Lifting the House A Chronicle of Mayhem and Plunder


How Much Does it Cost?

Many people have emailed me about this project, and their most frequent question is about cost. I know a guy who has all his house-lifting expenses on a single, comprehensive spreadsheet. My wife and I are not nearly so organized. We saved almost all our receipts, and of course we know what our loan balance is, but we've never taken the time to break down the money into categories. But I sat down and thought about it, and can give you a rough idea of the cost.

We financed the remodel with a line of credit through Washington Mutual, which is our mortgage bank. Before finalilizing the line of credit they sent somebody by to take a picture or something, but there was no detailed appraisal or inspection. The loan guy said all they did really was verify that there was still in fact a house here, and its approximate value, because they were loaning based on that physical asset. I highly recommend a line of credit instead of a mortgage. With a mortgage the bank loans you the money all at once, and you start paying interest on the whole amount right away. But with a line of credit you borrow money as you spend it, and only pay interest on that amount, just like a credit card.

Here is my rough breakdown of cost. Take it with a grain of salt:

  • plans and permits: $8000. We made our biggest mistake early in this whole process by not keeping control over the planning process. Our architect was very good and I would recommend him highly. The only negative was that we had to go through TWO sets of plans with him because our original vision got away from us. It turned into an extensive remodel of the entire house, including ripping off the roof, which turned out to be a $300,000 project.

    Bidding on the construction isn't an architect's job; that's the builder's job, and the architect told us that up front. But he also told us that before becoming an architect he had been a builder for many years, and knew the business from both sides. We discussed our budget limitations at the outset and kind of expected his builder knowledge to come into play and help us keep the design roughly in the ballpark. We were shocked when the first general contractors we talked to estimated roughly $300,000 or more. Even if we had money to burn, we would have ended up with probably a $700,000 house in a $400,000 neighborhood. Going back to the drawing board with a less ambitious version was depressing, not to mention paying for two sets of plans. But being unable to execute the original plan, we had no choice.

    On the plus side, the architect had very good relations with the permit people, so once we were ready to go he walked them through the bureaucracy and got the building permit issued in a single day. The permit cost about $2650. Because of restarting the whole planning process, we ended up spending about $8000 before breaking ground. Ouch. Should have been more like $5000.

  • As for a Structural Engineers, the architect said we did need one to sign off on the plans, for reasons that were never clear to me except that he just thought the job was complex. It may have been because the house had been added onto several times already, so existing walls are not always lined up directly over other walls, I don't know. But we paid the engineer about $1100 to approve the architect's plans and staple on some standard documents about concrete and such. I don't know if he made any actual changes or just rubber stamped the plans, but we only had one conversation and I wasn't too impressed with that guy.
  • lift, post replacements and framing: $18,000. This included all preparation and materials to lift the house and install new support posts and beams underneath, and new exterior framing and sheeting between the foundation and the lifted house. It did not include framing any interior walls, although they did frame one running through the middle of the basement because it was a main load bearing wall.
    They tell me a typical house lift costs more like $12,000, but normally they use 2 steel I-beams and in our case they had to use 3 because of the way the bottom floor and kitchen addition had been framed.
  • foundation replacement: $5,000 -- demolish, haul away, dig out a workspace, build forms and pour.
  • adding the room on the main floor: $6000 -- the kitchen had already been pushed out 8 feet, making the house sort of L-shaped. We added a new room beside it which made the house rectangular again.
  • additional excavation to enlarge the partial basement to full size: $22,000
    This isn't for digging it deeper, it's for expanding under the kitchen addition and new room. This was another mistake. Excavation is EXPENSIVE!!! If I could do it over again I would leave the basement the original size and lift the house 12 ft, which would raise the basement ceiling and give us a whole new ground floor. Much more new space for the money.
  • roofing the new room and the kitchen addition next to it: $1800 -- we had to put some kind of roof on the new main floor room, and since its roof and the existing kitchen roof form a single plane we did both. The whole house is due for re-roofing in a year or two anyway.
  • digging and installing a french drain $2000
    This is a plastic-lined, gravel-filled trench that runs across the back (uphill) side of the foundation and down one side. It contains a perforated drainpipe to relieve underground water pressure that would build up against the rear foundation wall.

  • Other costs I can't break down...

  • larger wood beams than they normally would use, plus tripling the ceiling joists in the large (16x22) rec room
  • reinforcing the floor framing under the existing kitchen addition. I understood the problem at the time but don't remember exactly what it was... something about the way the kitchen had been bracketed onto the house wrong.

  • Windows: $7000 (my wife wanted special fiberglass outside/wood inside crank-open windows. I personally would have been happy with Home Depot sliders for maybe $1800 total, but we did make the decision together and I like the results.
  • Furnace, ducts and waterheater: $5000 including installation! This was an incredible deal from a moonlighting commercial heating contractor who worked cheap, bought all the hardware through his company and did not charge us a markup.
  • Sheetrock: $1000
  • Hanging $1800
  • Taping, mudding and texturing: $1800
  • Bamboo flooring: $3200
    I bought the flooring online direct from manufacturer. Had to buy an entire pallet load for $2650 plus $450 shipping, still cheaper than Home Depot's price for the next grade down.
  • Special bamboo adhesive with vapor barrier: $800
  • New electrical main panel and meter base - $1100 including labor. I do most of my own electrical work but the panel and meter part is too scary for me, plus I had no idea of what was proper. The electrician charged $500 plus $600 for parts. He gave me a shopping list and I went out and bought all the conduit and stuff.
  • Porch: $8000 for construction and materials, including concrete footings and roofing, lighting, paint. I made the railings and flooring, installed the trim and lighting, did the painting. The lifters poured the footings when they poured the foundation. We still have to do gutters and downspouts on the whole house, maybe $250 for that.
  • Additional interior wall framing and stairway replacement, I don't remember how much. I did most of it myself but there were material costs. I bought a framing nail gun and finishing nailer, which I'm sure paid for themselves immediately. I already had a suitable air compressor. Then there's paint, light fixtures, wire and electrical fittings, pipe and plumbing fittings, toilet, fan, bathroom and laundry sinks and faucets, vinyl flooring, plywood, lumber to make windowsills, baseboards and trim, door and window frames, the doors themselves, exterior locks... I can't even begin to think of all the details. We also replaced our old washer and dryer which were on their last legs. All that stuff brings the total cost up to about $130,000.

Being a longtime do-it-yourselfer, I already had quite a few more tools than the average person... table saw, compound miter saw, circular saw, SawzAll, thickness planer, router table, various drills and sanders, hammers and other general carpentry tools, copper pipe soldering tools, electrical tools... all kinds of stuff that would probably cost several thousand dollars if you started with nothing. Some of these tools are for making mouldings and built-in cabinetry, stuff most people wouldn't do anyway. Every tool I did buy paid for itself right away, and will be used again and again as we finish the inside of the house.