Originally published Friday, December 23, 2011 at 8:03 PM

Floating home under construction in Port Townsend

The floating home is being constructed for a family that outgrew a boathouse on Lake Union in Seattle.

Peninsula Daily News

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There's one thing that catches the eye when you look over this new home going up at the Port of Port Townsend shipyard — it sits atop a massive float.

"We'll launch it just like a boat," said Bob Little, president of Port Townsend's Little & Little Construction, a crew of about 10 that is building its first "floating home" at the site adjacent to Larry Scott Memorial Trail and the shore leading to Port Townsend Bay.

"In essence, we're just building a home on a slab," Little said. "It's been great fun, and what a fun learning experience."

Little, whose family has built traditional homes in Jefferson County since 1979, said the floating home is being constructed for a family that outgrew a boathouse on Lake Union in Seattle.

He met the family in recent years when his crew built a Port Townsend weekend home. The family approached him about building the floating home.

A Port of Port Townsend official said he believed it is the most ambitious such project ever built at the shipyard.

"They've built quite a few house boats there, but nothing this big," said Jim Pivarnik, deputy director of the Port of Port Townsend.

The well-insulated luxury home is much like others inside, with a cinder-block fireplace in the spacious living room that will have a wall of folding glass doors that can open out to a deck on warm days.

It has bedrooms and baths and plenty of view windows, now looking out over the Port Townsend Bay from the shipyard.

Upstairs is a family room, master bedroom, office space and a master bath.

It will have radiant heating in its heavily reinforced floors.

The exterior walls are specially designed with cedar planks atop hollow panels that allow for maximum drainage when the wind whips up rain or Lake Union's waters.

The main difference between this home and most others is it has a 6-foot-high concrete base filled with 500-pound Styrofoam blocks upon which the structure of nearly 2,000 square feet will float.

Little figures the two-story building will weigh about 600,000 pounds when completed.

The final challenge will be moving it into the Lake Union floating-home community, which Little said requires moving existing homes to make room for the new home's placement on the dock, all at the new owner's expense.

While he declined to say what construction would cost, Little said the home was comparable in price to a traditional home of its size on land because it required no land acquisition or grading expense.

Much of the weight is in the float, a 30-by-40-foot slab of concrete filled with 12 Styrofoam blocks, each weighing about 500 pounds.

The blocks are encased in about 8 inches of concrete — about 90 yards had to be poured — which took about three months to complete beginning in June, before the home's construction could even begin.

It was the most time-consuming part of the project, Little said.

Once launched during a high tide during the first week of January, Little said the home will be towed north to the port's Boat Haven marina nearby.

Port officials said it would be moored at the marina's linear dock until the weather clears, allowing for a safe tow to Seattle.

The home was designed by Seattle architect Barry Burgess.

Like other floating homes, the building is pre-plumbed and wired for hookup at the dock.

Jeff Monroe, owner of Monroe House Moving in Carlsborg, Clallam County, originally based out of Quilcene, said he will team up with D.B. Davis House Moving of Everett to move the floating home into the water.

"It will be like the Evviva," Monroe said, referring to the launch of the 161-foot yacht built in 1993 before the Port of Port Townsend acquired a 300-ton marine lift to serve the shipyard.

Monroe remembered how his family's company endured much stress to move the yacht on thick plywood and dollies.

The floating-home construction site was located close to the water for that reason, port officials said.

Monroe said the home movers were still in the planning stages, but he was confident they could launch the home as long as it had 6 feet of water on which to float at high tide.

The launch will require opening a fence between the shipyard and the public trail, and installing barge ramps from the footpath to the beach so as not to disturb the beachhead.

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