Considering Lifting a House in Victoria – Here are 8 Valuable Tips

Whoever first said, “dirt is cheap” must not have spent time in Victoria. With the high price of land, it’s no wonder why so many people here are choosing to lift their houses. We know this because Horizon has always done a handful of house raisings every year, but lately, we’ve seen an upsurge in inquiries from local homeowners.

What’s the advantage of a house lift over a house extension? Well for one, home additions aren’t cheap. They also require working within sometimes onerous municipal setback restrictions. This alone can scuttle your plans.

What about moving to a new home? If you have kids in school or are in love with your current neighbourhood, a move may not be in the cards.

That leaves house lifting. There are definitely things you should know before embarking on this intricate project.

Here are eight steps to lifting a house successfully

1. Confirm your home will meet Victoria’s height limits.

The midpoint slope of your newly lifted home’s roof can’t exceed 7.6 m (25ft). And if you thought digging down would get you above this limit, sorry, no dice. The measurement is made from the average grade inside, not outside.

House lifting a heritage house

What is the midpoint slope (PDF)? Good question. The midpoint or mean height is the middle point of the roof measured from the top of the roof to the end of the soffits or eaves of the roof overhang. The total height is also measured from the midpoint of your property slope to the midpoint of the roof slope to calculate the total height. Bear this in mind when considering lifting your house.

2. Budget at least $200K (plus $100K for the reno).

This is the most challenging piece to consider — the payback in 2019 on a house lift for an income suite is hard to justify. Skilled labour costs in Victoria have skyrocketed, and this is one project that is not suitable for DIYers. There’s a tonne of preparation work required even before you call in the lifters. Very important pre-planning logistics like disconnecting furnaces, chimneys, plumbing, electrical… the list goes on. The framing may need upgrading which will require significant additional time and budget. Then, your local city hall will require fees for permitting and taxation on the project — 1.25% of the project estimate. And, remember, you’re lifting your house to renovate it, so it’s wise to talk to an experienced house-lifting contractor to get a realistic estimate before you start designing the plans.

Calculate house lifting costs

3. Verify the status and build quality of your house foundation.

If you’re dealing with a home of pre-1990 vintage, your foundation will likely be a simple vertical wall of concrete resting on a compressed layer of clay, gravel, or rock. That’s not going to cut it for today’s building standards. Modern code requires a footing, which is a two-foot wide concrete base with at least an eight-inch vertical wall rising off it. Have an engineer verify what kind of foundation you have, and then budget for a new one.Foundation Prep House Lifting

4. Install (or update) your perimeter drains.

Your perimeter drains (or weeping tile) become much more important once your basement becomes a space to sleep, eat, or work in, rather than a space to store old ski boots and paint cans simply. That’s because most old homes do not have weeping tile at all, or at best they use a clog-prone old tile system which means you’ll have lots of moisture seeping into your basement, especially during rainy winter months. Think of this as an opportunity to enhance your home’s livability and water removal capabilities by reducing moisture-related issues. It pays to get an opinion from a drainage expert or qualified contractor.

Foundation perimeter drain

5. Prepare to excavate.

The typical house-raising in Victoria involves a building with a half-basement at best, and more often, a crawlspace. That means you’ll be lifting up as well as digging down. Excavation with bobcats moves quickly, but trucking the dirt out can be expensive. The final result will give you a downstairs ceiling height of at least 8 feet or more, which has huge appeal for prospective tenants if you add a secondary suite.

House raising in Victoria house blocks

6. Replace water, sewage, and storm pipes.

You’ll most certainly want to include a bathroom on the lower floor if there isn’t one already there. That means replacing older, inadequate three-inch sewer pipes with four-inch pipes. It also means removing the half-inch intake line you likely have now with a three-quarter-inch or one-inch water line. Connections to the city line are made on the sidewalk. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to put all your new water, sewage, and storm drain pipes in the same trench at the same time, which saves on excavation costs.Plumbing upgrade pipes

7. Take advantage of an electrical upgrade.

If you’re looking to add some rental income, you’ll almost certainly want to upgrade that 60A or 100A electrical box to a 200A one. That gives you plenty of room to accommodate new or additional appliances, a heat pump, or a range of other modern conveniences. You’ll also have the chance to add high-speed cables for the internet, upgrade aging or fire-prone wires, and connect home theatre or smart home devices throughout the house.

Electrical Panel

 

8. Replace that chimney.

In Victoria, you can’t reinstall an old, unlined chimney. These are most common in pre-1940 homes. Some lifters won’t even raise your home unless you demolish the chimney first. It’s just too dangerous. If you have a chimney that is unlined or has any water damage, this could be a great opportunity to install a new one and add a high-efficiency wood insert or gas fireplace for supplemental heating. You’ll save money on heat and add a beautiful aesthetic element to your home. Talk to your contractor to get ideas and to figure out how much it might cost.Old chimney on roof of house

See more house-lifting information for Victoria BC.