Who can do it?
In western countries, where the house elevation technique gained currency several decades ago, the structures are often lifted to minimise damage that may be caused by storms and floods. In the United States, agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advise raising houses in susceptible areas to a desired Flood Protection Elevation (FPE) and also determines to which point the owners should elevate their homes by calculating the base flood elevation (BFE) — the base line where a flood would hit during a super storm. In some cities, homeowners have been prevented from having a liveable space two feet below the BFE thereby making it mandatory for them to employ agencies and raise the houses over the FPE.
In India, especially in cities like Pune, house elevation needs may mostly arise in old colonies where structures get pushed below the road level due to addition of layers to the roads by municipal corporations.
According to Sisodia and Sons House Lifting Pvt Ltd, which is among the few firms working in the sector in India and is currently engaged in Pune by the owner of a bungalow in Mundhwa, almost 98 per cent projects they get fall in the category mentioned above.
“Most of our clients are troubled by road elevation. Especially in older colonies. With development work that happens over the years, houses which were once several feet above the road level sink two to three feet below it. Since, road elevation will continue to happen with time, the houses will continue to sink further,” said Balwan Sisodia, the managing director of Sisodia and Sons House Lifting Pvt Ltd.
During rains, the houses, located on slopes, get flooded. “The waterlogging not only causes inconvenience but also cause health issues as it may lead to breeding of mosquitoes and other insects. In fact, the whole family gets disturbed, children suffer, as they have to pump out the accumulated water with buckets,” said Sisodia adding that this often leads to demolition of old houses.
How is it done?
Elevating a house is a slow and tedious process. The entire house, including pillars and piers, have to be lifted evenly. Various firms use different technologies. While some use manually-operated jacks, others rely on hydraulic systems and some use steel girders or beams that go under the property to pull it. Before starting the actual work, a structural investigation of a house is undertaken, which helps in determining mass and stability of the building. This is followed by testing of soil and material used for construction of foundation, pillars and walls.
An architectural design and development plan is chalked out to determine the expense, required time for elevation, and the final product. Once the plan is ready, people start digging up the topsoil to approach the foundation of the building, which is then separated from the walls and the pillars. Steel beams or jacks, manual or hydraulic, are used to evenly lift the house to a desired level. An average Indian house may need 200-250 jacks to lift and suspend the house in air.
“Here, the home is suspended in air while a new foundation is constructed beneath it. This may take 15-20 days. Then the elevated house is connected with the foundation with new walls. “Whenever, a client approaches us, the first thing to be discussed is the age of the building, number of floors and kind of construction. Presently, we can elevate houses that are up to 50 years old having ground plus four floors or less,” said Sisodia.
He said his firm relies on the use of manually-operated jacks, as other techniques like beams and hydraulic jacks don’t seem to work in Indian conditions. “Our houses are heavier. The weight can’t be sustained on equipment other than manual jacks,” he said. The firm had started work in 1999.
What does it cost?
As there are only a few firms (owned by the same family) that provide the service, there is virtually no competition in the sector. According to Sisodia, the rate they are charging is around Rs 250 per sqft. The cost includes refurbishing the house, including ceiling, tiles, plumbing and other necessities.
“The bungalow that we are working on in Pune, if it is demolished and reconstructed, it would cost about Rs 45 lakh. Our work, including elevation and post-elevation refurbishment, would hardly cost Rs 12-13 lakh. It is a lot of savings for the owner,” said Sisodia.