The “Greenability” of Remodeling Older Homes
Many of us live in houses that were built in the time before “green building” and “sustainability” became popular terms. Although these older houses weren’t built to be green, many were well built. We can take a lesson from those homes and learn to upgrade them in a manner respectful of their age and merits… and, of course, our own needs, which can and should include energy efficiency and healthy materials. When we approach a remodel of an older home, one of our prime considerations is to look for what is good and salvageable. We have become demolition experts. We have gotten good at knowing when to use a fine-tooth finish saw and when to use a sledgehammer. Knowing what to keep and what to remove takes experience and a practiced eye. Then again, you never know what might be concealed behind that wall–we haven’t found any human skeletons yet, but tools from the original builders, 100-year old newspapers, and an alcoholic’s stash of wine bottles are just a few of our finds. Structural surprises aren’t so much fun, and sometimes it’s best to tear it all down and start over, but just as often, with a second look, much can be saved.
Remodeling specialists often boast about being green before green was a catchword. We’ve been recycling homes since 1980 and before. We operate on the principle that much can be preserved rather than discarded, whether in its natural state in the home or repurposed elsewhere.
Last year we had a deck remodel to do for a customer and after some serious discussion, decided that everything but the stairs had to go because of decay coupled with design considerations. So we had a staircase to nowhere with temporary supports and a pile of partially rotten boards. Some builders would have lobbied to demo the stairs too but fortunately, our customer wanted to preserve as much as he could of the old. The pile of wood disappeared, found its way into my yard and eventually into a treehouse for our grandkids. That treehouse, by the way, is made entirely of leftovers from at least 5 remodels dating back several years.
Why remodel at all? Why take on a potential major headache when you can buy a lot or a piece of land and start from scratch? Well, I believe there are several great reasons. First of all is location. Many of the great places to live are already built on because they were the best places years ago–close to downtown, the lake, the schools , the jobs, the river, the mountain, the best views, and so on. Also, many of these homes have good strong bones–intact foundations, good frames, solid roofs. Oftentimes they have real wood solid sheathing in the walls, floors, and roof, something you just don’t see anymore.
Another great reason to remodel is that the infrastructure is already in place–water, power, sewer, gas, cable tv, roads, driveways–all things whose costs count for some major expenses when you have to pay for them yourself… and don’t forget hookup and impact fees on new construction, and architect and engineering fees. The city of Sandpoint, as of Jan. 1 this year now requires all plans with structural changes to have either a licensed architect or engineer’s stamp to be approved. While Bonner County still only requires building location permits and storm water management plans, I anticipate that this somewhat lax approach to building construction won’t last forever and probably shouldn’t. With more regulation will come more fees. These fees will probably continue to increase and must be taken into account when budgeting projects.
The cost of remodeling a home can seem daunting but when the savings on these fees and infrastructure costs are figured in, (and don’t forget the hassle factor of dealing with bureaucracies!) some real savings can be realized.
I’ve attempted to say a lot about a complex subject in a few words here. Once again, my advice is to take the time to ask questions, do your research and look around. When you find a place that fits your budget and list of wants, it may be time to hire an inspector or a qualified builder to take a good hard look at the house and give his or her advice and ideas.
This won’t be the first or last time I will advise my readers to hire specialists in the building profession and use their services. I’ve learned to do the same for myself when it comes to areas outside my area of expertise, and I’m never sorry. Good luck!
Ted Bowers 2015
Before your home remodel; https://shopsandpoint.com/local-information-links/