Monthly Archives: August 2013

WEEK 12 of House Elevation Project: Once upon a time we had an ordinary house in the suburbs of New York City. Seasons passed, our children flourished, and all seemed well with the world. Then our house suffered through extraordinary amounts of rainfall, on several occasions. With nowhere else to go, the water rose up and up and up. We grew to appreciate our flood insurance more and more. Until one day when we decided enough was enough. Let’s  fix it so that our house no longer floods. Elevating it above the base flood elevation for our location was the remedy.

Before the House Elevation

Before the House Elevation

RISE ABOVE: As documented all over this website, we did just that. Our house is now elevated well above the litmus test  – the FEMA flood map. But while the rest of the house is elevated with a brand new foundation underneath it, we still need to utilize the garage at ground level. As illustrated in the picture below, the garage in it’s current state is large enough to park a sailboat inside.

Garage space after elevation of house

Garage space after elevation of house

PICTURE ABOVE: Sandwiched between the garage and an upstairs bedroom sits an airy attic. In the picture above, the ceiling of the garage is the floor of an attic (as well as a mechanical room toward the back of the garage). This fortunate placement of the attic will allow for the building of an additional interior room. Work has already begun on this project:

Capturing a new room

Capturing a new room

After weeks of spending time on the foundation, meticulously placing each cinder block and enduring weeks of painstaking efforts to shore up the last few inches between the new foundation and the house – finally, we have some progress. Progress that we can see. Progress that feels like we are getting somewhere closer to being ready to move back home.

New front face of house

New front face of house

SIDE VIEW: Note the sides of the house above. You can see where the holes that were created to accommodate the steel beams have been closed. There are still many, many items on the “to-do” list prior to my family residing here again, but this week at least it feels like there has been a big step in that direction.

Sophisticated flood maps difficult to decipher (Houston Chronicle)

NEW PRICING: This article demonstrates the untold confusion many homeowners are facing regarding the new FEMA flood maps and their ramifications. We are painfully aware of the new consequences. The options available are limited: lift your house above the base flood elevation level OR prepare to face expensive flood insurance premiums. As we have personally experienced flooding in recent years, it was already on our radar. Many others, whose homes have not flooded in years and have sort of forgot about flood insurance for the most part, are waking up to a brand new expensive day.

HARtbeat

By: Kiah Collier, Houston Chronicle

Earlier this summer, before Jack Boze lost a buyer for his Kemah home to a surprisingly high flood insurance quote, he got online to see whether the odds that his waterfront property would flood had increased.

Click here to continue reading this story.

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Interior Damage Minimal After Elevating House

FORMIDABLE FOUNDATION:  Usually a house built upon a solid foundation is meant to be a permanent situation, complete with lots of cement to seal the deal. A foundation serves as the starting point for all that is to follow, whether you’re talking about an education, a relationship, or a house. It’s designed to have enduring qualities, and ideally built to last.

RIPPED AT THE SEAMS: But various life events can alter this preconceived notion of a permanent condition. In our case it was flooding. Way back when we first purchased our home, we never imagined a scenario where we would be ripping our house from it’s rock solid two-feet thick stone wall foundation. Nor did we foresee high water marks stretching taller than most ten year old children. But, here we are, in the midst of a house elevation project for flood mitigation.

House elevated and separated from the foundation

House elevated and separated from the foundation

EASE ON DOWN: I would have guessed any damage to the interior walls would occur during the initial separation of the house from it’s foundation. Turns out it’s the lowering of the (tremendously heavy and in our case out of square) house back down that predominately produces the most interior damage. That is not to say that every house will suffer some sort of harm during an elevation renovation. Some suffer more than others and some sustain practically no trace of damage at all. For us, there was hardly a scratch to be seen during the lifting of our house. Phew! But after hearing how laborious it was to square up my house and have it sit flush on the new foundation, I had some serious concerns.

House lowered onto newly built foundation

House lowered onto newly built foundation

INTERIOR SITUATION: As you can see from the photo above, as of yet there are no entry stairs. The new staircase will require 16 steps. A typical ladder has only 12 rungs. As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. With a little determination and a bit of ingenuity, we managed to climb up. It involved a ladder, a rubble pile, and some keen balancing skills. Picture Mt. Everest where a climber crosses over a deep, icy, crevasse on just a metal ladder laid gingerly across a gap. It was along those lines that I eventually got inside. Wearing a skirt. And flip-flops. Impressed? Yeah, neither were my boys.

It was with great relief that we found minimal damage to the walls once inside. There is one gap in a sheetrock seam where a wall and corner converge that will need to be fixed. This occurred in a room that had been an addition, not original to the house. See photo below.

Gap runs floor to ceiling in the sheetrock in one corner

Gap runs floor to ceiling in the sheetrock in one corner

Oddly, there was also a gap in the granite counter top, on a seam, that will need to be shored up. Hopefully, it’s an easy fix requiring no more than a caulking gun.

Small gap in the countertop

Small gap in the countertop

ALL-IN-ALL: There are one or two other spots in the walls with minor cracks, more or less cosmetic in nature. All in all, the interior faired pretty well considering the ordeal it had just been through. Until the builders are fully able to access the interior of the house, we will not know definitively the extent of the damage, but at first glance it seems to be relatively minor.

It’s one thing to elevate a house. It’s another to carefully and successfully place it back down.  So whether interviewing a potential lifting company or talking to other home owners who have already completed their own flood mitigation elevation, this is an area to be sure to inquire about.

House Elevations and FEMA Maps

Along with the east coast states of New Jersey and New York, Connecticut communities are actively elevating their flood prone homes. Many of the properties procuring this flood prevention tactic sit right on the coast line of the Long Island Sound. Beautiful front row views of the water, right up until the weather goes haywire and the Sound ends up sloshing around in their living room. Yesterday, Bloomberg published an article articulating the need for home elevations in this area, along with the impact of the new FEMA maps

As stated in some of my earlier posts, FEMA has begun to aggressively remap floodplains in those areas that have been hit the hardest in recent years: homes impacted by Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy. FEMA has set it’s sights next on California, the Great Lakes and Florida. In a nutshell –  more and more homes will have to two difficult and expensive options to choose from: elevate their homes or face sky-high flood insurance premiums.

See the article below for more information as well as some interesting photos:

www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-19/greenwich-stilt-houses-foreshadow-impact-of-new-fema-maps.html

Gas Meter Location for Elevated House

WEEK 11 OF HOUSE ELEVATION PROJECT: This week began with a visit from our local utility company (ConEd) in effort to determine the new placement for our gas meter. As the old gas meter was previously located in our basement and said basement is scheduled to disappear, the meter must be relocated. By ‘disappear’ I mean that the former basement will be back-filled then covered over with cement, as per protocol when elevating a house in a floodplain.

Gas meter locked for safety during the lift.

Gas meter locked for safety prior to the lift.

Contingent to being able to move back home, we will have to have the gas reconnected, making this a crucial part of the project. It is also one where lengthy delays could come into play. Here’s why: The ConEd site supervisor stopped by the house this morning to determine the new location for the gas meter. She must turn in the specific site location along with pictures to the ConEd engineering department. Estimated time for the engineers to approve the site – 2 weeks.

Once approved by ConEd engineers, they will submit the plans to the building department in our city in order to get a permit to complete the work. Time frame –  another 2 weeks. After they have the building permit, ConEd will put our project on their construction schedule. Time frame???? Lady luck will hopefully be in our corner.

Because the current gas lines are from the 1920’s, ConEd will need to install brand new lines from the street to our house, requiring some excavation work  (read: more time) and not  simply moving a meter.

cropped-luke-eric-house-lift1.jpg

In the photo above, you can see the gas meter on the remaining portion of the front wall, just after our house had been raised. The new meter will be located on the side of our house, a few feet in front of where my son in the red shirt is standing.

The relocating of a little gas meter is going to be a big part of the deciding factor as to when we can move back into our house. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be the exception to the adage that the energy companies take forever to get anything done.

Elevated House Lowered onto Newly Built Foundation

Week 10: The much anticipated, but considerably less dramatic act of lowering the house back down onto the new foundation took place yesterday. Our lift company, Payne,  was able to swing into town for two days to complete the job. When lowering the house they have to make certain that the house will sit atop the foundation, flush and square. Ideally they would be able to just lower the house straight down, but sometimes they have to adjust (“shim” in construction speak) all the little places where the house does not meet the foundation wall. For unlike a traditional house build, where you would build the house from the ground up, a lift has to merge two separate projects: house + new foundation.

Our house fully elevated  with no foundation

Our house fully elevated with no foundation

Payne, as well as my construction team, were notably surprised by the extent our house did not square up with the foundation. Any place where the two failed to meet up had to be shored up with wood. This unevenness is most likely attributed to an old house settling and less than stellar construction when the back addition was added by a previous owner.

Foundation walls built up to meet the elevated house.

Foundation walls built up to meet the elevated house.

In the photo above, you can see where space has been intensionally left to allow for the removal of the steel beams that had been supporting the house during the construction of the foundation. Recently I witnessed a house undergoing this same flood prevention measure with a less experienced construction crew. They did not leave any room in the foundation wall to remove the steel beams and so had to carve out space as an afterthought. Not exactly an ideal formula.

Elevated house lowered back down to meet the new foundation.

Safe and sound: House is set back down onto the newly built foundation

Now for the big finish … The photo above shows the house lowered back down, safe and sound, to meet with the newly built foundation walls. All in all, this was a fairly typical lift, according to Sean Payne, the owner of the lifting company we used.

THINGS COULD ALWAYS BE WORSRE: Lately I’ve been bemoaning the fact that the lowering of our house was delayed. By comparison, Sean mentioned a house he was currently working on where the construction team completing that house elevation (recall that the lift team and construction team are not the same) were new to this type of project. The result in that scenario is extensive delays as they struggle to figure out what to do next. That house has been elevated with steel beam supports for 5 months and counting. By comparison, our house was able to be lowered back down in only six weeks, and that includes one week where the site sat untouched.

Until the construction crew returns tomorrow to continue its magic, our house is held to the foundation primarily by gravity. Hope we don’t get a big wind storm any time soon.