Jones pitches purpose for raised houses
Former NFL quarterback does campaign voluntarily
Byline: GARY PERILLOUX
September 9, 2006
Since Bert Jones hung up his helmet in 1982, the former LSU and Baltimore Colts quarterback has measured success not in yards passed but in board-feet sawed.
In Simsboro, Jones oversees 25 hill country acres with 60 percent of the spread under roof or shed at his Mid-States Wood Preservers.
Jones, who turned 55 on Thursday, launched the business while still tossing passes to Colts sidekick Roger Carr in 1978.
Today, he’s still putting his money into timber, taking unfinished logs, sawing them and pressure-treating them for builders.
Surprisingly, the Ruston resident was a victim of Hurricane Katrina himself — losing boats and a fishing camp at his Boothville-Venice getaway on the toe of Louisiana.
“A total loss,” Jones said, calling a quick audible to put his loss into context. “I don’t want to pretend that my losses are comparable to anybody in the New Orleans metro area. Mine was a secondary home and a recreation home. Replacing a fishing boat is not like replacing a lifetime of memories.”
But the 2005 hurricane toll exceeding $100 billion in damage has made Jones a Tiger with a cause.
His bully pulpit is raised flooring systems for home construction.
The Kenner-based Southern Pine Council approached Jones about being a spokesman for its “Build to a Higher Standard” campaign launched this summer but conceived before the arrival of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
TV ads featuring Jones are airing from Pensacola, Fla., to Beaumont, Texas, where the rebuilding effort is in earnest.
Jones accepted the role on one condition.
“The prerequisite for me doing this was that I am not for hire and that I am volunteering my time and effort,” he said. “I just felt that even though I wouldn’t benefit personally, that it’s important that we utilize our resources to educate the general public.
“We are slowly bringing designers and builders online. That’s our secondary goal. Our primary goal is to establish and raise a general awareness about what raised floor living is.”
Pier-and-beam construction once was the prevailing method before slab-on-grade homes surfaced after World War II.
Wood preservation techniques, enhanced anchoring systems and other advancements make raised-floor houses not only more aesthetically pleasing but price-competitive with slab residences and less expensive to insure — a salient feature for the more than half of New Orleanians who are rebuilding, and for others, Jones said.
“If you think about the traditional Louisiana home, everything built along River Road is a raised home,” he said. “Everything built prior to the levees is a raised-floor home. And there’s a reason.”
Reduced flood risk is a prominent one. The campaign engineered by Jones and the Southern Pine Council steers traffic to a Web site, http://www.raisedfloorliving.com, where building techniques, lists of contractors and cost estimates form a clearinghouse for the building method.
At the site, comparisons provided by Alpha Insurance of Gretna calculate a $6,600 savings in flood insurance costs for a 2,744-square-foot raised-floor house compared with the same house built on a slab.
Insurance savings are a real benefit, agrees Vijaya “VJ” Gopu, who chairs the civil engineering department at Tulane University.
Raised-floor houses slightly elevated could work well in Metairie, but in Lakeview, the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard parishes — locales pummeled by high floodwater — the stakes and the building will be higher.
“What we’re seeing in New Orleans is a lot of them are going to go 8 feet or 10 feet higher,” said Gopu, a Baton Rouge resident who’s also a consulting engineer. “They’re saying, ‘Never in my life am I going to get flooded — levees or no levees. That’s happening quite a bit.”
In those cases, building must occur on a piling system with the ground floor a sacrificial floor of garage and storage space that can be disguised by exterior siding to mimic living quarters.
Houses in Old Metairie built on raised floors were spared the destruction that hit lower neighbors living on slabs. In many cases, houses that received a foot or two of water still saw insurance claims in excess of $100,000, something that a raised flooring system could have prevented.
“There’s no alternative (in New Orleans),” Gopu said. “If people are going to be rebuilding, the vast majority of them are going to be raising their floors. There’s no question about that. How they’re going to raise their floor is an issue.”
The result will be a starkly different rebuilding scenario from recent years when 90 percent to 95 percent of new houses in the region were constructed on slabs, he said.
The other 5 percent to 10 percent had chosen raised floors for aesthetic reasons, to create the feel of an historic structure.
A pier-and-beam system should work well on most of the Northshore and coastal areas where flooding threats are limited chiefly to storm surges, Gopu said.
Jones said the “Build to a Higher Standard” campaign will continue “until we feel like we have saturated the market as well as we can.”
In Ruston, Jones has lived in a raised-floor home for 21 years, has renovated it four times — even moving the master bath twice.
Hence, the campaign is about much more than hurricane and flood protection. It’s about quality of life, he said, slipping comfortably back into a gridiron metaphor.
“Ask any football player whether they would rather play on natural grass or artificial turf, which is on top of concrete with a little-bitty pad,” Jones said. “It’s easier on your feet. And I just love the architecture of a raised-floor home. It’s just classic Louisiana elegance. It’s just fine-looking.”