Homeowners in hazardous flood-zone areas are taking precautionary measures to protect themselves and their properties, and elevation is the obvious solution.
This process is commonly called house lifting or house raising. If you’re thinking of doing it, here’s a compiled information of everything you need to know about house lifting.
Why Lift a House?
To Avoid Property Damage During Flood
This year, Hurricane Harvey alone has damaged an estimated 100,000 homes.
Homeowners are faced with options of either selling their property and moving out of the flood-zones or biting the bullet and lift their homes.
Plus, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has stated that unless homeowners lift their houses, they would not be paid with their flood insurance claims.
In addition, according to the executive VP of Denis A. Miller Insurance Agency, Garrett Guttenberg, if homeowners would not elevate their houses, their flood insurance rates would skyrocket.
While house lifting will cost you a lot of money, not lifting your house will cost you more.
And the hassle of selling and moving out is much heavier compared to the hassle you would have to go through to lift your house.
To Add Space and Home Value
While most homeowners who are thinking of lifting their house are doing it to avoid flood damages, some have other reasons.
House lifting is also a method used when adding a headspace to a cramped basement or adding a whole new basement.
Adding a headspace to a cramped basement will make the basement livable and more functional, not to mention that it can clear up the basement and makes yourhome environment healthier as molds and mildews are most likely to grow in cramped basements.
Creating a whole new basement not only gives homeowners added space, but it also increases their homes’ value.
What is the Cost of House Lifting?
The cost of house lifting is estimated to run between $80,000 to $150,000. It can go higher or lower depending on a number of factors like the size of your home.
And, if your house is already damaged by the flood, the extent of those damages will also be factored.
Your foundation’s stability and the required permits in your areas will also affect the cost.
To have a clearer picture of the factors that will affect your total cost, here is the list of all the necessary considerations:
The size of your home
If you have a larger home, it weighs more. Therefore, the process of lifting it becomes longer and more complicated.
House lifting companies will charge you depending on your square footage.
This is because the heavier home you have, the more equipment and manpower will be needed to ensure that it is lifted safely.
The design of your home
If you have a house with an uncommon floor design, like a series of hexagonal spaces or any design that is different from the standard, it will affect the way the contractors will lift your house.
A garage might actually be needed to be stored in a different area and added back when the foundation is done.
The number of floors
If you have a two-story home, you can expect that the square footage will be twice multiplied.
An additional floor means an additional weight, which means that it will require heavier types of machinery.
The state of your home
If your home was damaged by flood, you will have to get the damages repaired before your home can be lifted.
This will mean that you would either have to hire another contractor for the repairs as most house lifting companies do not include house repairs in their repertoire.
The stability of your foundation
If the foundation of your home is stable, meaning that it is sturdy and on secure grounds, then it can lower your total cost.
However, it can also add significant charges if it is not. To have an accurate assessment of your foundation, you will need to hire an InterNACHI inspector, which,again, is an additional cost.
The time frame you want it done
If you want a speedier process, then you need to expect an additional charge. Time is valuable and expensive.
When you want it to be done fast, you are asking contractors to sacrifice their scheduled plans and hire additional manpower, so be ready to pay for that.
The permits you need to obtain
Permit costs will vary depending on your location. House lifting permits can cost between $2,500 up to $5,000.
The high cost is the reason why you need to make sure you hire the best house lifting contractors, to make sure that the job is done right.
A good house lifting contractor can also walk you throughout the paperwork process.
The damage it will do to your landscape
When your house is lifted, contractors might have to dig trenches around your house, and even if they do not have to, they will still leave significant marks on your landscape.
This means you need to protect the trees, flowers, and bushes that you have in your landscape.
The process of removing them, having them stored somewhere else, and replanting them can add to your total cost, and you have to accept that your grass will most likely need replacement.
The hidden costs you are going to meet
These hidden costs will not come from the contractors but rather from the additional service fees you will have to pay.
Like disconnecting and reconnecting your power supply, plumbing, phone services, gas, and so on.
You will also be needing a structural engineer to sign your house lifting plan before you can obtain your permit.
In some instances, like when you choose to have your home elevated in an open area, contractors would have to transfer your home into a storage area, and if this happens, the hauling of your house from your place to the storage area will also be a part of the total cost of the whole process.
You will have to relocate when your house is being lifted, especially if it is big for it cannot be done in a day.
This will mean that you will have to pay rent for a temporary home. You will also have to pay an expensive insurance fee for a Vacant Under Renovation Policy.
Plus, you need to pay for an additional policy called Builder’s Risk Insurance if you leave your belongings in place.
Moreover, be prepared for the possibility of theft or break-ins. To avoid these incidents, it’s a good idea to invest in a storage and chose for a Renters Insurance.
Government Financial Assistance
The cost to lift your house, understandably, can be overwhelming, especially to homeowners in the low-income margins.
Thankfully, there are available grants that may help you fund your house lifting process.
You can research for grants available in your area and apply for it. Then, if you are deemed eligible, you will receive financial assistance.
How Is House Lifting Done?
House lifting is done by separating the house from its foundation and elevating it using hydraulic jacks.
It has a similar to house-moving but the difference is that the house is not transferred to another location.
It is possible to lift the house quickly and rapidly, but to avoid damages such as your walls cracking, the lifting is done slowly although it can be finished in one day.
When everything is set, your house will be lifted to the desired height that you prefer.
The jacks are then raised simultaneously and a cribbing of either wood or steel beams is added for support each time the jacks are raised.
The foundation is, then, extended. Afterward, the house is brought back down by lowering the jacks.
How High Should You Go?
You can choose your Flood Protection Elevation (FPE) by referring to the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) issued by FEMA.
If your house has been damaged by flood, then you will be required by your community’s floodplain management ordinance to elevate the lowest floor of your house so it is on or above the baseline.
If it has no damages, you can choose any height you prefer. However, you need to keep in mind that elevating your house below the BFE will offer you less protection.
The common preference is to elevate the house to a height of 3-4 feet so it will have minimal effect on the appearance of the house and will also require minimal landscaping.
If you prefer to raise the height higher than 4 feet, experts advise adding a full story to the house.
However, in adding a whole new story, you have to be aware that additional changes will need to be added to your foundation to ensure that the foundation can hold the additional weight. Which can cost you both your time and money.
Do-it-Yourself House Lifting: Is it Possible?
If you deem yourself skilled enough to take on the job, it is possible to do the project of house lifting by yourself.
However, you need to consider that the equipment used in lifting the house is expensive.
You will have to rent or buy your own hydraulic jacks for a unified lifting system, dollies, beams, excavators, and so on.
Renting might actually cost you more as you will be charged per day and you run the risk of either having a faulty equipment or breaking it.
You either face the risk of frustration with equipment that does not work or having to pay for them if you break them.
Moreover, buying will not only mean paying for expensive equipment that you may not have a use afterward, but it will also mean that you will be needing a storage area for all the equipment after you use them.
If you are thinking that doing it yourself will cost you less money, it won’t.
There is a small chance that it might if you are skilled and experienced, but if you are not, you run a higher risk of hurting yourself and possibly doing a greater damage to your home if it collapses.
Plus, when you do damage your home, you have no liability insurance claims like the contractors do. So, it is better to find professionals to take on this project for you.
How to Choose a House Lifting Company?
Look for the company with the best reputation. You are going to be spending a huge amount of money so you need to make sure that their service is worth it.
Make sure that the company you choose has a liability insurance that is higher than the value of your home.
Check their experience.
Ask for references and make sure you talk to other homeowners that they have worked with whom they haven’t referred.
Important questions to ask are how long it took for the company to finish the project, how was their customer service, and all the other questions you deem necessary.
Check the equipment they use.
Ask if the equipment that a company has are in good condition and make sure that you get to have a look at them.
If they look like they are about to fall apart, then you might want to consider looking for another company.
Ask for a quote and the possible additional charges.
Let them give you a breakdown of all the services that you will have to pay. To be able to judge the bids accurately, make sure that they all outline the same services.
Do not settle.
Remember that this is your home, and you are going to be spending a hefty sum for this project.
Make sure that you have checked all the contractors available in your area before you decide on choosing one.
House Lifting Methods
The lifting methods would depend largely on the foundation of your house.
Elevating Houses: Extended Foundation Walls
This can be done to houses that have masonry veneer, masonry, and frame with basement/crawl space foundations.
Holes are punctured at intervals in the foundation for a series of steel I-beams to be installed at specific and critical points under the floor framing, perpendicular to the floor joists.
Another set of beams are, then, inserted perpendicular to the first set which will support the weight of the house as it is raised.
Then, the jacks are placed below the beams.
For some houses the foundation walls are already extended above the ground. Such cases provide contractors an easy access for floor framing.
However, if the foundation is not high enough, contractors would have to resort to digging trenches around the foundations to be able to insert the I-beams and the jacks.
After the beams and jacks are set in place, the process of elevating the house begins. The jacks are raised slowly.
A cribbing is added for additional support each time the jacks are raised. The cribbing can either be wood or concrete blocks.
After the jacks are extended to preferred height, they get supported by more cribbings and the foundation walls are extended with poured concrete or concrete blocks.
When the foundation is done, the house is lowered back and the beams are removed. The holes where the beams were inserted are then filled.
Contractions also leave flood water openings through the wall foundation.
Elevating Houses: Slab-On-Grade Foundations
This can be done to houses that have masonry veneer, masonry, and frame with slab-on-grade foundations.
Here, hydraulic jacks and steel I-beams are still used to lift these types of houses in a very similar process. However, this kind of foundations is more difficult to lift.
The slab foundation is either lifted with the slab intact, which requires great skill and extreme care, or is lifted without the slab.
A new floor is created to replace it, which might create substantial damages to the house.
When lifting with the slab intact, contractors have to dig trenches around the house and then create tunnels to insert the beams.
The house is then lifted in the same process as the ones with a basement or crawl space foundation.
After that, a new foundation is created beneath the house. This could be made into a basement connected to the upper floor with a stairwell.
When the house is lifted without the slab, the contractors would have to puncture a hole in the walls of the house, insert the beams, and then do the same process of lifting the house.
A new floor is then constructed using either wood or slab.
The space below is totally sealed off. This process is seldom done because it can create potential damages to the house.
Elevating Houses: Open Foundation
This can be done to both foundations and houses that are already constructed with an open foundation.
The lifting process is still the same, but the foundations used here are either piers, posts or columns, or pilings.
This type of elevation is done mostly in coastal areas.
House Lifting Equipments
Lifting a house requires heavy duty equipment to be used to make sure your house is protected from damages.
House lifting contractors commonly use these following equipment to lift a house.
- Unified Hydraulic Lifting Systems
- Hydraulic Jacks
- Steel beams
- Cribbing (wood or concrete blocks)
- Helical piers, posts, columns
When checking the contractor’s equipment, it is important to see if they are using the latest Hydraulic Jacks on the market. It is a plus if their company has a Unified Hydraulic Lifting System.
Hydraulic Jacks for House Lifting
Hydraulic Jacks are used in house lifting mainly because compared to mechanical jacks. They can lift heavier loads and can be raised simultaneously.
Hydraulic Jacks used for lifting houses come in a number of sizes.
How to Lift a House with Hydraulic Jacks
To lift a house, contractors first have to insert steel beams on the floor under the foundation of the house or above it.
After the beams are secured in place, Hydraulic Jacks are then placed below them.
Hydraulic Jacks are placed on points depending on the size and design of the house to evenly distribute the house’s weight.
They are then kept even using a unified jacking system that simultaneously raise them up.
Then, a cribbing is added every time the jacks are raised to provide additional support for the house.
After, the foundation is extended or a new one is created under the house. After the foundation is complete, the jacks are dropped to bring down the house.
The Physics Behind Hydraulic Jacks
The physics behind Hydraulic Jacks is pretty simple. The jacks work according to Pascal’s Principle.
Hydraulic Jacks have two cylinders inside that act as the piston that pushes the ram up or down.
This enables them to lift extremely heavy loads. This is the reason why they are the popular choice that professional contractors opt for.
Although house lifting requires a huge amount of time and money, it is a necessary undertaking for homeowners in hazardous flood-zone areas.
Since floods are now recurring disasters that homeowners will have to face, they will have no choice but to prepare for them, and house lifting is the most secure way to do so.
Homeowners will have to consider the fact that FEMA has already stated that they will not cover flood insurance if a house has not been elevated above the BFE.
Hopefully, after reading this, everything you need to know about house lifting has been addressed.
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