Even though I move buildings for a living, not every old house is worth saving. Once you factor in the expense of preparing a building for lifting or moving, and the cost of the actual lift itself, it may well make more sense to demolish and start new. But, fortunately for my business, there are also enough good reasons to salvage an older house. For example, in order to add a second story to an existing building, the builder must prove that the foundation can handle the added structural load. If the foundation fails on analysis, replacement is a common option, facilitated by raising the house. Then, there are older houses of good quality that are sold cheaply to be relocated to a new site. With some cosmetic repair and re-connection to utilities, these houses get a new lease on life. And, occasionally, a house is defined as a valuable antique and worthy of preservation, even if it means a delicate and expensive relocation. That was the case with a recent job we undertook moving the ancestral home of the Nickerson family, a classic Cape Cod house, across town and onto a new foundation. The house was not large, measuring 25 by 31 feet, with a small kitchen ell that could be cut away and moved separately. The main structure, however, had to remain intact. But it's one thing to move a house built in 1972, where standardized construction makes the process predictable. This exemplary post-and-beam house was built in 1772, and there was nothing at all predictable about moving it. Nonetheless, it provides a good extreme case study.

One of the first steps in evaluating a building for lifting is to check the condition of the building's underpinnings — the perimeter sill and floor joists. In this case, that meant hand-digging a few exploratory holes to inspect the framing over the marginal crawlspace foundation. The foundation was a double-wide course of locally made brick,...

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