Imagine a Herculean superhero hoisting a 28-ton house using only the strength of his biceps. His bulging arms hold the dwelling 12 feet in the air to give workers enough time to build a second floor underneath before setting it down.
Bradley D. Beams doesn’t use his Popeye-like biceps to accomplish that feat, but the 58-year-old builder gets the job done just as well by using hydraulic jacks each capable of lifting 20 tons.
The Black River resident recently finished lifting a 28-ton house owned by Ted Matthew and Jillian E. Beattie in the town of Watertown to build a second floor underneath it for the family. The 1,120-square-foot house rests on six stacks of wooden frames placed together much like the blocks used for a game of Jenga. But like the game of Jenga, each 6-foot beam of wood needs to be in exactly the right place.
“You have to engineer it down to the last inch, and there’s a lot of research that goes into it,” said the Black River resident, who has worked as a builder his entire career.
Mr. Beams started building second floors underneath houses about five years ago and has completed six projects. He called building expansions a dying trade that most construction workers don’t do anymore, partly because the projects have to be completed with such painstaking precision.
“A lot of people are scared to engineer and design these houses because of the difficulty of the work,” he said, adding he spent two full days making blueprints for the two-story house at 16860 Ives St.
But the projects can save families seeking to expand their homes a lot of money. Split-level houses typically are in the range of $100,000 to $125,000, but Mr. Beams said he charges about one-fifth of that cost for expansions.
“This will literally double their living space and allow them to create a family and living room downstairs,” he said of the revamped home owned by the Beatties, who have two sons younger than 10. “And the most rewarding part is passing the savings on to the customer.”
To lift the house, it was slowly ratcheted up two inches at a time using two hydraulic jacks situated at opposite ends. Two-by-6-foot beams sat incrementally underneath the house at six locations — three on each end — on a rotating basis. When the house was 12 feet high, four 30-foot steel beams were stationed underneath it to span the foundation’s width.
The house was lifted 12 feet to provide extra space for the second story’s frame and supporting beams. After the ceiling is installed, there will be 8 feet and 6 inches underneath.
The next step on the building agenda, Mr. Beams said, will be for a masonry crew to erect brick walls for the sides. Ultimately, the house will rest safely on large 18-by-18-foot pilaster blocks to ensure the foundation doesn’t move.
Mr. Beams said although he is an older man, the work keeps him fit. Because more people are hearing about his work, he’s now completing about two expansion projects every year.
“I’ve been lifting concrete blocks my whole career, and it builds upper body strength,” he said.