Friday, April 21, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Building New Walls

Today is Friday and on my time schedule for the contractors, we are a week ahead of schedule. Our mason, Dean Dixon from Dean's Construction, has already been at work since Monday. Since it's raining, I am writing from the confines of our sailboat but do plan on getting out to the site in a few minutes.

Clearing the site for the block

Here you can see the aluminum pole in place as a corner guide for the block.



Watching the crew clean up the edges of the old block was so exciting. To see the possibility of the old block meeting up with new block was great progress. After waiting for so many years and months, seeing our drawings come to life was very satisfying.

Here the old block is cleaned and ready for the new layers


You can see in the pictures that our mason used an aluminum corner pole that stands as a guide between the old block and the new block. He also keeps a laser focused on the job to make sure that each layer is perfectly straight.



We are happy with the quality of work Dean's Construction's crew are providing us. 

No more bulkhead or crawlspace!










I did not expect this much of a 'construction site look' but know that this will all be cleaned up soon and we will no longer have to worry about a wet crawlspace or flood threats.




Monday, April 17, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Lifted

Friday morning was cool and slightly overcast. Although the calendar said it was Good Friday, Wolfe House and Building Movers were hard at work first thing. Seeing the house sitting about three feet off the ground was impressive and we were excited to see the rest of the lift.

Someone's coffee might upset the balance of this beam

The first foot took about three minutes as the engine pressurizing the lines to the jacks chugged away. The crew quickly set about piling up more cribbing and shims until the piles were even with the jacks and then depressurized the jacks, setting the house down an inch or so to rest on the cribbing. After all the creaks and pops, they pulled the jacks and lifted them up one layer. Once all four guys were in agreement, John, the foreman, started up the engine and set all ten jacks to rise another twelve inches.

A view from the street

I could bend over and look into the crawlspace at first but by the time noon came, the house was over three feet over my head and the crawlspace was just piles of dirt and concrete.

I can see clearly under the house now

Eric is 6'3" so you can see how high it is here.

I was worried about the house shifting as it's massive weight sat on the piles of wood cribbing but quickly realized that I had nothing to fear and could freely explore the construction of our floor joists. 

I was amazed by the strength of the jacks.

Still higher!

Now the crew has to climb the cribbing to reach the jacks

Lunch took a little longer than I expected and when I got back to the site, the crew and the tractors were already gone. Eric and I were thrilled that they had finished a week ahead of schedule.

Adjusting to make sure the house sits plumb over the footers



A short video...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Lifting

Our house just waiting for the lift
This morning I walked up to the construction site of what used to be our house and looked around as usual. I noticed a couple of pieces of steel that were still unused and figured the guys would be continuing the process of leveling the steel. I went back to our garden and started futsing about planting and weeding. Around 10:30 a.m., the foreman rode up in his bobcat and told me that the process was going faster than he expected and that they were going to  start lifting around 1:30 p.m.

Scoring the block for a clean break

Talk about being thrilled! I quickly called Eric who was over 150 miles south on a work appointment. Thankfully, he was just finishing up and was able to hit the road. 

Here you can see the steel and the shims
The crew was kind and actually waited an extra 15 minutes for Eric to get back. He drove in and we all went to the front of the house were the engine and control board were connected to all the jacks under the house. 
Jacks were connected to the control board with pressure hoses


John (the foreman) explained that the first foot would take the longest and then a little shorter time for each subsequent lift. As he talked, he was turning the control that started the lift and before we even realized it, the house was already an inch away from the foundation.

Even our chimney was scored and braced

The crew ran around the house and checked to see how the separation worked. Some of the blocks broke away at the scoring marks but other broke away below along the seam between blocks. Thankfully, all the breaks were at or below the marked line.

Eric doing a Live Facebook Video
The lifting continued until the house was almost three feet higher than it has been for 63 years. The next couple of hours, the guys crawled under the house and set pilings and shims to take the strain off the jacks.

Three feet up! (approximately)

So now, we think the rest of the lifting will happen tomorrow, a whole week before schedule!

Now the whole balance is off!



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Construction Phase : Setting the Steel

Another load of cribbing and steel
Today was another dry day and Wolfe House and Building Movers worked hard breaking into our block foundation to lay the steel beams that they will use to act as the new foundation as the house gets lifted.

You can see the shims on top of the beam 

Each day I think they can't bring in any more steel beams or wooden cribbing logs but today first thing, the long truck pulled down our driveway with another big load. 

Our crawlspace is looking a bit breezy

I did a walk around before they started and then several times during the day. They measure and measure again and then use a massive circular saw to cut through the block if necessary or just hit it with a sledgehammer until the block gives way. Each opening has to line up with the next so that the steel sits evenly.

Setting steel for the garage

Even after they do all the work to slide the steel beams in, they spend a long time placing wooden shims of all sizes around the beams in the block openings.

Every steel beam is perfectly leveled
So now, the neighborhood is quiet again. I checked the weather and we still have a week of dry weather ahead so that will really help our project not only stay on schedule but also stay dry - remember we flood out very easily.

The house and garage will left together

I am looking forward to a whole new landscape around our house. As you can see in the pictures, not much of the old design is left - only a few hostas and daylilies trying to pop through here and there.

The control board has arrived!
From my perspective, it seems that we are ahead of schedule but I know that we still have a long way to go and complications could slow this lift down. I choose to look on the bright side. :-)

Only a few pieces of steel left



Braley House Elevation Project : Construction Phase : Prepping the House

Prepping the Chimney for the Lift
Today I am writing from the table in my sailboat. Our house is totally under construction. Wolfe House and Building Movers have cleared our the sidewalks and porches. Trenches are dug into the crawlspace to make room for the steel beams.

That's it. Doesn't sound like much but believe me, they have been working amazingly fast. Again, let me digress.
Equipment for the job 

Last Thursday was our scheduled move out date, Alas, the weather intervened and we had torrential rains that flooded our yard. We were reminded of why we started this project in the first place. Since the ground was saturated, the plumber called and said they were not going to bring in their backhoe and have it get stuck in the mud, so we rescheduled for Monday.

Friday morning was cold and still raining lightly, so we had our preconstruction meeting inside our dining room.We had a pretty impressive group of people ready and excited to start our project. Dean Dixon – Dean’s ConstructionGregg Meffley – H&B PlumbingPaul Felty – Triumph ElectricalDavid Gordon – Chesapeake Home Improvement GroupBill Hildebrand – MEMA Regional Liaison Officer for the Upper Eastern Shore, Michelle Lloyd – Deputy Emergency Manager,Cecil County Department of Emergency Services, and Lisa Rhodes – Deputy Director of Planning, North East, MD.

Removing our front breezeway slab

Saturday, Eric and I finished projects we had to finish around the property. Wood from downed trees was still on the yard and had to be moved; construction debris from an old chicken coop we demolished had to go to the dump; our old lawn tractor was dead and was ready for the recycle center.

Sunday was almost a celebration as we knew the next morning early our contractors were arriving and we had to be out of their way. Our sons came home for a few hours and helped us install a new storm door on the interior porch door that was now an exterior door. Our neighbor's tree fell across our creek and so Eric helped them cut and clear it. I spent most of the day cleaning the house, closing the curtains, securing valuables, finishing the last dishes and loads of laundry, wiping down the empty refrigerator and also transferring essentials to our sailboat.
60 foot long sections of steel beams 

Monday morning, we woke up early, took our last shower and were out of the house by 7:30 a.m. The electricians pulled up just before 8 a.m. and checked to make sure there were no hot wires in the crawlspace and also installed an extra eight feet of ground wire to our electrical panel. The plumbers also were there right at 8 a.m. and got busy installing a yard hydrant for water during the project, disconnecting and capping the sewer and pulling out all the pipes from the crawlspace. By 9:30 a.m. we were ready and waiting for Wolfe House and Building Movers to come. We heard their trucks backing up and looked down our driveway to see massive trucks maneuvering the tight turn to enter our driveway. they dropped off steel mesh boxes of cribbing wood, a backhoe and bobcat tractor as well as several tractor attachments.

Busting through crawlspace walls

The foreman walked the property and started measuring and disappearing down into our crawlspace while the other workers started removing extra concrete in our porches and sidewalks. The foreman only had one surprise for us that he needed Eric to remove the bottom few rows of siding. Of course, Eric jumped on it and worked like a madman to stay ahead of the tractors trying to make openings in our walls. By the time 8:30 p.m. rolled around, Eric and I were exhausted and crawled into our comfortable by small berths on the boat.


Sliding in the steel


Friday, March 31, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project: Preconstruction Phase

I am happy to write that we are finally ready to say that our preconstruction phase of our house lift is just about finished. But before I jump into explaining what is next, let me regress...

Our property does flood!

About three years ago, we received our yearly flood insurance statement in the mail. I read over the information and didn't see anything unusual or different and went on to read through the enclosed pamphlet since I had a little extra time while I ate my lunch. The pamphlet was an explanation of the FEMA programs available for homeowners required to buy flood insurance.

Our old river birch shade tree had to come down.
Our home is in a floodplain. We have known this first hand as most years we have a couple of floods that bring water up to our back door. We have a stream just about ten feet from our backdoor and when there is heavy rain it fills up to the top of the banks. To complicate our situation, our stream dumps into the top of the Chesapeake Bay which is tidal. Whenever we have a high tide that coincides with heavy rain, our home is in jeopardy. 

Cecil Tree Service did an excellent job of carefully bringing down our sycamore.

More wood for next year's heat.

On a whim of courageous curiosity, I emailed MEMA and asked if we might be eligible for assistance. Quite to my surprise, almost immediately I was answered back and told that there were several programs that I could look into, one of which was the Flood Mitigation Grant for folks who were forced to pay higher insurance premiums since they lived in a floodplain.

We were thrilled and jumped into the application. About six months later, all the information was in place and we submitted our application in October. Silence. So much silence. Winter came and went, spring and then summer and back into fall. Persistence kept us asking only to find out that our contact person was out of contact with our application and that we had been approved several months previous! 

Eric is removing the roof from the back porch which was not going to be lifted.
Our focus went from the state level to the county since they were the dispensers of our grant money. One slight problem was that our county had no experience with handling a citizen's grant. Legislation had to be written, lawyers consulted, and agencies assigned to work the project. None of which happens overnight and so we persisted and learned. 

We lost our general contractor that was going to run the project and so we looked for another. Several contractors were super excited to join us in the project but their costs were just too high. We realized that our initial contractor whose bid was the basis for our grant application did not give us a true number for the cost of our project. For us to go back and reapply with new numbers would have taken us another year at best and even then, the funds might have dried up.

Here's the stream that runs just a few feet from our house.
Two years of negotiating with the state, county, town and several agencies and learning the legalities of our project slipped by and finally, we were able to get a workable plan. We as the homeowners were considered the general contractor (who didn't need to get paid) and the primary vendor for the county. We had to submit three quotes for each part of the work and the best quote won the bid. But our numbers were tight - very tight! 

Fast forward to today. We are one week away from the official start of the Braley House Elevation Project, but really we have been working on it for three years! The Building Permit is taped onto the front of the house, we have our blueprints approved and stamped. Our landscaping is removed. The back porch is gutted and the front breezeway deframed. Massive trees have been either cut down or trimmed back to make room. What's left? I have to empty the refrigerator, pack our clothes and anything we might need for the next two months and move into our sailboat, docked at the end of our driveway.

Stay tuned for my next update!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Road Trip to Harrisonburg Virginia


Like most folks, I love traveling. Seeing new landscapes, new businesses, new plants and of course new foods gives me great inspiration. However, I am not free to travel for vacation purposes except for once or twice a year. This means I would miss out on seeing so much on our limited schedule. 

Instead, Eric and I have decided that we would try to travel as many short trips every year that we can manage responsibly in addition to a couple complete vacation times. Since he works for a company that requires him to travel to a large area of the Eastern Seaboard, his business travel is a company expense. We use this to our advantage since his passenger seat is usually available and once his workday is finished, evenings are a great time to check out small towns.

Last week, he needed to check out several universities in and around Harrisonburg, Virginia and invited me to join him for the trip. I was happy to join him.


I was dumbfounded by the beauty of the area. For whatever reason, I don't think I have ever driven through the Shenandoah Valley Region.The Blue Ridge Mountain ranges dropping down to the valleys filled with beautifully prosperous farms and homes, sprinkled with small towns. Even though we visited in February and there were no leaves on the trees, the views were spectacular.


The actual town of Harrisonburg is definitely a college town. James Madison University has permeated through so much of the area and in a good way. The enthusiasm and creativity of the young folks brings life into the history of the area. Beautiful old architecture is alive with creative artists making new foods, showing off their artistry, using the old spaces in preference to building new construction. The character of the area is clearly visible and quite delightful. Folks had a politeness and charm that reminded me of the south but we were only a couple hours from Washington DC.


We visited an old mechanic's shop where the garage doors opened to reveal a brand new business, Wolfe Street Brewery. Bright shiny tanks and computerized panels show that a serious investor had helped the creative brewer find a niche spot to sell his tasty brews. Instead of painting over old concrete block walls, they decorated it with various sections of pallet wood.  


From there, another brewery stop was in an old warehouse with thirty foot high ceilings and plain concrete walls, Three Notch'd Brewing Company


Their craft beers were really good, although we didn't try all of them. I loved their natural wood tables formed of slabs of untrimmed wood. Again, pallet wood was a popular decoration and hand crafted hanging lights added their color and sparkle to the room. Although they didn't serve food, a bag of chips and sealed container of spicy salsa was available for sale. We loved the games set out for fun and played a couple rounds of Gin Rummy.


We investigated a restaurant, Clementine Cafe, for dinner after seeing some good reviews on Yelp. Again, the building was ancient, but the fresh new creativity was just abounding here. Instead of scrubbing off layers of paint, they painted them bright colors. The height of the old warehouse space was broken with various levels of lighting and the rough floors were covered in old Oriental carpets. The mix of brand new technology with the wisdom of the old construction was thoroughly inspiring. Of course, I will admit to trying a fig infused whiskey manhattan which only enhanced my enjoyment of the place.

Before heading out of town, we stopped at a little hole in the wall next to a town parking garage that opened up to be a wide open, fresh timber decorated, wood-fired pizza spot, Bella Luna.


The weather was balmy for February so we sat at a sunny table just in the doorway. We each ordered different thin crusted pizzas, mine a spicy marinara, red onion, kalamata olives, capers, parsley and fresh mozzarella combination and Eric's a peppery arugula, prosciutto, tomato puree and mozzarella pie.  So delectable! The crust was thin with bubbles that had charred in the wood-fired oven. we ate our fill and washed it down with their local beers.

We continued our way home, freshly inspired by an area filled with history, educated and creative people, bounded with mountain ridges decorated with handsome productive farms.