As a builder I have worked on houseboats, and as an inspector I have inspected a few. They are an interesting Seattle phenomenon—-you may remember them in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle.” The “boat” part is a bit of a misnomer however, and “floating home” or “rafts” comes a bit closer to describing them. Very few—if any have an actual hull like a boat—and even fewer resemble a boat. In the early days, some of them looked like boats and probably were boats.
They represent a very Niche Market in the Real Estate world and are typically VERY EXPEN$IVE and hard to come by under almost any market condition—-many costing more than a million dollars. Most people assume there is a moratorium on adding to the roughly 500 existing floating homes existing on Lake Union and Portage Bay. That is only true relative to the huge hurdles to overcome in terms of getting permits to build new ones. Having enough land to provide parking for the structures to be built is perhaps one of the biggest hurdles.
The Seattle Times did a great article that discusses these floating homes and I won’t attempt to duplicate that information here. For more information please check out the article: “New houseboat development on Lake Union is buoyed by demand.”
From an inspector’s point of view, they represent a whole world of disclaimers and modifications of standard inspection protocols. After all, what percentage of normal homes can sink (actually very difficult) or float away in the middle of the night (also quite difficult)?
Another thing about them—-especially the ones built prior to more modern standards—-is that nothing is level or square. Doors don’t stay open or closed, and some are only accessible to inspection underneath by scuba divers.
All floating homes must have flexible connections for the sewage, waterlines, gas lines and electric lines that run to them—-plus the building itself must be pretty well attached to the dock structures with flexible connections to allow for movement of the building on the water as well as for changing water levels. The picture at the right shows one of the flexible brackets that connect the structure to the dock. Above this connection one can see the flexible electrical connection. Beyond that connection is the flexible gas connection. The structures on these small lakes are less vulnerable to storms than they are to the large wakes from passing boats.
They are kind of fun to inspect being on the water—with great views of the water, boats and surroundings.
It is a little weird inspecting the roof and thinking about falling in water instead of on land. On one I dropped the cap of my moisture meter and got to watch it sink to the bottom. To know where the cap is and not be able to get it, is way worse than having no idea where you lost it.
Originally, some of these floating structures were built on giant old growth cedar logs as much as 6 feet in diameter—most of those have been replaced—-but some remain. The modern ones are build on floating concrete structures filled with foam. A previous post discusses one with a crawl space. Many have no crawl space at all and are built much like a house on land that has been built on a concrete slab. In fact, these slabs on land are often called “floating slabs.” The ones on land are poured as monolithic reinforced concrete slabs and float on a bed of crushed stone—–a little bit different that the floating homes of Seattle. The concept is similar though—-the foam element replaces the gravel.
So take your Dramamine and hop aboard!
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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