Watching a house being transported down the road on a massive truck is quite a sight.
Questions might pop into your head: Why would somebody plop down a home somewhere else? How much does it cost? Would it ever be an option for me?
And it might be more common than you think.
Structural-moving company Emmert International, based in Clackamas, OR, has been moving houses since 1968. It has moved between 5,000 and 6,000 structures in its residential and commercial divisions combined.
Northwest Structural Moving, which works throughout the western United States and Canada, has moved some 2,000 homes in the last two decades.
Why move a home?
The primary reason is the house is in the way of development and someone wants to save it rather than scrap it.
“Normally, development has made the property that it sits on more valuable without the house than it is with it; that’s 95 percent of the time,” said Keith Settle, owner of Northwest Structural Moving. “Usually, it’s going to be torn down. If it’s in good enough shape or has historic value, then people have us move it.”
Other reasons are a highway widening project or the home is in danger of flooding or other risks. Or maybe you have land, but don’t want to build and prefer moving an existing house to your lot. Or landowners might decide to build a new home on their property and give away the existing house, which saves them high demolition costs and keeps the wreckage out of the landfill.
“We’ve moved homes where people want to develop their land or there’s a house on a site where they’re going to build a shopping center,” said Terry Emmert, president of Emmert International. “When they built the Clackamas Promenade [shopping mall], we moved off 60 homes in 60 days.”
Saving older homes
Ed Ahrens of Estacada, OR, is a retired remodeling contractor and has moved five homes using Emmert. His most recent was an Estacada home built in the 1930s.
“The library bought [an adjacent] lot and it had this really neat, old home and they were going to have the fire department burn it down,” Ahrens said. “I thought, ‘Well, I have a lot better thing to do with it,’ … so I hunted around town and found a piece of property just four blocks away.”
The house was recently moved and Ahrens plans to rent it out.
“I’m actually saving the library money, because tearing it down costs at least $10,000 to get rid of all of the materials and everything,” he said. “And this is the ultimate in recycling because you’re taking an entire house and instead of just destroying all that work and materials somebody put into it, you’re able to reuse it.”
Finding a new lot
Portland architect Brett Schulz has worked with house movers for several clients – including helping facilitate a move of a three-story home in Portland as well as the move of a home that was donated to the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery in Lake Oswego, OR, to be used as a caretaker’s home.
He’s currently working on a move for himself.
“I design apartment buildings and often there are houses on the sites that are in pretty good shape – just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “I’ve got a really nice 1,500-square-foot foot house that this developer was planning on deconstructing. I said, ‘I’ll take it off your hands if I can find a site nearby,’ so I’m out there hunting … The question is how much will you have to pay for a lot? … But it will work for me if I can get the land at the right price.”
How much does a move cost?
Every job is different, Settle said.
“A lot of people think the distance is what makes it expensive, but it isn’t really,” Settle said.
Settle said it is circumventing actual obstacles between points A and B that add up, namely overhead power lines.
“Utility costs kill more housing-moving projects than anything,” Settle said.
Utility companies will raise the wires for houses higher than one story, but it’s expensive. Larger homes can actually be cut, but that also increases the price.
“We need to know where you’re going to go to run the route to make sure we have the clearance to get there,” Emmert said.
In some cases, Emmert said they have even cut homes in half to make transport possible.
“We’ve also taken a two-story home — and where the wire bills would be too expensive — actually loaded the house, lifted the second story off the first story, moved it, and put the second story on top of the first story.”
Emmert said the average move is between $20,000 and $40,000, adding that things like brick veneer and fireplaces add to the cost. “It will also be more if you’re going to build a basement or if you have difficult sites or terrains. But the majority of the time, it’s certainly economically feasible.”
What steps are involved?
Step one: Find a new lot and obtain necessary city permits.
Step two: Hire a structural expert to make sure the house is safe to move. You may also need to hire contractors to remove wiring and plumbing before the move and also set it back up at the new lot.
Step three: The mover plans the route and lines up escorts. While a mover’s equipment can lift any size house, if the drive to the new site has obstacles like railroad crossings, big trees, overpasses or utility lines, it can cause difficulties. The mover must work with each municipality that the house will pass through to obtain necessary moving permits and work with utility companies.
Step four: Prepare the home for the move. While the mover has a lot to do, believe it or not, the homeowner has very little.
“Just clear everything out of the basement. Upstairs you don’t have to do anything,” Emmert said. “You can leave everything in your home. I would tell you to take things off your fireplace mantel and off the wall. But we’ve jacked up many homes with all of the furniture in it.”
Step five: The mover detaches the home from the foundation. They put in steel beams to replace the support that’s there.
Step six: They jack up the house using hydraulic jacks, load it onto the transport equipment and transport it to the new lot.
Step seven: They excavate the lot. (They’ll also dig a basement if you want).
Step eight: They pour the new foundation and lower the house into place using jacks, allowing it to settle in its new site.
Step nine: They remove the steel beams inserted during step five.