As the name suggests, this is the area where I attempt to answer many of the most common questions I receive about a house elevation project for flood mitigation.
How much does it cost to lift a house?
One of the first questions everyone wants to know is, “How much does it cost?” The answer is, it depends. For starters, if you live in a metropolitan area, you’re going to pay more. That’s not fair or unfair – it just is. There are two big expenses: 1.) The actual lift and 2.) The construction cost to rebuild. Prices vary wildly depending on where you live, the size and condition of your house, and the scope of your project (decide to add a new room, have to move your utilities out of a basement, build a deck or just steps, etc.).
PRIOR TO LIFT: You will need to get an elevation certificate by a licensed surveyor. You’ll need an architect to draw up the plans. You’ll need permits and variances from your local building department. Keep that wallet open, here comes the big-ticket items:
THE LIFT: The website below gives some figures for New Jersey. There is a big range in terms of the cost e.g., $8,000 – $85,000
THE REBUILD: This is the most expensive part of the whole project. After the house is lifted, you will need a construction company to come in to build up the foundation walls, add access stairs, and reconnect plumbing lines, sewer lines, gas lines and electrical panels.
Lastly, the property will need new landscaping as any area around the house will be destroyed. It’s a sizable and expensive project to be sure. It’s important to keep in mind why you are lifting – to mitigate against flooding
What is involved in a lift?
At first it may look like they’re destroying a perfectly good house. Then you remember, this house floods. Prior to the lift process, your property will need to be prepared e.g., foundation plants will need to be moved or tossed out and all stairs attached to the house will need to be removed. Adequate space must be available to grant easy access to the foundation.
Typically, the lifting process will begin with the lift company cutting rectangular shaped holes in the foundation walls. Unless you have a slab on grade house, then the holes are cut right into the side of the house. Ouch! The space created makes room for numerous steel beams to be inserted to support the house.
Once the steel beams are all in place, going front to back as well as side to side, hydraulic jacks are placed under them. Simultaneously the steel beams are ever-so-slowly lifted, the height of one wooden beam at a time. A piece of wood is slid into place, then the lift continues, then another part of the cribbing is added, and the lift continues, and so on. It takes a few hours to fully lift a house, AFTER all the steel beams have been put into place.
If your house sits on a narrow lot, close to your neighbors, it will take more time to complete the task than a house that sits alone in a wide-open field. For our house it took several days to safely install all of the steel beams. However, if they had had more room to maneuver, they could have finished this portion in about a day.
(see my post: IT”S A BIRD, IT”S A PLANE, …. IT’S MY HOUSE) or check out some of the websites on my HELPFUL LINKS section for even more details.
Can you live in the house during an elevation project?
No. Sewer lines must be cut, gas lines are locked, and most water lines are capped.
How long will you need to be out of your house/ How long does it take?
Again, this project is not a one size fits all deal. Our mitigation project requires us to be out for at least four months, according to our builder. (Turned out to be 6 months). If your house was recently damaged by a flood, you may require a lot more interior reconstruction which will add more time to the job.
Who did your lift?
Payne Building and Moving Construction Company, an experienced company with a great track record.
TIP: As flood insurance rates are rapidly increasing, house lifting is becoming more widespread. Be careful whom you hire. You don’t want to be one of the first houses a company tries to lift, “I think we got it all secure … oops.”
Does flood insurance cover this?
No, not directly. Sometimes elevating your house is not an option, but a requirement, to reduce future flood damage. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers help in this instance via the Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) added to every new and renewed flood insurance policy.
Because a homeowner, in this instance, is required to bring their home into compliance with their community’s floodplain ordinance, the NFIP has made available a limited amount of ICC funding. The maximum you may receive in this situation is $30,000. Like many big programs run by the government, there is a lot of red tape involved. Furthermore, most of the time your community must qualify and then submit a homeowner’s request for mitigation money (elevation in this case) on their behalf. It is out of the direct control of the homeowner.
OTHER OPTIONS: There are few other funding options to pursue. If your house flooded during the “right” storm, Hurricane Sandy or Katrina – good news, you have a good chance of seeing some FEMA grant money to help fund your house elevation. However, you must apply for and qualify to receive any payments. If your flood(s) was during a lesser-known storm the threshold for receiving funding is more strict. Start your research with the FEMA link below as well as taking a look at the links in my HELPFUL LINKS section:
FEMA also has a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which is only available to state and local governments. Individuals cannot apply, but they can ask their governments to apply on their behalf. Property buyouts and structure elevations can be covered through this program.
If those options are ruled out, low-interest disaster loans from the SBA are available. A homeowner can borrow up to $200,000 for 30 years at 1.67 percent interest to repair or replace a primary residence to its pre-storm condition.
SOMETIMES THERE IS NO OPTION: For all other homeowners, including us, it’s cash on the barrelhead. No grant money, no FEMA dollars, no flood insurance reimbursement – zip, zilch, zero. They will have to pay for this project entirely by themselves.
Which leads me to the next question:
Why didn’t you just move?
The ‘ol real estate motto: location, location, location. After researching, house hunting, obtaining price comparisons between our freshly renovated house and what we could trade it for, the numbers worked for us to stay. Our elevated house will go up in value and our flood insurance premiums will go down.
So, what does flood insurance cover?
This is a general answer, not specific to a house lift project. The list of items covered (and not covered) by a flood event reads the same for every flood insurance policy. This is one of the things that makes flood insurance unique from any other insurance you might buy. It is crucial to understand that there are two types of flood insurance: building (your house) and content (your stuff). They must be purchased separately. Also, it takes 30 days for a flood insurance policy to take effect. When the weatherman starts talking about a huge storm heading your way, it’s too late to buy a last-minute insurance plan.
For more details check out: www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pdfs/NFIP_Summary_of_Coverage.pdf
What is an Elevation Certificate?
A crucial step in elevating your house against flooding is to obtain an Elevation Certificate. Performed by a licensed surveyor, this certificate verifies the elevation of the lowest floor of your house relative to the base flood elevation of your home. It’s used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to determine flood insurance premiums.
For more information on this exciting topic check out:
Do you have to move everything out of your house during a lift?
Nope. In fact, you can even keep your dishes in the china cabinet and candlesticks on the fireplace mantel. A lift is very slow and gentle.
However, it will be dusty inside once they start cutting open walls. I would recommend that you cover all first floor furniture, roll up any rugs, tape over the floor registers, etc.
How do you recommend finding an architect or builder?
Like most service providers, going by word of mouth is a good place to start. You also want to make sure they have a proper license as well as sufficient experience. If you notice a house in your neighborhood doing some work that you like, ask them which architect/builder they are using. Whenever possible, you want to determine if they are happy with the quality of the work, the timeliness of the drawings / progress and if they bring any creativity to the table. You might be surprised to find out how common it is for architects to suffer from a lack of vision. Most times they’ll play it like they really are capable of generating something you’re going to love. In our experience, most times they’re wrong.
Because prices can vary wildly, make sure to interview several potential prospects. You’ll want to find out what sort of projects they tend to work on (big or small) and how busy they are at the moment. If an architect or builder’s plate is too full already, chances are you’ll end up waiting a long time to get anywhere. Be sure to ask who will actually do the work. Sometimes the most senior team member shows up at your house to win the job only to pass it off to someone with less experience in the office. Someone with less experience can work out well, if the scope of your project is not very complicated.
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS: Have the architect draw very detailed blueprints. Think of these drawings like the directions to a LEGO set with lots of pieces. Do you want your builder to know what type of material you want to have on your floors (wood, tile, carpet) or do you want to be surprised when the builder tells you that what you want is not what he put in the budget? Anything left off the drawings will, more times than not, end up costing you more money. Discuss the level of detail you desire. Sometimes these drawings will cost you more money up front, but save you a bundle in the long run.
CONTRACTS: Be sure to read the fine print. Try to include a clause that dictates deadlines so you are not left in limbo with an architect or builder who gets too busy or turns out to be a slacker. The sooner you can put this flood mitigation project in your rearview mirror, the better.