Terry and Daryl Tedesco spent nearly 40 years building 3,000 homes in New Orleans' St. Bernard Parish only to see every one of them flooded when Hurricane Katrina hit the neighborhood.
"But crying don't do nothing," Daryl Tedesco said in her distinctive New Orleans patois accent. So the couple, owners of Terry Tedesco Home Builders, came out of retirement to start rebuilding in the close-knit neighborhood.
When finding labor for the stick building method they had previously employed became nearly impossible, the Tedescos decided to sell houses built elsewhere--in Palm Harbor Homes' modular factories in Texas and Florida. So far, they've installed 100 of the modular houses in the New Orleans area.
"We have a lot of faith in modular building," said Daryl Tedesco.
The Tedescos' tale was one story of half a dozen that emerged during NAHB's Green Building Conference tour of renovated homes in New Orleans on Sunday, May 11.
The tour, which circled the city, highlighted homes--both large and small--that have been built or rebuilt using green building techniques to help them better withstand storms and floods, as well as the constant New Orleans plagues of heat, humidity, and termites with ferocious appetites.
Featured on the tour were houses built of steel and houses built entirely of pressure-treated yellow pine. There were houses that were jacked up four feet onto blocks or 10 feet onto pilings to withstand future floods. And there were historic homes rebuilt to maintain their character, but with new technology built into their walls to keep the moisture out and conditioned air in.
But as much as the tour showcased just how versatile and effective modern green building techniques are, it also couldn't help but highlight how widespread Katrina's devastation was and how many houses remain uninhabitable in the Crescent City.
Wherever a renovated house sat, it was usually surrounded by dozens of others that remain in damaged and unlivable condition, still bearing numbers painted on their walls by searchers looking for the dead after the 2005 storm. One renovated house on the tour sits next door to a gutted house with a gaping hole in its roof, hacked out by its owners to escape the rising storm water. FEMA trailers, their PVC plumbing anchored into the sewer connections, are still common front-yard fixtures.
While the city's high-ground French Quarter tourist district looks relatively unaffected 2-plus years after the storm waters pushed through broken levees, there are many other areas in the city where the population is a fraction of its former numbers; St. Bernard Parish, for instance, is only about a third of its pre-Katrina population of just under 70,000.
There are plenty of painful stories about difficulties negotiating with insurance companies, government paperwork mazes, and mortgage companies. But there are also some success stories of people who, thanks to government grants, are better off now than they were before Katrina.
Shannan Cvitanovic, for instance, had lived in a dilapidated, tiny 100-year-old shotgun house that had been her grandmother's for two years when Katrina hit, sending six feet of water into the Mid-City neighborhood and knee-high into her house.
The stink, mold, and devastation sent her fleeing to live with relatives locally, to teach in France, and to a few other refuges before she was able to get a historic grant of $45,000 as well as other government loans to restore her home.
Step by Step Construction gutted the house, installed a moisture transfer system behind its cypress board exterior and rigid foam, and sprayed foam insulation between the studs to seal the structure before replacing drywall. The house also got a new HVAC system and appliances. As Cvitanovic prepares to move into her "new" old home, the reek of mold and sewer water has become but a memory--as has the state of her home before the flood hit.
"It did have paneling and three layers of linoleum and drop ceilings," Cvitanovic said. "If it hadn't been for the storm, it would have taken me 20 years to do these renovations."
Learn more about markets featured in this article: New Orleans, LA.