Raising a home is a delicate, painstaking process that requires precision and attention to detail. Even then, something can go wrong — as it did last week in Little Egg Harbor Township.
Last week, a Kansas Road home collapsed while it was being raised, injuring three workers from Eco-Friendly Builders, of Middletown. The accident remains under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Experts — construction officials, structural engineers and OSHA officials — say house collapses have been exceedingly rare. But with the number of houses being raised increasing dramatically, there is concern.
Thousands of homes must be raised as coastal homeowners strive to meet higher flood elevation standards in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. That means a huge increase in demand for house-raising services — and, some fear, an influx of new operators.
Chris Heins, owner of Heritage Construction Enterprises in Ship Bottom, said accidents can happen because a large number of people are trying hard to get into the house-raising business and not all have the experience.
“You have to have the right manpower. You can’t cut anything short,” said Heins, who has been working to raise homes all over Ocean County since October. He said the average estimate to raise a home is about $50,000.
Heins is raising two homes near each other in the Beach Haven West section of Stafford Township.
The way to avoid accidents such as the one that happened in Little Egg Harbor is having enough manpower on site and men that are experienced in raising homes over and over again, he said.
“The best thing they can use to raise a home is a unified jacking system. It evenly displaces the air that raises the jack. The more jacks that are used, the more difficult it makes it to raise a home. And you must have workers watching while the house is being raised to make sure it’s all being done evenly,” Heins said.
Before a home can be raised, it must be deemed structurally sound. A structural engineer is needed to determine the load-bearing capacity of the foundation system, said Richard W. Hoisington, a structural engineer based in Surf City.
“The existing foundation is inspected and determined as to the size and the soil it is bearing on. The superstructure is also examined and a report is done, and it is decided as to whether it is suitable for it to be raised,” Hoisington said.
A soil test also is needed. In Little Egg Harbor, there are an abundance of poor soil conditions, where the material is composed of peet and clay that does not make for good bearing material, Hoisington said.
Once a home is determined to be safe for raising, the structural engineer signs off on the report and assumes a portion of the responsibility for the project, he said.
“If something happens, the engineer is drawn into it, so you want to be pretty sure when you sign off on that report. When I work on a project, I always make sure I know the house mover,” said Hoisington, who has an eight-week waiting period for new projects.
Hoisington said the process to ensure a home is safe to raise is lengthy and can be quite expensive — as much as $100,000 including the cost of raising the home.
“You can’t rush this process. I’d be very surprised if anyone is rushing,” Hoisington said.
Engineer Jason Tarantino, who is based out of Lawrence Township, Mercer County, was the structural engineer on the Kansas Road project, according to records from the township Construction Office. Tarantino did not return a call for comment.
Working as a structural engineer for almost 60 years, Hoisington said, he has raised about 60 homes, and this is the first time he’s heard of a home collapsing during the process.
“Chances are it’s going to be a problem with how it’s being raised; that’s my guess. It could also be that the house was not structurally sound,” he said.
Little Egg Harbor Township Construction Official Jay Haines said no other homes being raised have collapsed, and OSHA officials say the one on Kansas Road is the only case they’re investigating in the state.
Jim Healey, of the Mystic Islands section of the township, said a home should never collapse and during his 30-year career it has never happened on one of his projects.
Healey, who owns J&M Construction in Little Egg Harbor, said using the right material prevents a home from collapsing when it is being raised. He pointed to the piles of what he said were 6x6 pieces of pine wood at the site of the Kansas Road project; the wood was used in the lifting process.
“They should have used oak. Pine is a soft wood,” he said.
OSHA spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins said there is no specific agency standard related specifically to raising homes. The collapse of the home on Kansas Road is being investigated under OSHA’s general duty clause.
Richard Gonzalez, 50, Ronald Larson, 25, and Felix Montanez, 27, all of Bayonne, Hudson County, were injured when the home collapsed while they were completing the work.
As the crowds dissipated last Wednesday evening and the police cleared the scene, the last to arrive at the collapsed home were the OSHA inspectors.
“I’ve got seven houses in here I’m working on,” Healey said. “This isn’t good for any of us at all. We don’t need OSHA out here sniffing around.”
Contact Donna Weaver:
Follow @DonnaKWeaver on Twitter