Family moves flood-prone home to higher ground
LANCASTER — In the dozen years Stacy and Roy Kauffman have lived next to the Hammer Creek, their home has flooded four times.
Last fall, during Tropical Storm Lee, black, mucky water quickly filled the basement of their two-story Elizabeth Township house, and then rose a foot and a half into their first floor.
During Superstorm Sandy, the Kauffmans and their three children had to evacuate for two days, after state officials feared a failure of the already damaged, nearby Speedwell Forge Dam.
You can't blame the family for wanting to move.
But instead of moving, the Kauffmans took an unusual step.
They moved their house.
On Wednesday, a crew from a building-moving company shifted their 65-ton house about 100 yards to the north, elevating it about 7 feet above its previous location near Old Pike, north of Lititz.
“This is going to be a relief, to not have to worry every time it rains that it's going to flood,” Stacy Kauffman said.
Jamin Buckingham of Wolfe House & Building Movers, of Bernville, said what the Kauffmans did is common.
“We do a lot of flood work,” he said, noting some building or home owners just jack up their structure, extending the basement walls, to get it to a drier elevation. “Flood work is probably 40 (percent) to 50 percent of what we do.”
The move was not easy or cheap, but the Kauffmans felt it was the best decision for them and their three children, who range in age from 11 months to 13 years.
The couple likes their picturesque, cozy half-acre lot near a bridge and bounded by a bend in the road. And they have fixed up their frame three-bedroom house, which they believe dates to the late 1800s.
Even if they would have put the home on the market, they feared they would have to take a loss, because of its flood-prone location.
The couple does have flood insurance, which covered most of the $75,000 in damages and loss they suffered during Tropical Storm Lee.
Kauffman was pregnant and on bed rest at the time but her husband, Roy, was able to save some photo albums, a sewing machine and a few other things before the water rose, ruining their furnace, much of their furniture, kids' toys, appliances, food and other items.
After that experience, the Kauffmans decided they needed to take action. They contacted Wolfe and started the lengthy process of obtaining the proper permits from Elizabeth Township for the move.
The total cost, for the move, the prep work, the plans and drawings, and a new basement: about $40,000.
The couple initially was hopeful their flood insurance would cover the cost, a proposal that was supported by local emergency management officials. But the company has balked and they expect to have to foot the bill themselves.
“We like it here,” Kauffman said, noting during trout season her family enjoys seeing people fishing from the creek, and sets up a hot dog stand for them.
A crew of four men from Wolfe worked on the move for three days, digging around the house, breaking holes in its foundation, sliding steel beams under the home, jacking it up, putting it on dollies and wheeling it to its new spot.
The actual move took only about 30 minutes, and its completion was marked with what sounded like a loud blast from a train whistle when the workmen were done.
“It was pretty much a walk in the park,” said Buckingham, saying that Wolfe moves larger homes and buildings all over the country.
Watching the move along with the Kauffmans and some of their family members was Esther Zerphey, 70, of Lititz. Her parents, the late Cyrus and Helen Young, owned the house where she and her six brothers and sisters were born.
Zerphey remembers when Hurricane Agnes hit in 1972, flooding the first floor of the home her parents had owned since 1925.
“I remember the kettles were floating around the kitchen,” she said, adding, “I'm glad it won't get flooded anymore.”
The Kauffmans' outdoor furniture, some pumpkins and a hanging plant remained on their porch during the move. One of the rockers rocked a bit, but everything stayed in place. Afterward, Kauffman peeked in windows and saw that plants and candles left on windowsills also were intact.
“They say you can put a cup of water on the table and it shouldn't spill,” she said, but noted she packed up china and took some things off the walls just in case.
She expected to be able to go into the house in a day or so to grab some things, but her family is staying with her parents in Clay Township for a few weeks, until the basement is finished. They also are prepared to have to fix a few wall cracks that can be caused by the move.
Their house had to be rotated a quarter-turn to accommodate it at its new location, and Kauffman already was wondering where she would put her African violet, and how the light would look coming in windows now at new locations.
“It will just seem odd,” she said, laughing but noted, “I'm relieved. We have peace of mind.”