Pet Star 20 Under 40

To save a house, raise it off the ground first

2014-07-29T18:20:00Z 2014-07-31T13:16:53Z To save a house, raise it off the ground first Glens Falls Post-Star
July 29, 2014 6:20 pm

BOLTON LANDING -- Expectations are high for the old farmhouse elevated above a 9-foot pit on a quiet road.

The view from the front yard on Federal Hill Road is stunning, overlooking the Tongue Mountain Range, but there is an astonishing sight right on the property as BBB Construction, undertaking a full restoration, works on the elevated post and beam style farmhouse.

Commissioned by Ethan and Trudy Bixby, the firm is working to restore the house, which dates back at least to 1826, said Con Burke, manager of BBB Construction, a Lake George family business celebrating its 20th year.

“They wanted to preserve the farmhouse look without losing the integrity of everything,” Burke said.

Many farmhouses have been lost, but the Bixbys are determined to save this one and make it a year-round structure.

BBB Construction broke ground on the project about 60 days ago after the Bixbys gutted the interior, removing the old lathe and plaster, stripping it down to keep the post and beam structure. The house sits on 92 acres, protected by a conservation easement, that the Bixbys bought two years ago.

Ethan’s great-grandfather W.K. Bixby was an industrialist who was into railroads, banking, collecting art and manuscripts and many other pursuits, Ethan said. Though his father is not the same Bill Bixby who starred on "The Incredible Hulk," he's accustomed to people joking that he is "the Incredible Hulk's son."

Ethan grew up in Florida and is a world champion sailboat racer. He and Trudy have a home in Florida, and he makes sails for a living.

“We like the property itself on this side of the road. If we didn’t rebuild it, we’d have to build a new place and move it back from the road quite a bit and move the barn (also on the property) and it would cascade into more of a project. And we like the old style of the house,” Ethan said.

He spoke while taking a break from mowing the expansive property on a recent hot and humid afternoon.

The structure could be as old as 200 years, and it may have been a barn first, but it’s hard to tell, he said.

Larmon House Movers of Schuylerville, a house-moving and lifting company that BBB Construction has worked with on such projects before, was brought in to help with the project.

“It’s done with heavy earth-moving equipment that gets underneath the building and hydraulic lifts. It’s an involved project, an engineering feat. We use cribbing to elevate the house and we use a series of steel beams, placed strategically, to take up the point loads of the building,” Burke said.

The old beams had to be steam-cleaned with ammonia, he added.

The architect, Curt Dybas, and the Bixbys put the plans together to preserve as much as possible of the house, Burke said.

“Our role as the general contractor is to do the site work. the foundation and restoration of the farmhouse. We’re doing the complete envelope, rebuilding the framing, all new exterior perimeter and windows. All new floor system. We’re bringing it back to life because it was sitting and wasn’t really maintained,” Burke said.

Old additions to the house were removed. Rotted beams were cut out and replaced and the partial fieldstone foundation was removed so BBB could pour a new concrete foundation in the nine-foot pit they excavated.

“We’ve done five similar projects to this one. We’ve probably done five or six with Stan (Larmon) and 10 more similar kinds of lifting and elevating houses. They’re all a little different,” Burke said.

Dybas described the project — resurrecting the house as a three-bedroom 2 1/2-bath home from as much salvaged materials as possible — as an episode of “This Old House” without the hassle of filming.

 The rough estimated cost for phase one of the project is $225,000, including everything from excavating around the house to pouring the foundation and completing the exterior.

When the house is lowered, Burke said, it will be bolted to the foundation, with the stacked cribbing and steel beams carefully removed.

The hope is by next spring the Bixbys will have a new year-round energy-efficient 2,000-square-foot home, transformed from an old wooden structure with a partial foundation and barely any insulation.

BBB Construction stands for Burke Brothers Builders. The name came about 20 years ago when Con and his brothers took over the contracting business from their father, Tom Burke, an Irish immigrant.

Before that, their father was building the business from the ground up, after immigrating to the United States in the 1960s. In Boston he met an Irish woman, Kathleen. They married and had seven children, and Kathleen remains “the backbone” of the business, Con said, as she still keeps the financial books.

“When I came over, there was no work in Ireland. You couldn’t support a family,” Tom said.

Now, the business Tom and Kathleen started is flourishing in its second generation, finding its foundation in the American Dream.

Editor’s note: This is a regular series focusing on interesting local businesses and the ways they survive, thrive and innovate. Local business owners are invited to contact The Post-Star.

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. Crazylibbrel
    Report Abuse
    Crazylibbrel - July 29, 2014 11:23 pm
    must be nice to have money!

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