Nixon Build and Design

Up, up and away

Putting on a second storey is one way to get more living space into a home, but in Queensland they are building the second storey underneath.

Author

Cass Proudfoot

Zak Nixon has been in the construction industry all his working life. He learned from his father, who spent time helping out on building sites with his own father, who is also a builder. As a third-generation builder, mentored by his father Bret Nixon, Zak has done new builds and renovations, including heritage renovations.

But these days his Queensland business specialises in house raising and structural steel placement. Zak is the director of Nixon Build and Design. Zak and the team use their own pier jacking system to raise timber homes from Townsville to Brisbane, often in heritage or character precinct areas, or areas subject to flooding.

Zak’s grandfather was involved in house raising decades ago when his father Bret Nixon was a child.

‘He actually developed the first principles of the lifting gear back then and we’ve perfected it since. In the first system my grandfather used big hardwood pier jacks. After two jobs he moved onto steel because the timber had limitations and was very heavy. Since then, my father Bret has been refining and improving the system,’ Zac says.

The pier jack system they use today is their own Pro-Jax™ structure lifting system with patent priority established.

The lion’s share of house raising work comes from people who are looking for a bigger house on a small block, or homeowners in a character precinct with heritage restrictions on their homes. Heritage homes can be raised up, and a new storey – or two – added at ground level, without altering the character of the home, or the street.

For years, Nixon Build and Design specialised in remodelling and renovating heritage homes, raising them up to provide habitable space underneath.

‘It’s important for the work to be authentic to the original character of the structure. Those techniques are all part of our trade, the real art in renovation is in keeping the charm of the building and remodelling it into a contemporary space,’ Zac says.

There are lots of reasons to make this kind of change to a home.

‘Some people want a parent’s retreat and rumpus room, or space for elderly parents. Others raise up the house to create space underneath for cars, utility and storage areas, and a boat,’ he explains.

Nixon Build and Design
Most of the work requested of Nixon Pro-Jax™ is house raising to allow practical and livable use of the space underneath
Nixon Build and Design
The finished result after raising

Sometimes, it isn’t about raising the house but repositioning it. Some owners just want to shift their home to one side, rather than going up. Others want to rotate the building for better views or orientation. All of that is possible. That said, most of the work requested of Nixon Pro-Jax™ is house raising to allow practical and livable use of the space underneath.

Originally, many old Queenslanders were built on stumps about five foot high. ‘Just about forehead height where you smack your head on the main bearers,’ says Zac. Unless the house is raised, the space can be used for storage, but not living areas.

‘Originally, the point of raising the house was for cooling and it was convenient for construction at that height,’ explains Zak. ‘At that height the builders at the time could more easily lift the timbers onto the stumps from the ground.’

But with the Nixon Pro-Jax™ equipment they use today, homes can be raised in excess of 6.5 metres with capacity to build two new levels underneath.

‘Our main interest now is specialising in high lifts, or house raising on difficult blocks or steep sites,’ Zak explains. The clever jack system they use sits outside the footprint of the building, leaving all the space underneath free for the other trades to work in. All equipment required fits on a specialised trailer, as access can be challenging in the older areas.

‘We raise a house to its new construction height, install the support steel on new foundations, and transfer the building load onto the newly installed structure’ he says.

‘We recently lifted a house 6.5 metres on the side of Castle Hill in Townsville. Access was very difficult, the support, steel and lifting equipment was crane lifted into position. With clever engineering we were able to manage complex anchorage and bracing factors, and of course it’s the height that added this complexity.’

Many lifts in Queensland are on hillsides, some with other homes quite close. The Pro-Jax™ system sits outside the footprint of the building structure with 500kg universal support beams lifted by the jacking system so that the structure maintains integrity despite sloping terrain.

‘In Brisbane, it’s a novelty to see a house lifted 6.5 metres’

For lifting a house two storeys, Nixon Pro-Jax™ will raise the house one level and demolish the old support structure. ‘This allows the contractor to construct the new ground level. We will then raise the building to full height and connect the two levels,’ Zac says.

‘We’ve done a lot of work developing our techniques, especially safety aspects. The system is designed so that you only need two people to raise a house, but it is more effective with three or four,’ he adds.

‘The supporting beams go in from side to side. We use six pier jacks for an average house, four for a small one, and up to ten for a large structure. The jacks are positioned along the sides of the house and support the lifting beams that span the full width of the building. Where the building requires shifting or rotating we employ a roller system that operates on a matrix of steel beams’.

These days the trailer spends a lot of time on the road, as Nixon’s expertise in house raising sees them in high demand throughout Queensland. The team is now so busy subcontracting with house raising work, they leave the construction work to primary contractors.

A whole house lifted up on jacks is quite a dramatic sight, so the Nixon Pro-Jax™ jobs attract a lot of attention. ‘In Brisbane, it’s a novelty to see a house lifted 6.5 metres. We see people taking photos, and sending text messages to come and have a look. House raising is not uncommon in Queensland, but it is still a sight to see.’

Raising up a timber house seems like a no brainer, allowing a whole new storey to be built underneath without taking away any of the garden area, and without compromising a heritage style house. But there is a lot to consider after the house is lifted.

Zak explains, ‘The elements to consider when raising a property are electrical and plumbing upgrades, compliant access, new stairs, balustrade rail, column and support steel and necessary bracing which are all minimum requirements for certification to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy.’

There’s plenty of work about – ‘They’ve been constructing buildings for more than 150 years in Queensland, so we have a lot of work to do!’ Zak says.

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