Tag Archives: house lift

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.

 

18 Inches of Rain Brings Pain to Boulder, Colorado

At long last the rain has let up and the storm has passed, yet many will feel the ramifications of the recent flooding in Boulder, Colorado for months to come. Numerous homes endured total destruction while others suffered comparatively minor damage with flooding restricted to their basement. Unfortunately for those without flood insurance, they will have to rebuild on their own. Flooding is about as appealing as a kick to the head.

Should those who were impacted by this freak of nature storm run out to purchase flood insurance? No. It takes 30 days for a new flood insurance policy to take effect. But what about moving forward, should those homes impacted by floodwater purchase flood insurance? YES. Depending on the flood risk for your home, the rates can be very inexpensive.

FLOOD INSURANCE: THE LEAST YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. It takes 30 days to take effect

2. Building Coverage (house and mechanicals) and Content Coverage (your stuff) MUST be purchased separately

3. Flood Insurance offers limited coverage for basements

1500 HOMES DESTROYED IN BOULDER FLOOD: “Some 1,500 homes have been destroyed and about 17,500 have been damaged, according to an initial estimate released by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.” HUGE numbers of homes have been impacted.

120,000 HOMES DAMAGED: “According to FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, 4,550 Boulder County homeowners are covered by flood insurance. That figure is well above the national per-capita average, but U.S. Census data suggests it still leaves many of the roughly 120,000 county households soaked and damaged, with dim prospects for total financial recovery.” www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder-flood/ci_24083820/flood-damage-leaves-boulder-area-residents-scrambling

Flood-Insurance

Hang in there, Boulder!

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

House Elevation for Flood Mitigation: Frequently Asked Questions

What all is involved in a house lift? Does flood insurance pay for it? What is an elevation certificate and why would I need one? To find out the answer to these and many more exciting questions related to this flood mitigation technique –  home elevation, check out my newly updated FAQ’s section.

Big Changes to Flood Insurance Rates

 CHANGES TO FLOOD INSURANCE PROGRAM: We paid our first revised flood insurance premium today – a 20% increase from what we paid last year for the same level of coverage. Our premiums will continue to rise for the next four years, up to 25% at a time. Why? The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a federal program under FEMA, is broke. With a debt of more than 18 billion dollars, the program is not sustainable. Who covers this huge deficit not covered by flood insurance premiums? Taxpayers do.

Wind and Flood damage from Hurricane Sandy - 2012

Wind and flood damage from Hurricane Sandy – 2012

Brief History of Flood Insurance: In 1965, Hurricane Betsy struck New Orleans. The ensuing floods destroyed numerous homes. No flood insurance existed to help the homeowners recover. Traditional insurance companies did not want to offer flood insurance because there were no ratings, models, or statistical probabilities available. So the government stepped in making flood maps, models, and generating the necessary statistics to account for the probability of a flood event. The National Flood Insurance Program was formed in 1968. It allowed individuals to purchase insurance (via insurance agents) through the government to cover floods.

In 2005 Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. The cost of recovery proved to be greater than incoming insurance premiums could cover. FEMA was forced to borrow 16 billion dollars from the government to cover the cost. This was a major set back to the program. Something had to change.

In July 2012, Congress signed into law extensive changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This was before Super Storm Sandy served up a path of destruction, covering an area the size of Europe, in late October of 2012. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, as it is called, has significant implications for anyone who has flood insurance. The short summary: your flood insurance rates are going to go up. These rates are allowed to go up as much as 25% per year (for the next 5 years) until actuarial rates (estimate of the expected value of future loss) are achieved.

How high your rates will go up will vary depending on your location and situation. The short list of homeowners who can expect to see their rates rise dramatically:

  • residential property that is not the primary residence of an individual (vacation homes)
  • any severe repetitive loss property (four or more claims over $5,000 or two claims that exceed the value of the property)
  • flood damages that cumulatively exceed the fair market value of the property
  • any new policy or newly purchased property in high risk flood areas

The taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize people whose homes are known to be in high-risk floodplains. The rates have to go up to cover the costs and risks inherent in living in these areas. Ultimately, some homes will have cost prohibitive rates resulting in homeowners who can no longer afford the flood insurance premiums. There are no easy or simple remedies.

Flood insurance rates are determined by the home’s base flood elevation. A house above the base flood elevation entitles the owner to pay a lower flood insurance premium – a very good reason to consider lifting your house.

Houselifted well above the base flood elevation for this property

House lifted well above the base flood elevation –  for this property

For more information on how your flood insurance rates will be impacted:

http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/flooding_flood_risks/map_changes_flood.jsp

A video summary of the Biggert-Waters Reform Act:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpeqSQr3ngY&list=UUHMck7Qh7gAf7o4qnPu84IA&index=2.

Global Extreme Weather And Climate Events – A 2013 Timeline

A VERY TELLING VISUAL INDEED: Of the 24 events highlighted on this timeline, eight involve massive flooding and two others involve excessive rainfall. Extreme flooding events not included on this timeline for 2013 so far: Australia in January, Europe in May and June and Canada in  June. Though I don’t know how to prevent this seeming epidemic of wide spread flooding, I do know of one cure. For homeowners living in these risky flood prone areas around the world – two words: House Lift

A VERY TELLING VISUAL INDEED: Of the 24 events highlighted on this timeline, eight involve massive flooding and two others involve excessive rainfall. Extreme flooding events not included on this timeline for 2013 so far: Australia in January, Europe in May and June and Canada in  June. Though I don’t know how to prevent this seeming […]

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Sewer Line to be Buried 4 Feet Under

SEWER LINE CLEAN-OUT: Yesterday we had a team of drain specialists come by to effectively power wash our sewer line. Although this service call does not directly have any relationship to our elevation project, it was paramount that we determined the integrity of our sewer line prior to burying it under 4 feet of cement. The only reason we are investigating it now is because we were having slow drain issues.

We will still have access to the clean out line (I’m learning so many fascinating new things about housing), but the portion that runs underneath the ground between our house and the street will now be under our front steps. As I really don’t want to plan to rip out newly built steps, we wanted to be assured that any sewer line issue was resolved.

A diagnostic camera was fed into our sewer line.

A diagnostic camera was fed into our sewer line.

Sort of like a colonoscopy for your sewer line.

Sort of like a colonoscopy for your sewer line.

Our drain specialist gave the sewer line a clean bill of health after blasting away encroaching tree roots with water.  The gravitational pull produced by the added elevation of our house will really keep things flowing.

Do you know what happens to sewer pipes during a flood? They overflow. Keeping that nasty flood water out of our house is one more good reason to elevate it.

Architectural Pitfalls

WE’VE HIT A SNAG: The biggest snafu we’ve encountered with our project to date is with the design of the new front staircase. The number of steps required is dictated by building codes based on the height of the house, but the design aspect allows for some creativity. This process is usually a collaboration between the homeowner and their architect. But what happens when your architect turns out to be a shirker, not a worker?

Our seasoned architect is established in our community and has drafted several other elevation projects in our neighborhood.  We assumed his experience would translate into a smooth endeavor. It’s turned out to be about as smooth as a cross country flight subjected to frequent bouts of bone jarring turbulence.

TROUBLE BREWING: The first sign of trouble came with the second set of drawings. The first set had a few errors: windows in the wrong place, insufficient details and a front stair design we more or less disliked. Not only did the stairs he suggested take up the majority of our front yard, but they also required making five turns before reaching the front door. Five! Good luck moving any furniture through that maze.

Note how much real estate these stair consume. Fine on a wider property, like this one.

NOT our design – you would need to add one MORE turn. Note how much real estate these stairs consume. Fine on a wider property, like this one.

Subsequent sets of drawings were just as poor. Initially, we kindly declined his version of the staircase and suggested straight steps would be more fitting to our house. He attempted to sway us, suggesting that a gradual rise would be more palatable to people than a straight run. Not if they have to get dizzy just getting to the front door. And whose paying for these stairs anyway? Oh, yeah, not you!

As per protocol, the drawings were first shown to the zoning board who granted us the required variances. This board even thanked us for going to all the trouble to lift our house out of the floodplain, decreasing our burden on the community – all at our expense. Things had not completely deteriorated just yet.

THE NEXT HURTLE: The next hurtle to our staircase issue was an approval from the architectural review board (ARB). This seven member volunteer panel who evaluate exterior design elements convene just twice a month, with strict submission guidelines and deadlines. After weeks of empty promises and unexplained delays, our architect showed us the “updated” plans he was going to present to (ARB). There were a few minor changes, but the U-shape style steps remained on the plans despite our strong opposition. We had even shown him photographs of the exact style we desired – straight steps. But due to his unending procrastination there was no time to change them. Plus, he had led us to believe we could easily change course in the future.

Straight style with a landing in the middle.

Straight style with a landing in the middle.

Straight style

Elevated house with straight style stairs

So the ARB saw the swirl of U-shaped stairs first. Along with other details that they evaluated, such as window placement and flood vent locations, this board passed our plans. Good news, right? Sort of … Before we can build the stairs we want, the ARB has to see and approve them. Which meant another meeting, which meant delays. The next meeting, primarily for just evaluating the front stairs, the ARB denied our new proposal. The board preferred the gigantic U-shape style. Our architect was unwilling or unable to sway this decision on our behalf.

As our construction is already underway, we are running out of time. Our choices are limited. Attempt to overturn the decision by presenting our plans to the zoning board (protocol) or taking our chances and presenting to the ARB again with a different version of stairs.

TO BE CONTINUED …

How Many Balloons Would it Take to Lift a House?

After stopping by my construction site this morning and learning that we had several serious snags and disconnections between our architect, the builders, and the local building department, I needed a little levity. Does lifting a house really need to be so complicated?

Not according to the Movato Real Estate Blog. They’ve actually figured out the exact number of helium balloons (the sort you can buy at any party supply store) it would take to lift a house based on average weight per square foot.

Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

According to the interactive calculator you can find on their website, it would take roughly 77,646,000 balloons to lift my house. That’s a lot of hot air! By comparison, the White House would need a whopping 2,976,470,589 balloons. The one glitch I can see right off the bat – and they would be numerous – is how we could maintain the helium inside the balloons long enough for our crew to build up the foundation walls.

“Sorry, we had the house lifted and were all set to build the new foundation so your house would no longer endure any future flooding, but the darn helium escaped before could finish the job.”

Although our architect is full of it, unfortunately “it” doesn’t happen to be helium. Or ideas. Or time management proficiency. Or even accuracy, for that matter. So while the “lift” went off with nary a worry, the same can not be said for our architectural plans.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane … No, It’s my House!

WEEK 5 STARTS WITH A BANG! Mission accomplished – now the time intensive work can begin.

After spending more than a week preparing the house it was ready for the big lift.  Ever so slowly, one wooden beam (about 6 inches) at a time, the house was lifted.  A wooden beam (also known as cribbing) was inserted at every pressure point, then lifted another 6 inches, etc., until the predetermined height was reached. Total time: about 5 hours for this portion.

PICTURE GALLERY: 

House pulls away from the foundation

House pulls away from the foundation easier than you might think

Before

Before: Holes cut into the foundation and steel beams were gingerly inserted.

After ...

After: House lifted straight up; note the white trim in each picture. The foundation wall, in our case, had to be knocked down.

Before ...

BEFORE …

After

AFTER

Our boys checking out the site

Checking out the site

The door over their heads used to be one step from the garage floor.

Standing under the house. The door over their heads used to be one step from the garage floor.

Back of house: Before

Back of house: Before

After

After

ALL THE CRIBBING IS IN PLACE: Note the cribbing that’s been placed to buttress the steel beams that support the house. The house is finally out of the path of a flood. Can I get a “hell yeah!” However, the lift is actually the easy part of this job. Next our construction crew has to come in to rebuild the foundation walls which should take about 3 weeks. Then, Payne Construction, our lifting company, returns to remove the steel beams and lower the house about a foot onto the new foundation.

House Lift Preparation

WEEK FOUR:  Lift process continues: holes were cut into the foundation to secure room for the steel beams.

Former front steps area

Former front steps

Holes cut around the perimeter of the property

Holes cut around the perimeter of the property

Because we have a narrow lot and in close proximity to our neighbors, the job was especially  tricky. If they had unlimited space to work (e.g., a house in an open field) and one that was all one level (e.g., shaped like a shoe box)  – the house could be lifted in a day or two. Our job took a bit more time.

The beams were inserted in cross-directions to support the house during the lift with the use of a crane and lots of patience.

Snaking the steel beam through the house

Snaking the steel beam through the house

Beams run end to end though the house

Establishing New Elevation Height

Our builder, architect, and lift expert all reviewed the proposed new elevation height, comparing the blueprints with the tree markings (see picture below).

Bottom to top: Base flood elevation, new family room height, new front of house height.

Bottom to top: Base flood elevation, new family room height, new front of house height.

For the construction crew to actually work underneath our house while building up the foundation walls, initially the house will be lifted a foot higher than the intended height. The house will sit in the air, supported by steel beams, wood pylons and hydraulic  jacks before being lowered back down onto the newly built foundation.

Base Flood Elevation

Tell-tale signs of change

Tell-tale signs of change

Three markers were placed in our tree highlighting the key elevations of our property. They were determined based on our city codes and FEMA. They had to be measured for accuracy and placed by a surveyor. The top of each pink ribbon is the official line.

The lowest ribbon defines the base flood elevation (BFE) for our property. The BFE is the 100-year flood line or a flood that has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year.

“The BFE is the regulatory requirement for the elevation or floodproofing of structures. The relationship between the BFE and a structure’s elevation determines the flood insurance premium.” (source: FEMA)

Our community additionally stipulates that any elevation project lift  2 feet higher than the BFE.

The middle pink ribbon illustrates what will be the new elevation of our back family room. The highest pink ribbon illustrates the what will be the new elevation of the front of our house.

For more information check out:

What is my Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE)?

High-Water Mark

Heads up: High-Water Mark: The high-water mark for our house was roughly as high as our son's head in this picture - or 56 inches.

Heads up: High-Water Mark:
The high-water mark for our house was roughly as high as our son’s head in this picture – or 56 inches.

The high-water mark is the mark indicating the highest level water has reached on a particular structure or home. In our case, it was about 56 inches – or about as high as Luke’s head in this picture.

“Know Your Line: Be Flood Aware”    FEMA, along with 7 other federal agencies, has recently developed a high-water mark initiative designed to illustrate the high-water mark in areas prone to flooding. The idea is to illustrate, by posting signs, to residents of a community the flooding history for a particular location so they can take the necessary steps to protect themselves from future flooding. To date a handful of communities across the USA are participating in this initiative.

In the picture below it highlights a high water mark for flooding that took place during Hurricane Sandy.

Note the muddy water line above this car.

Note the muddy water line above this car.