A Tale of Two Sites

© Dunn's Aerial Photography

Waste is a by-product of life and because man is a living organism, we generate waste. With the world population estimated at 6.7 billion, waste and its effects on the environment is a big concern. Recycling – the process of making new products from used materials, helps limit the accumulation of waste in our landfills. Popular recyclables include metal, paper, plastic and glass but computers, batteries, and other products are also recycled.  Houses are sometimes said to be “recycled” when they are uprooted and moved in order to save them from demolition.

Houses have been moved for centuries.  John Stow documented a house move in his “Survey of London” published in 1598. The move was the result of a “demand of the land for higher use.”  This is known as “eminent domain” - the government’s power to seize a person’s real and private property in exchange for (monetary) compensation.  The property is then usually devoted to public use in the form of a park, road, school, etc.

A house may be “recycled” for other reasons as well.  If the house has sentimental value, it can be moved to avoid demolition. A house may also be designated as “historic” because a meaningful event took place there or a significant person occupied the house. Because of the intent to preserve these structures, this house might be moved if its present location became unsuitable. Sometimes other factors, such as cost savings, contribute to the decision to move a house. This is a win-win-win situation.  First, the initial property owner who wants rid of a house does not have to pay for demolition. Second, the new owner gets a home for approximately 50% of its value. And third, a perfectly good home does not end up in the landfill.

Obtaining the necessary permits to move a house is relatively easy.  The house mover pulls a “moving permit” that allows him to trim trees along the streets as well as occupy the street with the house in tow. But moving the house is much more complex. First, the house is stabilized while the supporting (dirt) foundation is removed. Once there is sufficient space under the house, steel beams are inserted to create a grid.  This grid is lifted using a unified jacking system until it meets the bottom of the house.  Shims are used to adjust for any voids between the house foundation and the steel grid.  The jacks then raise the entire structure to a height that allows the placement of “house moving dollies”. These dollies are specifically fabricated for house moving and each dolly can support a load typically handled by an entire 18 wheeler! Once the house is loaded, a motorized vehicle, such as a loader-will pull the house to its new location. This is much more efficient than the mules and oxen that were used to move structures (placed on logs) in the past. Once the house arrives at the new site, it is shored up on wood “cribs” until a new foundation is built. Since there is no way to adequately pack dirt under the house, a foundation consisting of a stem wall and piers is typically built. Then the house is lowered onto this foundation and secured with fasteners.  The crawl space under the foundation allows for electrical, plumbing, gas, and mechanical connections. If the house was too large to be moved in one piece, the house could be cut into smaller sections and reattached at the new site. 

I have worked on a number of house-moving projects with Pat Burdette of Modern Movers. One of the more ambitious moves took place in 2001 when he moved a historical structure designed by Addison Mizner in Palm Beach. This house was cut into four pieces, loaded onto a barge, and then moved to a temporary holding area until turtle nesting season had passed.  The house was then reloaded onto barges that came ashore in West Palm Beach where the house was offloaded and re-erected on the new site. Good Morning America captured this monumental “houseboat” as it traveled the Atlantic.

Click here to read the New York Times article.

Photo courtesy of Dunn's Aerial Photography

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t. @
02:31PM on February 18, 2010
I love it. It does look a bit silly.
Curtis Yoder @
01:33AM on January 07, 2009
Great article Kia! In my experience with house moving, the smaller the house, the more cost effective the move. While living in Tulsa, Oklahoma several years ago, the local airport began expanding. There were several neighborhoods that needed to be demolished. Many of the houses were 850 to 1250sf in size and could be purchased for very little or could be 'taken' depending on the shape of the stucture. Most of these houses were stick framed with wood floor joists on simple rectangle foundations making it very feasable and cost efficient to move. I know that many of them ended up on a new lot of land within 75 miles of the airport at a cost of under 60K each. This was about 15 to 18 years ago but was still a good deal for a first time homeowner. Good stuff, love the blog, nice hardhat!
Jim Quinn @
03:17AM on November 27, 2008
As a person who has been involved in structural moves I have always felt that the money spent always exceeded the cost of replacement. i also take issue at the structural integrity of the projects when completed especially slab on grad moves. It all sounds great in the beginning but by the time you have finished with upgrading to code etc. I think that a sane person would say that all good thing must come to an end or else we would still be living in caves.
Natasha Duwin @
08:40PM on November 26, 2008
What an amazing blog! I look forward to checking in often! :-)
frank ricchi @
08:35PM on November 26, 2008
"The quick redfish jumped over the floating brown mansion, and the mansion ran ashore." Sun Tsu
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