A Lift to Ballard Housing

I often walk the 2800 block of NW 58th in Ballard. Thyme Patch Park, a P-Patch display garden, sits quietly, almost unnoticed on the south side of the street. I stop in from time to time to see what’s growing.

Thyme Patch Park, 2800 block of NW 58th St
Thyme Patch Park, 2800 block of NW 58th St

Across the street a crew has been putting a house together, making slow progress, since early spring. This week city workers pulled up a severely buckled section of sidewalk and replaced it with smooth blacktop. I’m glad. It was dangerous. It’s a quiet block. Not much going on. That’s good.

September 5th: Jules, left on the ladder; Nathan, right, talking about their project
September 5th: Jules, left on the ladder; Nathan, right, talking about their project

Imagine my surprise on September 5th when I walked east from the P-Patch and saw this. I don’t make my rounds for a few days and an unsuspecting house has been lifted ten feet off its foundation. What? Clearly it’s not being moved anywhere. So what’s going on? I stopped to take a few pictures and find out.

“So what’s going on?” I called out to no one in particular. Nathan Hurst, owner, and Jules Marr, contractor, came over to talk. Nathan explained that he and his wife love the neighborhood but want a bigger house. One option would be to tear down and replace the 1943 house. That would be expensive and require years, perhaps, to get city approval. Another option would be to add an addition to the rear of the house but then they wouldn’t have yard space for their garden.

A third option, and the one they chose, is to raise the house and put more living space under it. Since they will only be doing a remodel and not changing the footprint of the house, the city approval process was relatively simple. And by using the house they already have they will avoid creating more landfill.

The house as it looked before the lifting project (Google Street View - May 2019)
The house as it looked before the lifting project (Google Street View – May 2019)

Nathan went on the explain they would triple the living space from the current 750 square feet to more than 2100. I didn’t understand. Putting in another floor would only double the size of the house. Nathan patiently explained they were going to add two floors under the house, not one. They would soon raise the house another ten feet to give them the space they needed for the middle floor.

Two floors! Twenty feet! I couldn’t believe it. I thought but didn’t say, this is the craziest thing I ever heard. Then I thought, no, this is really cool. There would be another lift in a while and Nathan promised to send me an invitation.

Jules provided more details about the project. First they’d have to put in a new foundation as well as deal with any utility, water, and sewer issues. Then they’d frame walls on top of the foundation and secure the cribbing holding up the house to the new walls before doing the second lift. The foundation and framing would create a lower floor or a half-exposed basement.

When the second lift was complete, they’d frame the first floor (or middle floor) on top of the basement (or lower floor) and lower the house on to the new first floor walls. Pretty straightforward. With the basement and first floor walls in place and sheathed and windows fitted, the house would be closed and the interior could be finished at leisure.

Made sense to me. But still….

For weeks the crew worked undercover on the foundation and then bottom floor frame wall
For weeks the crew worked undercover on the foundation and then bottom floor frame wall

For the next two months several times a week I checked on the progress of Nathans’s house. Quickly Jules had his crew wrap sheet plastic around the open space under the house to keep rain out while they prepared for a foundation pour. Once the foundation was in place they framed the upper half of the basement wall. Because the sheet plastic was in the way, I couldn’t see clearly what was happening under the house as I passed it doing my walks. But the crew was busy.

Then Nathan invited me to the second lift, scheduled for November 14th. I couldn’t get there until about 2, after my class at U-Dub, and by that time most of the lift had been accomplished. The sub-floor had been laid for the first floor and the basement walls had been sheathed in plywood. The company doing the lift, D.B. Davis, was adding more cribbing in preparation for the last lift of the day.

Nathan invited me to come up on first floor to watch and ask questions. I wasn’t sure the house, above my head was really aligned with the walls below. Nathan showed me the plumb lines hung at each corner and on each of the four cribbings. They checked the plumb lines regularly to make sure the house was lifting directly over the new foundation and walls. Nathan said that if something was off a bit they could shift the house above in any direction to line it up.

Dell and Nathan discuss the finishing lift
Dell and Nathan discuss the finishing lift

I watched Dell Davis, president of D.B. Davis, a structural moving and raising company, make sure all four cribbing towers were tight under the two temporary steel beams running the width of the house. Then it was time to start the hydraulic pumps in the D.B. Davis truck out on the street. Dell said the pumps would provide 4000 p.s.i. to the four jacks that would do the final lift.

One of the four jacks in position for the final lift
One of the four jacks in position for the final lift

So then I understood that a lift is really a series of short raises. After each raise the cribbing is built higher so it meets the steel beams above. Then the pumps are moved higher in the cribbing to do the next raise. Of course!

Closeup video of final lift on November 14th.

The pumps started and the house rose slowly. No noise from the jacks, no creaking from the house or cribbing. In 30 seconds the final lift was complete and they added more cribbing, snugged it up under the two beams, and then removed the jacks and hydraulic hose they’d use for their next lift somewhere else. Now the bottom of the house was about 20’ above grade. What a bizarre sight.

Jules’ crew will soon complete the framing for the first floor, and the original house, that is the second or top floor, will be supported by the new exterior walls. The temporary steel beams and cribbing will be removed and with the two-story lift and framing complete, work can focus on more conventional construction tasks.

Nathan’s time lapse video of the lift day’s activities

November 20th:MIddle floor framing underway
November 20th:MIddle floor framing underway

BTW, I didn’t meet the architect, Sage K. Saskill, but I’m curious to see what he’ll do with the three-story house. Check back later for an update.

© 2019, johnashenhurst. All rights reserved.

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