studio zerbey / seattle house lift
We first met Paige and Evan last fall when we did a consultation for their small 1918 house in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. (They found us through our blog – yay!) They hadn’t lived in the house long, but knew they wanted to make some changes that would create more usable spaces and take advantage of an unfinished basement. The footprint of the house was approximately 783 SF, with a single bedroom and bathroom. A full basement below meant a lot of potential, but sadly the ceiling height was only 6′ or so.
Above, the official “before” photo of the front of the house.
We discussed a few different options and ultimately decided that lifting the house made the most sense. So many houses in Seattle (whose housing stock is largely from the early 20th century) have this same short-basement dilemma, including ours. (We considered lifting but because we only have a half basement decided it wasn’t worth the effort.) Paige and Evan also planned on doing much of the construction themselves, so that’s something we took into consideration during the design process.
Here are a few exterior photos from when we did the as-built measurements last January. (It has been HOT here the last week and looking at these photos made me a little jealous. I must be a true Seattleite now.)
Aside from lifting the house about 30″, the design also included filling in the recessed portions at the front and back of the house (which provided a spot for the new interior stair) and adding a new covered front porch.
Here are some side-by-side floor plans to give you an idea of what will be involved. (Click to enlarge.)
The goal was to keep all the “public” spaces on the main floor and use the basement for bedrooms, bathrooms and a laundry space. To simplify the existing framing, we kept the location of the interior load-bearing wall and added several larger windows to bring more natural light into the rooms. Under the future front porch will be a large storage area accessed from the outside. (There is a small shed in the backyard, but no real garage.)
The existing bedroom on the main floor will become a more casual living space (with a larger opening and sliding door) while the front of the house will serve as dining area (something that didn’t really exist before). The kitchen will be reconfigured a bit to create a more functional space with better flow, as it will continue to be the “hallway” of the house. A small office nook will be added adjacent to the new stair. The small recessed porch will be enclosed to create a mudroom entry and a new covered front porch will be added to the front of the house.
Now, fast-forward to late spring when the building permit was issued and construction started! One of the first tasks was to demo the existing masonry chimney and patch the roof.
As you can tell, it was a fun and clean task for Evan.
To make way for the machinery needed to lift the house, they also had some clearing that needed to happen first.
The general contractor is actually Paige’s dad, Michael, and she left her old job to be his right-hand man (err, woman) during construction. I love remodels, but even more so when they have an interesting side story like this one!
Before the house could be lifted, they had to move everything out of the basement, demolish the interior framing and remove the existing siding and sheathing at the basement level.
Paige and Evan worked with Kunkel Moving & Raising, a local company that has been lifting, leveling and moving houses in the Seattle area for over 100 years! Without getting into too much technical jargon, the main gist of raising a house is to first build heavy timber structures (called cribbing) that will support the steel beams that the house will temporarily rest on while new walls are constructed.
Next, a boom crane delivered the steel beams through openings cut in the temporary plywood sheathing. Those are the couple’s two dogs – Uki and Odo peering out from the temporary doggie gate above. (In most situations, it’s possible to live in the house after it’s raised which is what Paige and Evan are doing.)
Crazy side story: after visiting the house for the first time we realized that we actually used to live across the street, in a small house that we rented for a year before buying chezerbey in 2006! Even crazier, although Paige and Evan didn’t live there at the time, their two dogs did. The previous owner remarried someone with severe dog allergies and so the new homeowners adopted the dogs. Bailey was a puppy when we lived across the street, so very likely that they had met (or at least sniffed each other out) on a few occasions!
With the cribbing and support beams in place it was time to LIFT! (Anything else tying the house to the basement – like plumbing and electrical, were also temporarily unattached.) A series of hydraulic jacks (four in this case) were used to do the actual lifting.
The house was lifted about 12″ higher than its final location, but this allows for the new foundation and framing to be added more easily. Once that’s in place, the house will be lowered back down again.
(After the house lift was done, a temporary stair extension was added to the existing front steps.)
Oh hey there, spacious basement!
Todd Schlemmer (@theschlem on Twitter), a friend of Paige and Evan’s captured the entire 2 1/2 hour process. Using a Swann freestyle HD sports camera and OpenShot for Gnu/Linux, a picture was taken every 5 seconds and then assembled into this 3 minute video. Check it out!
On the left, a nerve-racking way to access the back door. On the right, the crew’s construction dog keeping an eye on things. (I don’t know what it is about contractors and small dogs but I love it.)
After the house was up in the air, work got underway on demolishing the existing foundation.
It can be possible to work with a house’s existing foundation (just building a taller stud wall on top) but for this project the owners wanted to tear out and pour a proper foundation. The new footings were also designed to accommodate a second story if they decide to expand again in the future. We had originally planned to pour on top of the existing concrete slab, but it wasn’t very thick and mostly crumbled under the weight of the excavator.
There’s Michael rocking the excavator above and the happy (although probably pretty tired) homeowners below.
Formwork for the new concrete footings went in last week and next up is pouring the new foundation!
During our own remodel, we used to always hope that we’d find some gold bars or just something interesting or unique. Paige and Evan didn’t stumble across any fortunes, but they did find these cool glass bottles, one of which was from the Keystone Liquor Company, a Seattle-based outfit that was in business from 1902-1914!
We’re so excited to continue watching the progress on this remodel and see the interior spaces start to take shape (and sharing updates here). The usable space will more than double in size (going from a 1 bedroom/1 bath to a 3 bedroom/3 bath!), all while working within the footprint of the existing house (minus the new open-air front porch). As architects, it’s so rewarding to help breathe new life into an old house and even more so when the family behind it are energetic, smart and design-minded.
Kyle and I stopped by the house a few weeks ago to check out the progress and I may have had a tiny bit of remodel envy. Although we still have plenty of work to do here at chezerbey, I clearly remember the excitement (and sometimes fear!) that came with those big, game-changer projects. Paige and Evan – it’s going to be so great – hang in there!
Want to see more? Follow Paige’s Instagram account!