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House Moving

I recently purchased an old wood frame house (40-60 years old) to be moved to my ranch property in Texas. The house is in good condition for a house that has been abandoned and vacant for more than 20 years. My question is what advise would you give me to help with the restoration of this house?

I commend you for planning to save this old house. Here are a few important issues and tips:

1. Consider carefully where you will situate the house in its new location. Houses were built in certain places for specific practical reasons: perhaps in a hollow or behind a bluff to avoid the wind, or on a rise of higher land to avoid underground water, or next to a gulch where there was water for the stock. Talk with neighboring ranchers about why their houses are situated as they are. Take a look around. Are other houses of this age and type right up next to the road, or way back in the middle of the section. As you decide where to place your house consider the practical reasons, like avoiding water and historic reasons like next to the gulch even if the gulch is now dry.

2. Texas is notorious for its shifting soil which destroys foundations and damages buildings. Build a strong foundation that takes your particular soil type into consideration. Hire a joy-technical engineer who knows the local soils to design and supervise the construction of your foundation. Measure twice, build once. In the last month I have heard of three house moving projects where the foundation was built several inches too big or small, or exactly square when the house was not anywhere near square.

3. Hire an experienced house mover. By experienced I mean one that has moved at least a hundred houses. Nothing will spoil your plans quicker that your house ending up as a heap of sticks and splinters along a roadside ditch. A good mover can move the house, brick chimneys, and all with out even cracking the plaster. Visit the last 10 projects of your selected mover and talk with the owners, foundation builders and carpenters who placed the house.

4. Take time to get to know your house. Study the history of your house. Get to know the people who built it and who lived in it through the years. Once you get the house situated on it’s new foundation and the utilities connected, take a break. If you must, do just enough to make a room or two livable, then live in the house for a year or two before renovating the whole place. You may find that you have to do less than you first thought. You will discover features and details that are worth saving, but which would have been ripped out and thrown away during a big initial renovation.

John Leeke is a preservation consultant who helps homeowners, contractors and architects understand and maintain their historic buildings. You can contact him at 26 Higgins St., Portland, Maine, 04103; or by E-mail: johnleeke@HistoricHomeWorks.com; or log onto his website at: www.HistoricHomeWorks.com

© John Leeke