Tag Archives: flood

New Landscape for an Elevated House – House Lift Landscape

FINAL STEPS TO COMPLETION: The house project finally completed, the only thing left to do is fill in the landscape.

As the former landscape was completely destroyed during the process, we were starting with a clean slate. The front yard just after our house elevation project –

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Front yard prior to landscape

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AFTER: A few trips to some local nursery’s, viewing of other lifted homes, and a bit of research on the web and we made our decisions. Sod was an easy call as it goes in so fast and we only needed to cover a small area.

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New sod being rolled into place

THE VERY NEXT DAY: A storm whipped into town dropping a lot of rainfall. At first it was welcomed as a huge boost to our new sod, which needs to be watered – a lot – in the first few weeks. Mother nature came at just the right time.

But the rain continued. It rained and rained. Flood warnings were issued. We sat snug in our newly lifted house. But our new sod did not fare so well …

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The sod was strew about due to minor flooding

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The high water mark …

The homes across the street suffered minor basement flooding, but the water never reached our house, just the front yard.

SUN SHINES AGAIN: 

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A few moths later and our yard was complete

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In the photo above note how the red maple plays off the red hue of the rocks; it’s height helps to  off-set the tall foundation. A cypress was added to the planting bed in the stair design to provide year round interest.

 

Insurance Rates Drop Dramatically, But Not Without a Fight

TIMELINE OF INSURANCE RATE ADJUSTMENT:  June 2013: we officially started the construction phase of our house project. (The planning phase began July 2012)

December 2013:  We moved back into our house with the majority of our project complete.

February 2014: All paperwork and certificates related to our building project were closed out. Project officially declared complete. (Still lacking minor details such as exterior painting and any landscaping, but too cold to address those issues now).

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March 2014: Submitted request to FEMA (umbrella under which the National Flood Insurance Agency operates) to lower our insurance premiums based on our new and improved flood savvy house. They rejected this request citing we required one additional flood vent.

Had additional flood vent installed.

FEMA again rejected our request to lower our rates. This time it was because the wrong box had been checked on our elevation certificate (final survey) sighting the source of our base flood elevation level.

In other words, they needed to confirm that we didn’t  just make up some numbers to make it sound good.

Skip this section if your eyes start to roll back in your head or you suddenly feel like you need to  nap. The source of the base flood elevation (BFE) MUST come from FIS or FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Map) for your specific property.

Returned to my surveyor, spoke with the Flood Plan Manager for my city and resubmitted the forms to FEMA.  They requested yet another form, a flood application form, be completed. I thought this was odd as we’ve had flood insurance for over 10 years. FEMA insisted it was the protocol. Fine.

April 2014: The next hurdle: FEMA/NFIP wanted the square footage of our garage, despite the fact that is attached to our house, they have pictures of it, and they have a survey marking it. I should clarify that these conversations were between NFIP and my insurance agent. After spending weeks sending my insurance agent down a rabbit hole, I recommend she educate herself on this product (flood insurance), take the bull by the horns, and tell them what’s what. They have all the information, we’ve crossed every i and dotted every t, you have more important things to do than run around chasing your tail all day.

Mission Accomplished: Our insurance agent called and told me our paperwork had finally been accepted and that our flood insurance rates were going to drop from several thousand dollars per year to several hundred.

The clouds parted,  beams of sunshine shone down and a collective sigh could be heard across the phone lines. Then my agent told me she had to go – she was getting ready to watch a webinar on flood insurance.

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Kitchen Renovation – Post House Elevation

THE PROBLEM: As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.  Or, as I like to say,  you can’t undertake a massive house project (house elevation) without eating a few crap sandwiches. Today’s topic hails from the kitchen. The situation created stems from careless foundation work when our house was lowered (see older posts). An entire bank of cabinets, along with the granite counter top, shifted out-of-place, resulting in drawers that would roll open and an unsightly gap in the counter. Not an entirely big deal, until you appreciate that this kitchen had recently been fully gutted and renovated ALREADY!  Here’s what it looked like before:

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Gap in granite seam about the width of a pencil.

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Entire bank of cabinets shifted away from the wall

THE FIX: This project required a bit of re-tooling of the cabinets, or in  construction speak “shimming” to readjust them.  The backslash had to be  pried off  with a crowbar to achieve this and then the kitchen sink had to be reset.

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Shimming the kitchen cabinets

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Small pieces of wood added to the bottom of the cabinets, kick plate removed.

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Ripping off the backsplash

AFTER:

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Gaps are gone!

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FOR EVERY ACTION, THERE IS A REACTION: For the most part, this side of the kitchen was restored. We’ll still have to shore up the refrigerator, again. Plus, a new gap was created at the top of the backsplash. You can sort of see it in the picture above. Note how the beadboard and the backsplash do not meet. The gap is too big to use caulk . Eventually, we’ll put in new tile or replace this beadboard.

NOW FOR SOME GOOD NEWS: At the very beginning of this house elevation project, we had to remove a superfluous chimney that ran right through the kitchen. We decided to install new cabinets in its place to open up the kitchen a bit. The crew today did a fantastic job seaming in the new cabinets to blend in with the already existing ones.

BEFORE:

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Chimney tucked neatly behind the bead-board.

AFTER:

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Cabinets replace former chimney

We opted to go with a walnut cutting board instead of more granite. This kitchen already has plenty of it and it was much easier to seam in a piece of cutting board than another piece of granite. When I asked the lead installer about this kitchen in terms of how this project faired compared to others he has worked on he said,” This job was a nightmare.” Tell me about it!

Although you can’t tell from the photos above, this old house has walls that are no longer square, if they ever were.  A lot of tedious maneuvering went into lining up these cabinets. Many thanks to Pablo and his crew for working some magic.

Things (About my House) I Never Wanted to Know

FOUNDATION-TO-FLOOR BEAM CONNECTIONS:  … and other things I could have gone my whole life without knowing and never missed it. Here’s the scoop: A sill plate is a lining of pressure-treated wood that is secured to the top of a foundation wall before a house is either build up (most scenarios) or lowered back down onto it  in the case of a house elevation. It looks like this:

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Sill plate: the little piece of lumber atop the foundation wall.

PRECISION FRAMING: Ideally, your house would be level and square all the way around, providing a seamless transition between the house, the sill plate and the foundation.

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Good: Foundation – sill plate – house frame all secure without any gaps.

SHIMMING THE SILL PLATE: If the house is uneven (not ‘square’) there will be gaps between the house and the sill plate as shown below:

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Bad: All kinds of wrong

If the house is supported in some spots, but not in others, that’s not good. Enter the shim …

Shims are used to fill in any gaps. It’s a common practice and can be applied successfully. They should be made from a strong material such as metal or pressure-treated wood. Using whatever is handy at the time, like a scrap of wood or a crumbled up receipt from your pocket, is a big no-no. Anything marginally soft will be crushed by the house like a fat man sitting on a fragile chair and shifting will occur.

WHERE THINGS GO WRONG: In the picture above you can see where shims were installed in the back corner – see how the house is pushed up in that area and not sitting on the sill plate? My kitchen sits right above this area and the floors, cabinets, granite counters, etc. are all bulging out or pulling away from their frame. Ugh!

Could a proper calculation on the part of the masonry team have avoided this issue? Maybe. Was jamming random scraps of wood into any gap a bad idea? Definitely. The “fix” will require a slight re-jacking up of the house in this location to properly shim it.

Useful tips about your home that will come in handy the next time you elevate your house or lack witty banter at your next cocktail party.

Settling In or Just Plain Settling: House after Elevation Project

HAPPY NEW YEAR! As the calendar turns over to reveal the start of a new year, 2014, we are still in the midst of our house elevation for flood mitigation project that began many moons ago. What’s left? Final inspections, certificate of occupancy, landscaping, driveway resurfacing, exterior painting and a few other odds and ends.

MOVEMENT AFOOT: We moved back into our home just about a month ago and continue to see some settling with the house. But how do you decide between to-be-expected movement and compromised structural integrity? Hairline cracks in most of the walls – fine. Gap in seam of granite countertop – ok. Buckling of floor boards due to misplaced shims between the house and the foundation – yep, that too. We had mentally absorbed all of those issues. But the list continues to grow …

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Built-in refrigerator pulling away from the wall

It may be hard to tell from the photo above, but the built-in refrigerator is beginning to pull away from the wall. Fueling my discontent here is that I paid a refrigerator specialist to secure it back into place just last month. Also:

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Granite countertop pulling away from the wall – brand new injury

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Yesterday we saw new signs of movement with the granite beginning to pull away from the wall as well as the floor beginning to buckle in a new location.

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Floor boards pulling apart

In the photo above you can see how the floor boards are tight on the right side and pulling apart on the left – again, brand new development as of yesterday.

THEORIES: Two thoughts on what is perpetrating these new injuries to my kitchen. One: the house is simply settling into its new foundation and due to temperature changes and shifting weight from our boys running around the house, the house is in flux. Two: Due to misplaced shims and missing shims (thin pieces of wood added to the foundation wall for the house to sit flush), the house is moving  – and will continue to move – until the house is properly shimmed.

I’M NOT A CONTRACTOR, BUT … It seems to me the only new problems are in the exact location where the shimming has been called into question. With a call into our contractor and a promise to investigate the issue, hopefully we can stave off any more problems.

Fireplace Repairs Post Flooding

WEEK 26: Although the majority of our house hails from the 1920’s, an addition was added in 1990’s by a previous owner – which included a wood burning fireplace. For years the fireplace provided a warm crackling glow to the our family room. Then … it was inundated by a flood or two.

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2007 Flood repairs: note the mantle design

FIREPLACE SURVIVES: During the second flood of 2007 our family room sustained a fair amount of damage and required some renovations. The floors in the picture above show the radiant heat coils that survived this flood event as did the fireplace – or so we thought.

It wasn’t until the subsequent flood event in 2011 that we realized the integrity of the fireplace had been compromised. Water is pretty sneaky in that sense, finding its way into any nook or crevice and quietly wreaking havoc. So during flood repairs resulting from Hurricane Irene a few years late, the entire fireplace had to be removed.

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2011: Mantle, surround, fireplace box, floor of the fireplace – all had to be removed.

HIDDEN BENEFITS: I never really liked the original fireplace mantle. It was a bit busy and slightly ornate for my taste. I could have easily lived with it, but thanks to flood damage, now I wouldn’t have to! The entire fireplace had to be replaced: the firebox, the floor supports, the surround, and the mantle. Fresh start.

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New fireplace box

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Mantle and slate surround being installed.

ANOTHER FLOOD BONUS: In addition to the new fireplace installation where we now had the opportunity to assist in the design of the mantle (built by our carpenter crew) and choose the new surround (black slate), we also got to choose new floors. (Almost makes you wish you flooded, right?)

The mahogany floors being installed above replaced the previous floors that had been nicked up from years of our boys playing smash-up games with their cars and trucks and finding numerous other means to scratch them up.

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Project completed: new mantle, surround, fireplace box and floors (walls and insulation, too)

CHIM CHIM CHER -EE: A few years and a drastic house elevation later, we are preparing to put this said fireplace to work this winter. But just to play it safe and make sure that it survived the lift in tact, we had a chimney sweep come by to inspect and clean it – all the way to the roof.

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Chimney sweep at work

LITTLE KNOWN FACTS: During the numerous renovation projects we’ve endured over the years, I’ve learned something new from every professional that has worked on our house. For example, here I found out that a pre-fab fireplace, such as the one we have, is very easy to clean and rarely has any problems compared to a stone chimney – there are no ledges or crevices for soot to build up. Chim chim cher- oo!

More than One Way to Skin a Cat

CAN’T HELP BUT NOTICE: As fate would have it, next door to our temporary apartment, the house is also being lifted. It too suffers from the occasional rising whims of the little brook near our house, about 2 miles down stream. With my new knowledge base on this subject, I’ve noticed a few things about this elevation that the casual observer would more than likely miss:

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Another house elevation under way

When you look a little closer, you can see some strings. It makes perfect sense that you would want to make certain the foundation was going to match up with the house. This technique was not utilized in our project and they had great difficulty matching up the pieces. Would it have mattered? Who knows. A spool of yarn could have come in handy is all I’m saying.

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A little piece of string ties it all together

Another area where this project deviates from ours is they are building the foundation up to meet the house, unlike our scenario where the house was lowered back down onto the foundation:

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Rising up to meet the house –

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Foundation meets the house – steel beams still in place

Although this technique makes it more challenging for the lifting company to remove the steel beams, logically if makes sense. When I asked my builder about this different technique, he said either way works. Ok – but I’m guessing one house will suffer more than the other. When a mega ton house is lowered, no matter how gingerly it is accomplished, there is bound to be some collateral damage. I don’t know the end result for this house, but our house suffered numerous cracks in the walls (minor) and a permanent slight shift in a bank of kitchen cabinets where a shim of wood was left in place atop the foundation while the house was being lowered.

You know how to remove a block of wood stuck between a hefty house and it’s foundation? Neither does my builder.