So you want to build a Floating House?

So, you want to build a floating house, do you? Makes sense. Who doesn’t want to live on the water all year round? 

So, is building a floating house easy, cheap, and without restrictions? We have done our best to answer this question.

Let us explain. We get calls every year from many customers wanting to build a floating house or cabin. Most people find examples of these builds online and assume that they are an inexpensive option for a great off-grid cottage or home. However, when you're heading down the exciting road of building your own floating home or cabin, consider that it may not all be Easy Street. 

Have you considered weight and weight distribution? 

To construct a floating structure properly, you will need to have a clear idea of how much weight you will be required to support. After all, you’re talking about replacing a bricks-and-mortar foundation with pontoons. 

You may be aware that NyDock manufactures extremely robust HDPE pontoons that support a significant amount of weight. But even so, if the weight is greater than the amount of buoyancy required, your structure won’t float properly, or it may not float at all. 

A marine engineer is the best resource to determine the appropriate flotation required and to ensure that the weight requirements have been met before you move forward. 

The distribution of the weight also needs to be considered. If you do not evenly disperse the weight it can cause the building to list in one direction or another, causing the finished build to be out of level and unbalanced. It may require adding weight in other areas to keep the load balanced. If you’re not planning for that additional weight, you may end up running over your allowable load.

If the weight isn’t distributed evenly, it will certainly affect how the structure should be supported. A body of water can be very unpredictable, especially when the weather is nasty. If your foundation doesn’t account for proper weight distribution, then you’re going to have serious challenges.  

How is the house constructed? What materials are used? Weight calculations will need to be conducted on the entire structure—as in all materials, furniture, and residents—and what might your future needs be? Do you have additional flotation to support any future expansions down the road?

Have You Considered Snow Weight? 

If you’re in Ontario, Canada—or anywhere north or around the 45th parallel, snow is a major factor in regards to weight calculations. You need to address snow weight in your roof calculations, but for a floating house, you also need to account for snow weight in your overall weight calculations. You may be surprised at how much impact snow can have on the weight of your structure. In Muskoka, most engineers will call for 40 pounds per square foot of snow load. 

To give you an example, if you were looking to build a small 600 square-foot floating cabin (at 20 x 30) the required snow loading alone could be as much as 24,000 pounds.

It is best to contact an engineer or your local building department to find out more specifics. 

Have You Considered Cost? 

If you’ve ever been involved in renovations that involve a house’s foundation, you know how expensive they can be. Building a house on the water is no different. Consider that you are building something that has to support a significant amount of weight over a body of water—you will need to balance weight versus buoyancy.

In some cases, NyDock has done projects where the customer has many rows of pontoons. The cost increases with every additional row of pontoons required. Keep in mind that’s just for the pontoons themselves, that doesn’t include the framework and decking that needs to be built to hold the pontoons together. Remember also that the framework and decking are deducted from your loading calculation because they are supported by the same flotation. 

We want to be clear about the cost considerations. A home’s foundation is not something you want to cut corners on. Wherever possible, you need to make sure you are accounting for well beyond the capacity that the pontoons can support, to be extra safe.  

Have you Considered Government Regulations? 

Every municipality is different. Often people ask about building a floating house to get around having to deal with paying property taxes. Surprisingly many municipalities have provisions for this type of structure, and if the municipality doesn't regulate the area, you can fall into other governed areas. 

You need to make sure you have checked your local municipality’s regulations for floating structures and floating vessels to see whether they affect what you’re trying to do. Chances are, there are already municipal bylaws in place that will affect how you go about building your floating house. 

Some municipalities have bylaws in place for how long you can keep your house anchored anywhere on a body of water. Other customers have made comments that they have fallen into Crown Land use restrictions and that they are only allowed to keep the structure in one area for 30 days before it must be moved. Make sure you know the rules so you aren’t faced with legal implications down the line. 

You may also need to consider calling Transport Canada to determine if your vessel needs to be registered appropriately. In some cases, you may need to also apply to get a structural engineer to ensure the structure sufficiently meets all the requirements. 

Having your paperwork in order is essential to ensure you protect your investment and feel comfortable with moving ahead with your exciting new project. 

Have you Considered Waste Management? 

Floating houses need to have dedicated systems to handle gray water and deal with wastewater. Have you factored these costs and plans into your build? There are likely municipal bylaws that need to be referenced that address waste management specifically. You need to be up on these bylaws and know the costs and considerations for dealing with waste management so you don’t have any surprises. 

Many options for waste management include incineration systems that can incinerate all waste or a combination of waste and gray water. These options require propane to fuel the equipment and those tanks can be very heavy. You will need to make provisions for the size of these systems, the weight, and the safe storage of propane tanks. 

Now, are you ready to take on this exciting new project? 

Floating houses are amazing, and NyDock makes the right product to support many floating structures. But just as anything in life, you should know what you’re getting into. Building a floating house requires a well-thought-out plan, and it is generally not as inexpensive as many people imagine. But if all these considerations are taken into account, and you’ve done the required research, then we can help by providing the floatation required to make your very own floating house or cabin. 

If you have done the research and are ready to move forward, we can certainly help. Contact us anytime!