I like houses. But then I like lots of things: cars, boats, airplanes… But houses do have a special hold on me, perhaps because I was homeless for a while, or because I have a knack for fixing anything and figured out you can rent old houses out, unlike old cars (actually, I tried that once too). I could do a whole series of posts about all of the old houses I’ve been intensely involved with; perhaps that’s what CC should really be about. I’ll do a piece sometime showing how we moved four houses in a convoy down the streets of Eugene one fine Sunday morning. How’s that for combining my two main interests? But right now I’m in the grips of another house project or two, or three; actually about five, at least. Anyway, here’s why I’m not writing about cars quite so much right now:
Some of you might remember this picture. Exactly a year ago, it ran with my second-to-last Farewell from TTAC piece. My younger son Will and I were going to renovate this old barn of a house that’s been sitting empty (for good reasons) for almost ten years now. Well, that was a harebrained idea, on several levels. The biggest one is that kids need to find their own passions in life. And working on old houses is NOT Will’s. We found that out after about two days. Actually, I knew that already, but it seems I usually have to learn my lessons the hard way.
The other problem with that idea is the fact that this house was really beyond practical redemption. Yes, one can fix anything, but this 110 year old house was sitting on a crumbling foundation, all the joists and rafters are grossly over-spanned (yes, they don’t build old houses like they used to, fortunately; that’s why they created building codes). The floors are like a trampoline, the ceilings and the roof are heavily sagging.
And did I mention it’s been leaking for almost a decade too? The whole west side of the house has been rotting away for some time. And the interior was stripped ages ago, there’s no heat whatsoever, and what’s left of the plumbing and electrical systems are not functional. Am I making the case too strongly? Probably because some part of me is having a hard time letting go of it. Knowing that anything can be fixed sometimes gets in the way of knowing what should be fixed; or not.
Anyway, this house straddles parts of two legal lots, so that was another nail in its coffin. And it sits on the corner of a two acre meadow right here in town that can never be built upon ever (now that’s another story!), so the vistas from both lots are superb. Someday, two new efficient houses will sit here and have this view…
I faced the music this winter when the last tarps blew off the roof, and the inside began smelling like a mushroom farm. I harbored this idea of salvaging as much of the wood as possible, but until I found my awesome helper, I had given up on it, and had already called some demolition contractors.
But then Mauricio appeared, and was very eager to take the whole thing down with a bar and sledge hammer, so that’s what he’s been doing the past couple of weeks. Since the house never had plaster walls (just wood, with paper or fabric on them), taking it apart is not quite so daunting. This way, all the wood will either be re-used, or recycled. That applies to the insulation, aluminum windows, wiring, etc. The total amount going into the dump will be minute.
Much of the cedar siding that was put on thirty years ago has been stripped and awaiting re-use on sheds and for siding on the new house. The fir flooring is being taken up, much of it in beautiful 18′ lengths of clear vertical-grain old-growth wood. And the ship-lap boards that made up the interior walls is also going to be re-used. And we’ll see about what else can be saved as we go along.
The challenge is to store it all. I’ve improvised this little storage shed against my back fence, which thankfully is made with big 6×6 posts. But what you see there is just the beginning; I need a warehouse! Actually, just a nice outbuilding made from the recycled framing lumber! Add one more project to the to-do list.
The big one on the list is to build a new little house right here, on the front of this lot right behind my house (out of view on right, behind the big maple). The little cottage in the way back on the alley is one of mine that I moved there, as well as the “garage” with the red door. Actually, Edward and I turned that garage into a little cottage for him when he was going to the University. It will be the third bedroom-bath to the new house that will attach to the front of it (you might be able to see the red-tipped markers).
I’ve actually never designed and built a new house from scratch, and I’m tired of dealing with old moved houses. I did design and build this new studio/loft addition onto the back of one of my rentals by myself two years ago, but it’s only some 400 sq. ft. Given how cheap the the materials ended up costing, I decided I had enough of moved houses.
It gives an idea of what I’m after. I really enjoyed not working with dirty old materials, and dealing with lead paint, etc. Old houses definitely have their pros and cons.
I’m designing this new house one to be as expedient to build as possible, and make a suitable rental, at least for now (our rental market is healthy indeed, thanks to the ever-growing University). About 950 sq. ft., one-story, one bath, two bedrooms. Plus the “garage” unit attached to it. Very sparse, unfussy and basic, in a modern loft-ish way. And hopefully inexpensive to build. Wood is dirt cheap right now. I’ll do my own electrical and plumbing too. If Mauricio is still around, we’ll frame it together. Foundation: maybe do it ourselves; maybe not.
And we also need to finish renovating the little cottage in the back of that lot while I wait for my permits, and I need to build a guest apartment out of the gutted attic over our garage. And…
Let’s just say the old Ford and I are going to have a busy season, depending how our decrepit bodies hold out. And when the rain re-appears and the days get short, about the end of October or so, I’ll be ready to crank up the car-writing again. In the meantime, thanks to our growing cadre of contributors, Curbside Classics with wheels will hopefully keep rolling through these pages.