and had been anchored,” Wilets said.

Wilets added that even despite some of Tybee’s vulnerabilities to severe weather impacts, she feels “very comfortable” living there, especially with the special reinforcements in place to ensure the house holds up.

“My builder, who grew up on this island, said, ‘If there was ever a storm that came through here, I would want to be in two places: One is your house, and the other one is the lighthouse!’” Julee told News 3. 

So far, the house has fared well, and the yard only had a small amount of tree damage during Dorian’s winds. 

Wilets herself grew up in Cuba, which has had its own share of hurricanes, so she’s no stranger to the impacts. She says she and her husband have also been through fires and snowstorms.

“To me, there’s danger everywhere,” she said.

“The worst that can happen is…well, the rest of the island is underwater and we’re okay,” she said. “So then, we couldn’t live here either way. But we have good insurance!”

“So far, so good, you know,” she added. “We’ve done fine.”

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