Elizabeth English, associate professor at the Louisiana State niversity Hurricane Center, wants to protect homes against flooding in New Orleans with "buoyant foundations."

English, working with a team of senior mechanical engineering students, is devising a way to retrofit houses with a flotation system to keep them above water in a flood. Similar devices are already in use along the banks of the Raccourci Old River in Louisiana and in the Netherlands and southeast Asia. 

English's unique 'amphibious' foundation system is designed to retrofit existing houses such as the 'shotgun' style homes in New Orleans. The design will be engineered to satisfy new building codes and avoids many disadvantages tof more traditional methods of elevating a house. 

'There are so many issues, both obvious and not so apparent, that come with permanently elevating homes,' said English. Among them are significant expense and increased risk of wind damage, and lack of convenience and accessibility, possible loss of neighborhood character and appearance of a structure raised on stilts. 

A home equipped with a buoyant foundation will remain low to the ground unless a flood occurs, when the house would rise as high as necessary to stay dry. Special flexible utility lines accommodate the change in elevation. The house simply floats until the water recedes with a vertical guidance system keeping it in place. Sans flooding, the house looks essentially the same as it did before being retrofitted with a buoyant foundation. 

English's team hopes to secure enough funding to develop and begin testing a prototype as early as December of this year. A $2,500 donation from Innovative Technologies Group from West Virginia helped fund the project, which still needs about $150,000 to complete.

-New Orleans City Business Print