Blog Cabin 2011: House Lifting

A team of construction professionals lifts Blog Cabin 2011 seven feet above the flood plain in preparation for construction of a new foundation.

By: Lori Dolnick
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Sinking Into the Tidewater Soil

After more than 100 years, tidewater soil has swallowed and rotted the home’s brick piers. The first step in the renovation process is to replace the foundation and raise the home to a safe level above the flood plain. Raising the 50-ton landmark home and lowering it back down to five feet above its current location will require the skills of Jim Matyiko and his team at Expert House Movers of VA.

Positioning Support Beams

Step one in the lifting process is to excavate soil around and slide steel beams underneath the home. The 54-pound, 10-inch beams support and level the home plus provide a base under which Matyiko and his team build jack pads. According to Matyiko, experience and a bit of science are required to determine the critical points at which jack pads are positioned to keep the structure stable during the lifting process.

Lifting Blog Cabin – Slowly

Once eight solid steel beams are positioned under the home, the team places blocks in the soil to form a base for the jacks and cribs. Each hydraulic jack sits on a crib made of 6-inch by 4-foot wood rails. Six cribs and six jacks are strategically placed to lift the home up off its rotted brick piers. The powerful jacks lift the home at a speed of about 1 inch per minute. As the home is lifted, wood planks are inserted in cribs to increase their height, elevate the jacks and support the house.

Pressurizing the Jack Pads

Scott Matyiko operates the control panel that hydraulically elevates the home. Each dial represents a jack pad that is pressurized to lift the home at 4,000 pounds per square inch. Once each jack pad is locked and loaded, the lever is pulled to lift the house. The home is raised slowly to ensure stability and prevent damage.

Before the advent of hydraulic technology, homes were jacked up by crews of 100-plus people, who cranked jacks in unison.

Keeping the Home Level

As the home is lifted – slowly and at 12-inch intervals – workers remove the brick piers underneath and increase the height of the crib supports. Eventually, the home’s 50-ton weight is supported entirely by the cribs and steel beams. Due to uneven distribution of a home’s weight (kitchens and baths, often located in the rear of a home, add additional weight that can sink jack pads), the team routinely checks cribs with levels to ensure the home’s structural integrity.

Planks and Shims

Jim Matyiko carefully positions a wooden plank into one of the cribs. Seventy to 100 planks are used per crib, with 600 to 700 planks needed to lift the entire structure. After a new row of planks is added around the home, a level is placed on top of each crib. Smaller pieces of wood or shims may be inserted to keep the house level as it rises. The jacks lift steel beams rather than the wood floor itself, which would puncture under hundreds of pounds of pressure.

Balance Is Key

Although damage is minimized by slowing the pace and taking special care during all stages of the house lifting process, some settling cracks may occur, especially when floors, windows and walls – sagging after a century or never truly level – are nudged into a balanced position. It’s crucial that the home be level when it’s lowered onto its new, perfectly balanced foundation.

Saving for the Future

Why move or lift a home rather than building from scratch? Blog Cabin 2011 has what builders call “good bones”. Thanks to the home’s sturdy timber framing (nearly impossible to replicate), Blog Cabin has survived floods, neglect and violent storms that completely destroyed the property’s peach tree orchard. According to Expert House Movers, moving a home also saves approximately 100 trees (milled for lumber) and about 45 tons of construction debris (hauled offsite to a landfill).

High and Dry

Blog Cabin 2011 stands seven feet above the flood plain and is ready for a new foundation.

Elevating a home above the flood plain not only keeps it dry, it also saves the homeowner thousands of dollars in flood insurance annually. A home inspector may be called to determine if a foundation is sound, especially in older homes where damp conditions, hurricanes and floods can cause potential damage over time. Warning signs, such as doors offset in frames, indicate that a home’s foundation may no longer be stable.

A Family of House Lifters

House lifting and moving is a family business for Expert House Movers, now three generations and more than 60 years strong. Established by Big John Matyiko, the company has been owned and managed by a family member since its inception. Covering the Midwest and the entire Eastern Seaboard, Expert House Movers has lifted everything from residential homes and historic lighthouses to a 9,500-ton airport terminal and a covered bridge.
Photo, from left to right: Jim Matyiko, Herman Sanderson (or Slim), Scott Matyiko, Brandon Matyiko, Sean Porter, Lance Matyiko and John Matyiko Jr.