Houston House Raising: How High Is High Enough?

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Three 500-year floods in three years are why house raising is on the minds of many Houstonians. The fact is if you flooded once you’re likely to flood again. Your choices? Hope for the best, sell and move, or have your home lifted above potential flood levels. When, as is the case in this story, a homeowner has a life-long attachment to their home, there is really only one choice.

House Raising Explained

A typical home weighs several hundred tons—this one weighed in at 500 tons and it needed to go five feet up to avoid flooding again. That included two additions, a greenhouse, and decorative pillars. It was a big, complicated project.

“This home weighed what two to three typical homes weighed,” says Kenny Dutton from Du-West Foundation Repair. “That weight was ideal for having Davie Shoring do it because they have one of the largest lifting units in the country.”

House raising involves the synchronization of a number of hydraulic lifts, picking up a structure all at once. It’s tricky work, to say the least.

“Each one of my lift supervisors has jacked up about five hundred houses, and all of that comes into play in a house this size,” says Warren Davies of Davie Shoring.

House Lifting Goes Inch By Inch

“We lift them about six or eight inches at a time,” Warren adds. “The first lift can take three or four times as long, and it’s the most critical.”

Before that happens, plumbing is disconnected and any previous bell-bottoms are severed. Lifting can’t begin until it’s certain the foundation is free and each hydraulic jack calibrated to the right pressure.

This house lifting demanded one hundred and fifty pilings, lifted by 74 jacks, driven by a 37 point UNified Jacking System. Each jack was first set to the exact pressure needed for a specific part of the house.

How High Is High Enough?

Following Hurricane Harvey’s flooring, Harris County overhauled its flood rules, expanding them from 100-year floodplains—which have a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year—to 500-year floodplains. The new rules compel people building houses in some areas to elevate them up to eight feet higher than before.

But, what about house lifting for existing structures? The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety recommends elevating houses three or more feet above the 100-year floodplain. The homeowner in this story went even higher.

High And Dry

Once the work was complete, this home stood five feet taller, well above Harvey flood levels. Not only is the house higher, but its foundation is also more secure than ever before.

“We’ve got pilings under this home 20 to 40 feet deep to support it, the foundation is staying where its put and it’s elevated to where it’s not going to flood anymore,” says Kenny Dutton from Du-West. “This home is actually better than the day it was built.”