Relocating Buildings Threatened by Great Lakes Erosion and Bluff Failure

This blog will explore how relocating buildings threatened by erosion can be a viable option for Great Lakes coastal property owners.


Relocating Buildings Threatened by Great Lakes Erosion and Bluff Failure

Erosion of Great Lakes shorelines and coastal bluff failure can put people and buildings at risk. Relocating a building threatened by erosion and bluff failure is one option a homeowner has to protect their home. Relocating a building involves moving the building landward from the bluff edge either on-site or to a new property, constructing a new foundation, reconnecting utilities and wastewater systems, and landscaping.

Moving a home may seem like a daunting process but can actually be a viable option for Great Lakes coastal property owners. In fact, relocation can oftentimes be the most cost-effective option to protect a home from erosion and bluff failure.

Benefits of Relocating a Threatened Building

Relocating a threatened building allows property owners to keep their home by removing it from the erosion hazard area.

Home in Sheboygan moved after bluff slump caused the bluff to drop several feet, leaving a vertical scarp only feet away from the house.
Left image: 2007 before moving // Right image: 2018 after moving
Credit: Wisconsin Coastal Management Program

A main benefit of home relocation is that it can also be the most cost-effective option, especially on bluff properties where shoreline stability is complex and erosion control is difficult.


  • May increase value of home
  • Can be less expensive upfront than shore protection/bluff stabilization
  • Lower long-term costs than maintaining shore protection/shore stabilization
  • Can be most reliable and effective option for safeguarding homes
  • Avoids damaging coastal ecosystems
  • Preserves sediment input to lake
  • Avoids impacts to neighbors from shore protection structures

There are also challenges to acknowledge when considering home relocation. Some homes are easier and less expensive to relocate than others. The cost of relocation can vary depending on the complexity of the relocation project. Additionally, there are potential property value and tax implications for moving a house to a different property.


  • Relocation cost can exceed value of home
  • May not be enough space on property to relocate adequate distance
  • Lakeward portions of the lot will be lost to erosion over time
  • Could reduce tax base if home is moved to a different lot
  • Loss of homes could impact adjacent property values

How does relocation compare to other options? 

When erosion and bluff failure threatens a house, there are typically two options to save the home; relocating the house or slowing erosion through a combination of shoreline armor, like a revetment or seawall, and/or bluff slope stabilization. These two options can protect a home in very different ways and a choosing a suitable solution is highly site dependent. Below is a comparison of some of the major differences between these two types of options.

  House Relocation Shoreline Armoring
How it works Removes building from the hazard area while allowing erosion to continue. Slows erosion of bluff toe with erosion resistant material like rock or concrete.
Costs One-time cost to relocate home. Initial cost to construct.

Ongoing costs to inspect and maintain structure.

Maintenance Needs None Routine annual inspections.

Repair for settling, material degradation, and storm damage.

Limits to Effectiveness Distance home is moved away from bluff edge.

Future rate of recession based on storm intensity, storm frequency and lake level variability.

Water levels and wave conditions the structure is designed for.

Whether maintenance is performed.

Future storm intensity, storm frequency and lake level variability.

Effects to lot/property/land Some land will likely be lost to erosion. Most land will likely be retained.
Impacts to Neighboring Properties May allow erosion to occur behind neighboring shoreline armor. May increase erosion at unarmored neighboring properties.
Impacts to Nearshore Eroding sediment replenishes nearshore sediment transport and beaches. Reduces sediment inputs into lake.

Can interrupt nearshore sediment transport.

Alters shoreline and nearshore habitat

Relocation, slowing erosion, and enhancing bluff stability each have associated costs and benefits and the selection of a suitable and sustainable solution is site dependent. Investing in sustainable solutions will ensure the long-term success of a coastal protection project, minimize costs, protect other investments such as homes, and most importantly help keep structures and people safe from the impacts of coastal erosion.

Finding a Building Mover

To help find a building or structural mover near you, the following professional associations maintain contact information for their member building and structural movers.

Wisconsin Building Movers Association:

International Association of Structural Movers:

For additional information, explore the following resources

Moving Organizations

Additional Resources



International Association of Structural Movers (2013). Things to Consider When Hiring a Structural Mover. International Association of Structural Movers. Neenah, WI. Retrieved from:

International Association of Structural Movers (2018). Elevate Before It’s Too Late. International Association of Structural Movers. Neenah, WI. Retrieved from:

Lulloff, A. (2016). House Relocation – County Highway LS – Sheboygan County. In print.

Mangham, A., Hart, D., Bechle, A., Clark, G., Peroff, D., Noordyk, J., Stitt, B., Stitt, L. (2017). Adapting to a Changing Coast: Options and Resources for Lake Michigan Property Owners in Southeastern Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. Madison, WI. Retrieved from:

Rose, B., Clark, G., Clark, B., Keillor, P. (2012). Working with Engineers and Contractors on Shore Protection Projects. University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. Madison, WI. WISCU-G-12-006. Retrieved from:

Schuette Movers (n.d.) Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Detroit District) and University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute (2003). Living on the Coast: Protecting Investments in Shore Property on the Great Lakes. Madison, WI. Retrieved from:

April 13, 2020 | By Lydia Salus, Coastal Resilience Project Assistant & Adam Bechle, Coastal Engineering Outreach Specialist