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Where Houses are Built on Pilings Instead of Foundation - Ensuring Your Home Does NOT SINK

“What?” Her husband asked incredulously. “No, no.” she exclaimed. “We don’t have foundations here.  Houses are built on creosote piling like the docks.”  That too got a “What?”  Her husband was a “Coastie” from down south.  She marveled at the wooden archway between the carpeted living room and dining room with the hard wood floor.  She fell in love with our home as first sight. Of course she grew up in Ketchikan.  As her  gaze fell upon the kitchen (where Dinner Rolls were coincidently baking) and passed through to our back yard.  “Oh, we had a Black Labrador too!” Back in the day everyone in Southeast Alaska owned a black lab; they are water dogs and the perfect family pet.

Then and now wildflowers grow in the inaccessible rain gutters of the Sons of Norway hall, saplings grow on abandon boats, mature Sitka Spruce on Horns Cliffs and elevated wooden decks disguised as immaculate lawns.

We live in a temperate swamp call a “muskeg”.  It rains as much as 13 feet some years.  That’s 156 inches.

One day hoses appeared carrying water from house to house on Lumber Street.  The City of Petersburg felt the need to replace the old wooden  water supply lines.  To do that they dug up the street.  All of it down to “hard pack” where the wooden water  main lay.  That is the same depth of creosote pilings holding up the house; 32 feet. 

Across the street it looked like an archeology dig.  At the bottom you could see the first drive way at the neighbor’s house; gravel, several inches. Which sank.  Then they tried large rocks with gravel on top.  That too sank .  Then a corduroy parking pad; pulp sized logs.  Sank!  Years of muskeg grew for a while then wooden planks which sank.  Intermittent attempts at gravel topped by the currently muddy drive way.  Or so I thought.  When they replaced the water main, hooked up all the houses, back-filled and compacted 32 feet of gravel, they still had to replace the culverts and the gravel in our driveways.    The city boys encouraged me to move up my truck so they could  replace as much gravel as possible.  When they spread out a dump truck load of gravel, they stirred up a slab of concrete or two.  Ends up some previous owner had poured 2x4 foot concrete slabs which rather than sinking separated and “floated” everywhere include my front lawn.

But things are better now in the new house.  Our drive ways are concrete slabs, but now on steel pilings.  And the muskeg here is only 14 feet deep.


Author - William Moulton