Design & DIY

Colin and Justin jack up their cottage and install a new dock

Colin and Justin’s cottage is on the tilt. Aye, it’s a “slanty shanty” and then some! To remedy matters, the cottage needs to be jacked up, but the costs certainly won’t jack up the boys’ hopes for a happy ending.

Prior to owning this cute wee cabin, we thought “jacking” was something that you did to a Steve “Silk” Hurley soundtrack. Oh to the days of youth, and the hallowed sounds of Chicago House: “Jack, jack, jack your body…” But lo and behold, we lived—and we learned. Yup, there’s a whole house-jacking scene going down on Cabin Pressure, and that’s just as well—otherwise our cottage would be going down the drain.

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Colin and Justin’s “Slanty Shanty”

Yikes. There’s only one word to describe our predicament: “subsidence.” Yes, our lil’ wee cabin in the woods is on the move—bit to the left, wobble to the right. Let’s put it this way: the only straight thing in there is Randy, our contractor.

Appraising the rotting foundations, we discovered that the concrete piers had cracked. Left unattended, it would only have been a matter of time before the house would have slipped to the point of no return. So upon discovering the drama, we had a few options: 1) raze the house completely and build anew; 2) raise the corners and replace each of the cracked piers; or 3) in true C&J “find a fault, make a feature” spirit, jack the entire house 15 feet off the ground, dig out the problems, establish a new foundation, and install a whole new basement! Way to go—let’s get started!

Reno 1

Appraising the cottage’s rotting foundation

Lifting a house off the ground (without it falling apart) is an absolute science, one that we charged to the family firm Almaguin Building Movers. Meeting John Purdy, the operation’s matriarch, was a lifting experience in itself: he has a massive personality. But nothing lifted the spirits of our contracting team quite as much as his daughter Andrea, a gorgeous, tattooed, house-lifting, blonde Pink-lookalike goddess who wasn’t afraid to get into the pit and skillfully orchestrate the whole process. Girl power! After hours of subtle raising, the process was complete. And our cottage had literally levitated! Fifteen feet off the ground, no less, supported by two giant metal joists and sitting astride four chunky timber towers. Confused? Imagine a house on a rickshaw sitting on a pile of Jenga bricks to get the gist.

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Lifting the cottage to fix the slant and creating a basement.

Enter uber contractor Randy Blain and his skillful team of incredibly gifted co-workers. Their task was to install a large basement, which we subsequently transformed into a bedroom, utility space, larder, TV crash zone, and boiler cupboard. Holy McMoly—we added an ENTIRE new level of life space. As you do …

Next stage? Laying a concrete foundation—a process which looked suspiciously like a Mafia cover up as gallons of concrete were hosed into place. Left to cure for what seemed like an eternity, we were forced to vacate the house for 10 whole days. Undeterred, we used the time to get to work on our new dock and create a beautiful lakeside escape.

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The existing dock before being dismantled for future upcycling

The old dock, lying derelict on the shore, was dried out and broken like some ancient old dinosaur, so we opted to start afresh. But waste not want not: we actually used some of the timber to build a headboard for a future episode. But more of that later. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, Ben Burrett from Interco Fabrications helped us design a spanking new pontoon that was delivered across the lake and maneuvered into place on a delightfully sunny day. Joy!

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Colin and Justin’s new and improved dock.

Choosing an L-shaped dock provided ample space for two recliners to catch the morning sun—and two for the afternoon—as well as providing adequate berth space for when we finally get around to buying a boat. Yay: a little slice of future paradise was set—all that remained was to take a trip to Hauser in Toronto to seek out some modern furniture to echo the timber and metal of the dock. The only thing missing is a beer fridge.

Back on dry land, the time had finally come to lower our wee cabin from its perch and position it gently atop its new foundation.  Like a shuttle docking with a space station, scientific precision was skillfully applied, and the expert house jackers brought our shack back down to earth. At last, our house was finally off its shaky foundations and onto a well-grounded future. Goodbye “Slanty Shanty.”

Watch the latest episodes of Colin and Justin’s Cabin Pressure below and stay tuned for new episodes, Sunday at 9pm et/pt. Cottage Life television is now in free preview. Find your channel here.