When Does a House Elevation Start to Hurt?


When does a house elevation project begin to hurt? When your contractor is working under the premise that your fixed-price contract is a cost-plus contract, with free reign on your wallet. As week 8 of construction came to a close, it’s safe to say it has been the least pleasant so far. But then again, no one promised that retrofitting a house to withstand a flood would be easy.

FRONT STAIRS UPDATED AND REVISED: Monday night was the bi-monthly meeting of the Board of Architectural  Review (BAR). Our goal was to have the revised version of our front staircase approved by the board so that we could move forward. In an earlier post (Staircase Options for an Elevated House) I delineated the various options available to any homeowner undergoing a home elevation, as well as the specifics for our property. Because our house sits on a narrow lot with a short set-back from the road, our options for staircases are more limited. While I would have loved to have had a wide, straight staircase with a grand appearance, this just didn’t fit our house.

Last month, the BAR rejected our first version of a straight staircase in favor of an oversized “U” version. So maybe the straight staircase wouldn’t work for us, but we felt strongly that the giant “U” shape would overpower both the front of our house and the entire front yard. We had our architect draw a new set of stairs, a  compromise for both us and the BAR, a switch- back style. Although this design was not our first choice, it does fit our space fairly well.

Showing up to the meeting a few minutes early, our architect was conspicuously absent. We waited around, checked our e-mails – nothing. A door where all the backroom pre-discussions take place opened and one of the members of the BAR set out an agenda for the nights meeting. The list was long. Our project was not on it. As the stairs we were presently trying to submit were closely related to what had already been approved, it was very likely they would pass. However, the board must formally approve them in order to allow our job to continue. Fearing our project was going to be delayed, waiting another two weeks until the next meeting, my husband headed for the hallway in hopes of catching the building department head prior to the start of the meeting. He caught up with her in the stairwell. After exchanging quick introductions (they had only spoken on the phone), my husband briefed her on our needs. She told us she’d try to squeeze it in at the end of the meeting and that there was no need for us to be present.

The meeting ran until close to midnight. Fortunately for us, the BAR took a few moments to consider our revised staircase and approved the new plans. And so closed the front staircase dilemma, or so we thought.

BUILDER THROWS THE FIRST PUNCH: (figuratively, not literally) Having won approval for the new stairs, our builder now wanted to revise our contract to address this change. As the giant “U” stairs were on the old, formally approved plans, we disagreed with any new charges. Our new stairs will be smaller, requiring less work and fewer materials. Another new charge was presented for the completed foundation work, making the combination of new charges equivalent to a 15% increase in the total bill. A sizable number already. As of press time for this post, the verdict is still out on all the charges that will be added or subtracted. In any project of this size, there are going to be some unforseen costs that come up. However, the number being suggested seems excessive and sneaky and a little bit sleazy.

The to-be-expected bumps in the road arrived in full this week. Life is all about how you handle Plan B. Sure, everyone wants their plan A to succeed, the one where everything goes your way. The real test of character comes in when you have to yield to what life throws you. Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape. Blessed, too, is the wallet not gouged. For it shall not die an untimely death. Still trying to keep it all in perspective: an elevated house will no longer flood, a real boon indeed.

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