Raise High the Bungalow
An architect adds a new first floor under his house to gain space and better views of Puget Sound.
Synopsis: An architect explains how lifting his old bungalow 8 ft. above grade added valuable new living space on the ground floor for a family room, office, laundry room, and storage while providing better views of nearby Puget Sound. The article includes information on building an innovative lightweight concrete countertop with Overlay, a cement product used to re-cover floors.
Houses are built to stay in one place. This story is about a house that couldn’t stay still. Built on one site, the house was uprooted and rolled to a barge that floated it to its new location; we bought the house and made it move again, this time straight up in the air. I’m pretty sure its roaming days are now over.
My wife and I were house-hunting on Bainbridge Island, which lies across Puget Sound from Seattle, when we discovered the house. It was a shabby rental that needed extensive work, but we fell in love with the site, a former berry field that gently sloped down to the tidal flats of Eagle Harbor. We bought the house and renovated it into a single-family home.
After a few years, though, we needed more space. Physical constraints such as utilities and the driveway limited our options for lateral expansion. We thought about demolishing the old house and starting anew, but intimate interior spaces and the original expansive windows made it worth keeping. Ultimately, we hit upon the idea to raise the house, creating something like the Italian piano nobile, in which main living spaces are one story above ground level. This way, we could add family spaces below and get better views of the shoreline from the elevated portions.
Preparing the house for liftoff
Lifting the house was relatively simple and was accomplished in a couple of days by Monroe House moving Company, a local business. Our contractor, Greg Barron of Seahome Services, didn’t have to reinforce the structure prior to the lift, but he did tear away anything not coming along for the ride, such as the shed addition at the rear of the house.
Next, Monroe’s crew cut away the rim joists and a portion of the block stem wall on the short sides of the house to create a space for two wide-flange steel beams that were used to raise the house. The old-growth fir 2×6 floor framing was strong enough to support the entire house as it balanced on the beams.
As hydraulic jacks lifted the house, the crew added 6×8 cribbing beneath, until the house was at the proper height of 8 ft. above grade. I did check with my insurance agent prior to the project and, remarkably, was assured that the house was still covered by the homeowner’s policy during construction. We didn’t have to test the coverage: There was no broken glass, cracked walls or damage of any kind in the structure as a result of the lift.
New foundation addresses seismic and drainage concerns
Once the house was up in the air, Barron’s crew stripped off the block foundation’s top course for better access, grouted the cells around the existing rebar and laid a new, steel-reinforced bond beam course to help distribute the loads.
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