Watching a large house roll down the road on a truck is enough to make most of us do a double take. We tend to think of houses as being stable and stationary. With the right equipment, though, almost any house can be moved to a new location. Relocating a house is recycling on the largest scale many of us can achieve, and in addition to saving resources, this option may save you money, too.
Buying and moving a house is a possibility for anyone who finds the perfect piece of land that doesn’t include the perfect house. This scenario is especially common for homesteaders — if you’re interested in gardening, farming or raising animals, you’ll probably have to look long and hard to find land that meets your needs. Odds are not high of also getting a good house with the land you choose.
Houses are torn down all the time to make way for new highways, suburban developments or large institutions, such as an expanding hospital or university. These buildings are often sold for a song — or given away — on the condition that they’re moved off the property. The catch is that you have to pay to move a house, and even if you already own the land, you’ll have to figure in the costs of a new foundation, plumbing, utility hookups, and any other amenities. Still, moving a house can make financial sense.
Regardless of whether financial savings are your main priority, choosing an existing house is a significant way to reduce your environmental impact, because you’ll use far fewer new materials than you would if you built a new house. You may also be able to find a house with higher-quality wood and other materials than you’d likely be able to get in new construction. Or perhaps the reason you want to move a house is purely nostalgic — you’ve fallen for the charms of an older home and want to preserve it.
That was the case for Glenn and Denise Bowman. In 2006, they bought a home that was built in about 1840 and moved it to a rural property in Clarksville, Md. The house had been a fixture in their community, but it was on land owned by an auto dealership whose owners wanted to expand their business. If the house wasn’t moved, it was going to be demolished.
After falling in love with the house, the Bowmans just couldn’t let that happen. So, working through a local historic preservation organization, the couple got in touch with the building’s owners and bought it for a bargain price of $1, just enough to make it an official sale. The cost to relocate the house 3 miles was much higher — about $55,000 just for the move. That’s at the high end of what people pay for a move, mainly because the house was a three-story structure. The Bowmans say their decision to save this home has definitely been worth it — they’re enjoying restoring their house, and have blogged about it at 12 Hills. “We’re in it for the joy of it,” Glenn says. “It’s the house we want to raise our kid in.”
Moving a House, Near and Far
Every move is different depending on the distance, house and locations involved.
Some houses are simply easier to move than others, explains Natalie Hammer, who runs Atlas Enterprises in Forest City, Iowa, with her husband, Chris Holland. Their typical price range for relocating a house is $8,000 to $30,000, but the cost will vary regionally. “It depends on the size of the house, how hard it is to get it up and onto the wheels, and how far you’re going,” she says. “It’s not a per-mile thing; it’s how difficult it is, and how heavy it is. The heavier it is, the more equipment you need.”
Monroe Becker, who works for the structural moving company Unruh House Moving in Moundridge, Kan., says typical costs for the jobs he works on are $10,000 to $14,000, but would be a lot higher if the houses included brick. His company doesn’t work with brick because it requires additional equipment and expenses, but Becker estimates it costs three times more than moving a non-brick home.
Moving one-story homes is cheapest and easiest, Hammer says, because they can usually fit under any power lines. For a two- or three-story house, the utility company has to be present to lift up the wires during the move. Other obstacles include traffic lights (which may have to be temporarily removed) and tree branches (which sometimes have to be trimmed back). All of this is doable with the necessary permits, but adds to the cost. For this reason, Hammer says Atlas Enterprises’ typical distance for moving a two-story house is no farther than 10 to 15 miles, but a one-story house can go 100 miles or more. See videos of Hammer’s company moving houses and explaining the process.
Ready to Hit the Road?
For all of the reasons mentioned, you want your desired house to be close to the property you want to move it to. Finding an affordable house in your area may take some legwork, but a good place to start is looking for big development projects that may be displacing homes. Hammer recommends contacting your state highway department, because houses are frequently condemned during roadway expansions. She also suggests taking out a want ad to try to find other under-the-radar homes for sale. For example, Hammer’s company often works with people who have built a new house on their country property, and then decide to sell the property’s existing house to anyone willing to move it away.
After you have the house, you’ll need to find an experienced house-moving company. Start by checking local listings, or you can find an online directory of house movers through the International Association of Structural Movers.
The house-moving industry doesn’t have any regulated certifications, so look for a company with lots of experience, reliable references and good insurance. Any reputable company should have no problem providing this information. By opting for less experienced movers, you may end up with structural damage to the house and be stuck with the expenses.
With an experienced mover, however, the house will hardly be disturbed. In fact, Becker says Unruh often moves houses with the furniture still inside. He recommends taking the china out of the china cabinet, but says their goal is to be able to leave a glass of water on a table without spilling it. “With a good mover, damage is not something to be scared of,” he says. “It’s a very smooth operation.”
Reader Reports on Relocating a House
DIY House Moving in Montana
In Montana in the early 1940s, the Work Projects Administration was big into building wooden grain bins. They were built strong, with hardwood floors and walls. We have moved three of these buildings, thus reusing structures that would otherwise have been burned down. We jacked the structures up and set the backs of the buildings down on two telephone poles, then used our 1-ton, four-wheel-drive pickup to slide the buildings down our gravel road. We put them on concrete pads and put tin on the outsides and roofs.
After years of exploring options for building a small home on our rural Alabama property, we decided to repurpose an old, unused hunting cabin. We had it moved the 30-plus miles to our site and began renovations. We finished the inside with cedar and added a sleeping porch built of cypress, all salvaged by my dad from a local timber harvest. Finally, we have our own home and we couldn’t be happier!
Tammy Shaw and Leann Staton
A Moving Inheritance
My family inherited 120 acres in central Arkansas. At the time, my mom had lived for several years in a house that had recently become uninhabitable because of a highway-widening project. My folks decided to build a new home on the inherited acres and give the original house to us. My first thought was to salvage the materials, but my mom suggested we move it. My reaction was, “You can’t move it — it’s on a slab!” She insisted that I check it out, though, and as usual, she was right — a house on a slab can be moved. Our slab wasn’t thick enough to move, but not all was lost. The movers cut the house frame from the slab and raised it up, had a new floor put underneath it, and moved it. This increased the cost, but it was still an incredible bargain. The total cost for the house move and repairs — plus the road, well, barn and natural gas line we added to our rural property — came to $47,000.
Read Joyce Hetrick’s full story in House Moving: Find and Relocate Your Dream Home. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS
Megan E. Phelps is a freelance writer based in Kansas. She enjoys reading and writing about all things related to sustainable living including homesteading skills, green building and renewable energy. You can find her on Google+.