NPR Story
10:43 am
Thu July 4, 2013

'House Jackers' Work To Save Homes From The Next Sandy

Originally published on Thu July 4, 2013 3:02 pm

The Fourth of July is one of the busiest times of the year on the Jersey Shore. Of course this year, many communities are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.

Determined to be prepared for the next big storm, some property owners are lifting their homes and businesses higher above sea level.

The people who do this work are called “house jackers.” And they are in high demand these days.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Tracey Samuelson from WHYY introduces us to one house jacker from Slidell, Louisiana.

Copyright 2013 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. The Fourth of July is one of the busiest times of the year on the New Jersey Shore. And this year, many communities are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy. To that end, some property owners are lifting their homes or businesses up off the ground so they're better prepared for the next big storm. The people who actually do the lifting are called house jackers. And this year, they've come from all over the country to the Jersey Shore. From the HERE AND NOW Contributor's Network, Tracey Samuelson from WHYY introduces us to one of them.

TRACEY SAMUELSON, BYLINE: There just a few final bolts to cut to free this house from its foundation.

JEREMY PATTERSON: So you want to see? That's good, Greg. Let's go up a little. That's good.

SAMUELSON: Jeremy Patterson and his crew from Ducky Johnson House Movers came up from Louisiana for this job, a 2,600-square-foot home in Point Pleasant that really does not want to go anywhere.

PATTERSON: But it's been a struggle. We fought with this house because the way it was constructed. It was over-constructed, made for hurricanes. It was made not to come off the ground.

SAMUELSON: It didn't budge during Sandy, but it did take on water.

PATTERSON: Well, we've been kicking ourselves in the nuts trying to get this thing off the ground.

(LAUGHTER)

PATTERSON: And we finally got to the point where it's going up.

SAMUELSON: Inside the house, the crew has made a waist-high belts of wooden planks secured to the home studs with some 1,100 screws. Under the wooden belt, there are steel beams. Under the beams, 14 jacks that will lift the house in unison. The jacks push against the beams, which push against the wooden belt, which lifts the house.

PATTERSON: OK, we're going to go up a little. Here we go, Bud.

SAMUELSON: Bud is Jeremy's 16-year-old son, Greg. He's home-schooled so he can work alongside his dad. The whole family is moving up from Slidell as the company takes on more work here. Already, they have six crews working in New Jersey and others in Texas, Louisiana, Florida.

GREG PATTERSON: My daddy move houses, and I'm too dumb to do anything else. When I was a kid, five years old, he takes me to jobsites to move houses.

PATTERSON: Are you ready?

JACK: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Ready.

PATTERSON: Hey, Greg, are you ready?

PATTERSON: I'm ready.

PATTERSON: I'm done. It's a generation's line. And we're all thankful because end of the day, we can sit back as a family and relax and enjoy each other.

SAMUELSON: Patterson mans a bright orange board with pressure gauges and a big lever that queues all 14 jacks to lift at once.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Jack, watch inside. I can't get over the top.

JACK: I got it. I got it.

SAMUELSON: Slowly, the house starts to levitate just a few inches at first.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: What the freak is that?

SAMUELSON: The team cuts away anything that still rubs against the house as it rises.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Hold it up. Let me check that steel pole.

PATTERSON: You know, I think there's always a spike in demand after a storm, you know, because people get flooded, and they don't want to go through it again.

SAMUELSON: Plus, new FEMA maps have expanded the size of flood zones and increased the recommended elevation for many people's homes. Those with substantial damage from Sandy are required to lift their houses to these new heights. FEMA maps and natural disasters, Patterson knows a thing or two about these things.

PATTERSON: You know, I flooded my own house. In Isaac, I took water in my house. I took 18 inches of water, in Isaac, my house. So I'm scheduled to jack my own house in Louisiana in two weeks.

SAMUELSON: The owners of this home estimate they'll spend 85 to $100,000 to lift the home and build a new foundation.

PATTERSON: It's truly a big stimulus package for the local economy.

SAMUELSON: Patterson's just one piece of that, the jacking.

PATTERSON: Well, then he's hiring a plumber. He's hiring electrician. He's hiring carpenters. He's hiring foundation guys.

SAMUELSON: Patterson is so in demand, that for the last couple of months, a Canadian reality TV crew has been following him around, filming his house-jacking escapades. But with so much work to be done, Patterson worries newcomers will want to get into the business. He says homeowners should make sure that their elevator is fully insured, that they're using a unified jacking system, that synchronizes all the jacks so that they lift at once.

PATTERSON: And, you know, whoever is running that machine should have 10, 20 years experience, not a plumber yesterday or a carpenter. And that's the problem with any natural disaster, everybody becomes a professional of that subject real fast.

SAMUELSON: The house goes up eight inches at a time, before the team stops to build up these towers that surround each jack to support the house. The stacked wooden blocks look like a giant version of the towers in the kids' game Jenga. With the house resting on the blocks, the jacks are reset to lift the house another eight inches.

PATTERSON: Are you ready? Now, you're a small little thing compared to a good-looking, fat guy, I am. OK? But if you got to grab one of these blocks, OK? They weight about 80 pounds. They're solid oak.

SAMUELSON: Oh, yeah. Patterson is...

PATTERSON: Self-proclaimed good looking, fat guy.

SAMUELSON: Note, wait.

PATTERSON: Self-proclaimed best-looking house mover in the country. Gotcha.

SAMUELSON: So they go up eight inches, stop and reset, then eight more. The plan is to lift the house eight feet.

PATTERSON: Got a lot of work to do today, huh?

SAMUELSON: And a lot more work to lift the shore out of the way of the next storm. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Tracey Samuelson in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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