Save money and the environment by transporting an existing home rather than building from the ground up.
When Jennifer and Craig Davis of Everett, WA, (just outside of Seattle) found the perfect spot for their new home—on Hat Island in Puget Sound—they purchased a lot with the intention to build. However, they didn’t like prefabricated houses or log-cabin kits and realized they couldn’t afford to build their dream home on one salary. “Our oldest child was 9 years old, and if we kept waiting, he wouldn’t have those childhood memories of living on the island,” says Jennifer, a mother of three.
The solution? Buy an older house slated for demolition and move it to the island, which was not only cost-effective, but also environmentally conscious.
“Structural moving is one green option for solving many of our housing and commercial building needs,” says Josh Wendland, president of both Milbank House Movers in Milbank, SD, and the International Association of Structural Movers. “States and local governments are beginning to look to the relocation versus demolition of structures as a way of dealing with overcrowded landfills and the need for lower-cost housing for our citizens.”
According to Jeff McCord of Nickel Bros. House Moving, constructing a new home uses 40 to 60 trees’ worth of lumber and can keep up to 80 to 100 tons of waste out of landfills.
Nickel Bros., which has offices in the Seattle area, helped the Davises find a 1,500-square-foot bungalow from 1950, which its owners were willing to sell for $1 in order to save the building and avoid demolition costs. “People are realizing the value of preserving our classic housing stock and that older houses tend to have more character,” says McCord, whose preferred title is “house rescuer.”
Jennifer agrees. “Our home inspector told us that our house’s joints are furniture-grade cedar and that they don’t build places like this anymore,” she says.
Nickel Bros. movers hauled the Davises’ residence by truck about 5 miles to the water, where they used 40 ramps to load it onto a barge before taking it to its new location. The total cost for the move was about $65,000, which the Davises estimate is 40% less than what it would have cost to build a new house.
In the Seattle area, where land values are down, McCord says building from scratch can be 50% to 100% more expensive than buying and moving an existing home. The same goes for the rural Midwest. “We move a fair number of new and used houses due to the challenges of getting builders out to farms and ranches that are many miles away from lumberyards and supply centers,” Wendland says.
It’s not surprising that relocating residences is more difficult in densely populated urban areas. But as the journey of the Davis house illustrates, traveling by water is one way to bypass these roadblocks. A classic Mid-Century Modern abode set to be demolished was moved via barge from New Jersey to Long Island, thanks to the Pennsylvania-based Wolfe House & Building Movers—providing plenty of photo ops as it cruised past the Manhattan skyline and under the Brooklyn Bridge.
While just about any structurally sound building can be transported, some are harder than others. Take the 304-ton historic home of Alexander Hamilton. When it was moved just a few blocks from Convent Avenue to St. Nicholas Park in Harlem, NY, Mark Buckingham, a manager for Wolfe House, says the company had to roll the house over a stone portico onto the street because it was sandwiched between a church and an apartment building.
Such challenges that require special attention—other examples include separating and reattaching additions, chimneys or porches—are among the factors that can drive up the price of moving a structure. The cost of the move is also affected by the building’s size. It has to be able to pass between buildings and under trees, bridges, traffic lights and telephone and cable wires. And for each jurisdiction a house travels through, homeowners must obtain permits from the traffic authorities and contract utility companies to raise or lower wires; some municipalities limit moves to certain times of day.
McCord estimates that a client typically pays between $1,000 to $2,000 to the utility companies for each major intersection containing phone and cable wires and traffic lights that must be crossed. Owners also have to take into account the costs of hiring professionals to disconnect and reconnect sewer, gas and electric lines and excavating a new basement or foundation on the receiving site of the residence.
Even with all of these extra fees, however, moving an existing home is still more cost-effective than building a new one from the ground up, not to mention environmentally friendly. Structural moving also makes a great story: How many people can say their home traveled by truck and barge?