Family Builds Out Old Home By Lifting It Up, Up, Up – by David Hayes

Betsy Grant and her husband Steve have wanted to own a home in the Olde Town section of Issaquah since they lived in an apartment on Front Street in 2001.

Their dream came to fruition in 2014 when a property went up for sale on First Avenue Northeast — a 1,070-square-foot rambler built in the 1950s. 

“We love the neighborhood. We wanted to be where we could walk places and ride our bikes all the time,” Betsy Grant said. “We found the location. Now we’re creating the house to fit our family.”

With two sets of twins, the Grants needed more space for their family of six. They are increasing the home’s square footage to about 2,100 and are upsizing from three bedrooms and one bath to five bedrooms, three baths and a utility guest room. They are also making the first floor more accessible for their son with special needs. 

With an all-in budget of $450,000, they didn’t want to tear down the existing structure to make way for a new one. Betsy Grant credits her architect Terry Phelan of Living Shelter Design Architects with the idea of the lift — jacking up the old house and filling in with new structure underneath. 

“I like the idea of keeping the character of the neighborhood and upgrading so the house has another 100 years of use without disregarding everything that’s already here,” Phelan said.

“We wanted to do the most cost- and resource-efficient way of making our house two stories,” Betsy Grant said. “Terry’s company came up with idea of lifting it. Two companies did a cost analysis, if it made sense to raise it.

“By raising, we save the entire roof, save all of the outside structure and the bottom subfloor and bottom structure. We get to reuse the whole foundation,” Grant added.

Craig Dye of Old Town Builders admits he was skeptical of the idea at first.

“We were shaking our heads,” Dye said. “But we sat down, did the math and saw, with the engineering requirements, it made a lot of sense to lift the existing structure.”

Dye explained that homes built in mid 1950s often had a keyway at the top of the foundation and a 2-by-4 would sit in there that was good enough to keep lateral movement from happening in a seismic event. 

“Now they require you to bolt it into the foundation. So we would be required to come in and open all the walls and positively tie into the foundation. That’s one big chunk of change right there,” he said.

Phelan said another benefit of the lift was headroom. 

“They had a pretty low ceiling on the existing structure. So by lifting, they got to choose a higher ceiling height,” she said.

With Old Town Builders on board last year, Dye said they found the right people to do the lift job on the home Jan. 11.

“We found a wonderful company, Cook Structural Movers from Fall City, with three brothers who’ve been doing it for decades,” Dye said. “Their father is a contractor and said he could do it on a dare. So he found a way and did it. Now they have specialized tools. For example, they have these hydraulic pumps and jacks. They’ll start lifting it up and once the jacks have enough head space, they’ll slip in another course of these ties. Shimmy it up, set another tie beam in and move the jack up. Just a beautiful operation.”

Grant said it took just three hours to get the home up on the pylons stacked in each of the four corners, surprising the neighbors. 

“The neighbors next door are working with Terry on a project of their own and are in the design phase,” she said. “They told me, ‘We came home and all of a sudden the house next door was taller than ours.’ It happened so fast.”

Now two years into the project, Grant feels like they’re in the home stretch. 

Dye had a different definition of home stretch.

“We’re probably at a timeline of being completely done with all the little finishes. Probably looking at another four-and-a-half to five months,” he said.

Dye said he’s amazed by Cook Structural Movers’ ability to match their lift with his build underneath.

“They gave us about an extra foot and half where top of walls will land. We have to do two things — build as plumb as possible and try to make the top plate outline match the existing pretty close. We know our walls won’t exactly be plumb here and there, so we’ll have to cheat in a touch here and there to make it land right. When the house comes down, they can nudge it into place with the jacks. Dan was telling me he could get it to match within an eighth- to quarter-inch. It is amazing.”

During the construction, the Grants were fortunate to find a rental just down the street.

“We’re staying six doors down — a miracle of timing,” she said. “A family was moving out of a rental house at the exact time we needed to move out of our house. We came to an agreement with the owner. Which is great. We can come down here and bug Craig’s crew any time we want and the kids get to play with friends on street and still walk to school. It worked out really, really well.” 

Thanks to dear David Hayes from The Issaquah Press for the good article, here is the link to the website: