Elevating Houses

The house took on just over a foot of water, so this meant that the insurer would replace the first 4 feet of wall finishes and insulation, and all the wiring. When the water rises over outlet height, water wicks up the paper insulation and can damage wiring all the way to the second floor.

Most of the new helical piles were placed on the inside of the footing to counterbalance the existing piles. After sinking each pile, the drive head gets cut off with a portable band saw and the pile stem is bolted to a bracket.

The bracket supports the footing edge.

On mid-span footings running through the house, we cut out the old footing and sunk the piles dead center. These piles got a steel bearing plate, around which we formed and poured a new concrete pile cap.

DeNicholas and his crew can monitor the pressure on each jack as the house goes up and can back off as soon as there's a snag that is exerting an off-kilter force on the structure.This way there's no twisting or racking as the house is raised.

None of the brick and stucco exterior cracked from the lift except a small portion of the chimney base that we were unable to support. Everywhere else, my crews had bolted steel angle-iron to the sills when the brick was installed. As long as the building frame was well supported by the mover's steelwork, there was no risk to the cladding.

You want the house to rise up without a hitch, literally. And even though we got everything right on the lift, we still had to cut the plate out around the power main when we set the house back down.

Slab houses are usually cut away from the slab and the floorless frame is lifted by punching holes through the first-floor walls for the lifter's steelwork. The steel is supported on headers, either existing ones at openings or new ones you frame in. As more and more lifters are gaining experience, this option is gaining a lot of traction, even with non-slab houses. It's usually much easier to pop a hole through a framed wall than through a foundation wall. In our case, however, where I wanted to keep the brick, going underneath worked better. But cutting the concrete required a huge investment of time. We used a "cut and break" tool, which is a lot safer and doesn't throw as much water as a concrete chain saw, but it is slow going.

At the garage, where there's no sill, cradles had to be extended to the garage door header, and the front porch had to be supported on cross beams built out on cantilevered sections of steel.

The hydraulic jacks have a throw of about 16 inches. We needed to go up to 10 feet 7 inches. To do this the lifter has to "jump the jacks." It's kind of the way crane operators will leapfrog their way up a skyscraper, lifting one crane over itself, and when that one's set, it pulls the lower one over itself. In this case, some extended jacks support the house, while others are backed off and their cradles stacked higher, so this set of jacks can be extended, and so forth.

We used a pump truck with a 100-foot boom to get the concrete to the back of the house, and the pressure on this hose was tremendous. It was harrowing for the crew to try to bend that hose into the form with less than a foot of access between the house and the top of the forms. If I had to do it all over again, I would have paid for another jump on the jacks to give ourselves more room.

Final steps. There is still an enormous amount of site work to complete, and the utilities must be connected. We now have retaining walls all along the site perimeter and have begun the task of hauling recycled concrete fill, over which I'll lay top soil.

A conveyor truck is helping to speed the work of getting sub-slab fill beneath the house, and to spread it around the site.

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