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As we all predicted - houses getting smaller!

Post in 'The Green Room' started by webbie, Nov 14, 2010.

  1. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    We get it. You don't like old. To each his own.

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  2. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    What you get with an older home is the lot. I always liked the idea of someone in a horse and wagon pulling up to a spot on a dirt road and decided this is a good place to build a house. Now we put houses where they shouldn't be, but get away with it because energy is cheap. The big savings with renovation/restoration is historical, and I can understand the frustration of a flooring contractor trying to install 24" kitchen tiles in a 150 year old kitchen.
  3. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    But, Benj, it's always hard to see the big picture!

    You see, someone bought my old house....and is living in it using as much or more energy as I did........

    Well, maybe they will take advantage of tax credits and do some upgrades! As it was, we had solar hot water, a nice fireplace with a stove in it, and a sun room designed for heat gain.
  4. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    My daughter, who lives in the Bay Area, is looking to buy her first house there. Many, if not most, of the houses there fit these criteria - that is, you can walk easily to the BART (train), walk to stores, etc....and, the houses are small. Of course, given the weather out there, energy costs are low.

    Because of all those factors, the prices of houses are through the roof! I'm telling her to consider NOT buying (renting). Even after the so-called Real Estate Crash, here are some examples of housing prices there....

    1. Tiny (1000 sq ft) single story house in heavily urban transitional neighborhood (we'd call that a slum....slums look different in Ca. than elsewhere).
    $250,000+
    2. Same tiny house in Berkeley instead of Oakland (less crime, more "hip")
    $400,000+

    She's single. She also is quite smart (lawyer and engineer), yet she seems to be buying into the Realtors nonsense about housing being "a good investment". I'm trying to drum it into her head that her first criteria should be that the place should be somewhere she wants to live, and a step up from where she lives now. Unfortunately, that is hard to do - because although she has a basement apartment, it is in the hills of Berkeley and backs up to the Rose Garden (famous park). It is also in walking distance of some major parks which extend deep into the hills.

    Anyway, the point is that your CPA is right! The market is starting to understand that a house which is located with access to transportation and other needs...has more value! Of course, the California weather helps a bit with the value too!
    :)
  5. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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    I've owned houses built in 1920, 1946, 1999 and a cabin built in 1952. Construction methods were similar and I have to believe that they were all built with cost in mind. The older houses were all of better quality than the one built in 99, but I have to believe that it was quality of materials available. Looking at the old 2x4s and the new 2x4s available and you can see a difference in quality. I also believe plaster is better than drywall, but I suppose that is open to argument.

    I don't believe that the framer sawing off the end of a board did anything different with a handsaw than a modern one does with a miter saw.

    Matt
  6. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    Many of the older lake and woods vacation cabins represent some of the best small house design, and when properly insulated, also represent some of the most energy efficient small homes. These cabins are square or mildly rectangular. They have a very open design, basically two sides, one for living space and the other for kitchen and bedroom(s), with a bathroom stuck wherever there was left over space, then a hallway between the two sides, and finally a front and back door at each end of the hallway. They also usually were built to take advantage of a natural sight line and the long summer days, which would mean if possible a southerly or southwesterly exposure so that the warm sun would shine in on the long and cool summer afternoons and evenings.

    Because they were square, they had minimal outside walls to interior area, and therefore had minimal heat loss to the outside. The southerly exposure guaranteed passive solar gain. Because money often was short, they had none of the multiple gables, high ceilings, multiple wings, etc., that are now common in the conspicuous, non-functional style of the "modern" McMansions built by the nuvo rich of today's lake and vacation crowd.

    This style of building would do well today to provide efficient, inexpensive, and livable small homes.
  7. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Seems like your clients have eyes bigger than their wallets
    THis is also the work I do as well, last year i restored a 100 year old small house, half a duplex. I used blown in cellulose insulation on Feb 1 It turn out so well the house never went below 50 for the rest of the winter,even with no heat on at all. Did get some heat from the shared middle wall but not much as i insulated some of those as well for sound. Depends how thorough you are. For about $300 in recycled newspaper insulation the house is greener than it ever was.Got a great deal on good windows,had to take them all 12 windows for $540. I can also put an inch of foamboard under the siding when it goes on but it may not be cost effective at this point. Old homes can be green,greener than new homes in some cases.
  8. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    I haven't hid the fact that I have strong feelings on the subject. I have nothing against folks who want modern or think modern is better. I just wish they would leave old houses to those of us who want to restore them for their innate value as a historic old house. If you want new buy new. Dont buy an old house and gut it to put in all modern details.

    Now on the other hand this is not to say that old hose folks dont care about being green. We do. Just go to any old house site like oldhouseweb and old house journal and you will see we have many lively discussions about retrofitting old homes for more energy efficiency while maintaining their character.
  9. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    A few years ago we visited my German cousin's friend, who owned an old farmhouse on a working farm. The house was mostly built of stone, very thick walls, doorways about 5' high. By government regulation (yes, government acted to preserve the German cultural heritage and intruded on people's lives) the house exterior had to remain in its original character, so that from the outside you could not tell that anything had changed. Certain interior characteristics also had to be preserved, but with that, the house was fully modernized, insulated, electrified, appliances, heat, etc. of first class, modern character. I also feel certain that codes of very high standard had to be met on the finished, restored and updated house.

    Energy efficiency is only one element of many important elements, not all of which are easy valued in money terms. Culture, heritage, tradition, character also have substantial value to a people who value who they are and who they want to be. It often takes government to intervene to protect these other values, because the capitalism market only values that on which a profit can be made. If there is no profit to be made, capitalism sees no value, because it reduces everything to a commodity. Beauty, character, culture, heritage, tradition, etc. cannot be commoditized to realize the fullness of their value to a people and a culture.

    This old house can be a very fine house, indeed.
  10. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    This pretty much sums up how I feel. I read a an article once about a restoration after a fire where the homeowner demanded full replacement of the original home. It got to the point they were using cut nails and wood lathe to re-plaster the home. Now, some people may think this is cute but I think this guy was an A**H*LE! Its an insult to craftsmen to think they'd waste their time when there was a better way of doing things. When I was working aerial construction I could still climb poles and use a a hand drill (we called it a wiggle stick, a lot lighter than a gasoline powered drill but would wear you out a lot quicker!) if I had to, but I wouldn't spit on a bucket truck and power drill if it was available to me. Plaster is better than drywall, but you can skimcoat drywall too. Both walls have to be straight, which leads me to the conclusion that a carpenter used to build the whole house, and was only screwing himself later if he cheated today. Now its an endless parade of screw-you till the landscaper gets the last check. Premade moldings are great and probably cheaper than having someone make them on sight with a block plane. I've done it, its fun, and you're proud of yourself. But it doesn't pay anymore.

    Stone foundations are much stronger in compression than concrete, but no so good at keeping out water. Asphalt roofs are ugly but are pretty much maint. free compared to a thatch or shake roof, and about 1/10th the cost of slate or copper. I'd rather have an older house for the location but I'd rather have plywood than balloon framing. Anyway you look at it none of this stuff will last forever.
  11. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I got over most of my old house desires because I was a remodeling contractor who often fixed up others "dreams" for them.

    I also was in demolition for years, and tore down many oldies.

    As with anything else, there are goodies and baddies. In my case, I was working in Bucks County, PA...so when we are talking old...this is OLD. We're talking floor joists with hand-hewn sides - likely turning to dust, and 7 ft ceilings (easier to heat). We also lived in a nice house up that way- high end older construction...solid stone and brick. The inside walls of that house just radiated cold in the winter!

    I love vintage stuff as long as someone else owns it......or, I guess, as long as the owners have unlimited money and pay me for constantly fixing it up! In the case of two of my clients back there in Bucks County - well, they don't call it "Bucks" County for naught. Money was just paper to those clients....

    No doubt that some building materials (studs, joists) have gotten worse in quality. However, if you do your homework and pay a little more, you can often find better lumber than the min. which meets code.

    I sorta like plywood also, but even that has been cheapened greatly. I sheathed my shop addition with plywood from 84 Lumber, and this stuff started delaminating from just the dew in the morning (before tar paper was on). It rained lightly once and I thought I was gonna have to rip the stuff off....I ended up running up there and stapling down all the delaminated parts.

    I think a contractor or homeowner has to so their homework these days to avoid getting junk. It's a whole science in itself (lumber grades, etc.).
  12. benjamin

    benjamin Minister of Fire

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    It's always hard to see the big picture, that's why "wise allocation of resources" is a better standard than the mythical "green".

    Sure somebody bought your old house, but if they didn't pay an "out of sight" price for it hopefully they were able to make improvements that brought it closer to a modern standard of comfort and efficiency instead of playing the tax credit game and doing improvements as dictated by bureaucrats not economics.

    Now if everyone had the knowledge and wisdom to wisely allocate resources, then many more small, old or obsolete houses would be dismantled and replaced with new housing. Even the amish, who don't seem to be overly enamored of the latest fads, will often tear down an old house in order to build a new one a few feet away.

    It was the author of the Atlantic article who had the undue nostalgic reverence. I have nothing against old houses, I own one fine house that's about 80 years old and live in a converted barn that's around 100 years old, but these were exceptional structures which happened to have attributes that allowed them to be updated easily. In general, I believe that most old structures are economically obsolete and would be better off being replaced by new structures at some point. Very few buildings are truly built to last, especially in this country whole cities were thrown up in a matter of a few short years in boom times that made the last decade look like the economic dark ages.
  13. benjamin

    benjamin Minister of Fire

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    I feel your pain Craig, young people especially have never known a world other than ridiculously inflating house prices. So many have no perspective on how far housing prices could continue to fall.

    Especially in a market as trendy as the Bay area, maybe you should borrow a lesson from Wall Street, "buy on the rumor and sell on the news". The rumor has been pretty strong that mass transit and urban hipness is the economic boom of the future. I'm here to tell you that the news is it's time to sell, not buy, especially for someone who is young, smart (though not focused on housing) and ambitious, and considering buying into an old rumor.
  14. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Why should they turn to dust? When kept dry wood can last almost indefinitely... My house is built of hand hewn lumber and its not crumbling at all, except for the poorly built 1970s addition that didn't have proper drainage and clearance to grade. Across town there is a house from 1680 that's also not falling down. Still an owner occupied private home.

    As with anything else its all a matter of proper preventative maintenance. Old homes do NOT have to be falling apart wrecks or maintenance nightmares. I guess for some reason a lot of you had many run ins with folks who got in over their head or tried to rescue homes that had been abused.. which is a shame. But there really are a lot of nice, well maintained, perfectly livable old homes out there.... maybe someday you will see an example that changes your mind.

    I guess I see now why so many old house lovers try to get their homes onto the historic register so they cant be demolished by a future owner....
  15. DBoon

    DBoon Minister of Fire

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    A big part of the problem with any house, new or old, is that many owners don't realize the ongoing maintenance that is required of a home. These people should be renters, but they are not.

    I've known more than a few people who aspired to a 3000 to 4000 square foot McMansion (and bought it) without wanting to hear that the water heater would need replacement in 6-8 years, the roof in 15-20 years, the windows in 20 years, etc. etc. These time frames are all so beyond what they believe will be required while they own the house. Yet, sooner or later, someone (like them) will own that house someday and will defer needed maintenance because they spent their money on the mortgage payment or something else. The home will decay until it is an "eyesore" and need to be torn down. I believe that McMansions will see this process accelerated since they lack any character that makes people desire to improve them, and since they are built so cheaply (overall) to begin with.

    I looked at a perfectly nice 30 year old home in South Salem, NY about 8 years ago and there were roof leaks in the living room and bathroom. The drywall ceilings were caving in and they put plywood under them to keep them up. This was a 30 year old house that had been treated as if it were a car meant to be used for 10 years and then discarded, or else the owners bought more house than they could afford and couldn't afford to maintain it. The value of the "house" was essentially the value of the lot - nothing had been maintained. What a waste.

    My 1250 square foot 1920's vintage home home has original windows, and they still work great. How many "new" homes with vinyl windows will be able to say that in 90 years? Not many, I am guessing. All I have needed to do was add sprung bronze weatherstipping to them, and some EPDM gaskets. This home has had four owners in 90 years - it never turned over much since it is a beautiful home with character that is inspiring to be in (people tell me this, I'm not making it up). It has been well cared for all by all the owners. All it would have taken was one "bad" owner who didn't maintain it for 30 years and it would have been one of those "terrible old homes" that needed to be torn down and replaced with something designed for a 40 year lifespan.
  16. pugetsoundwa

    pugetsoundwa New Member

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    We almost bought a newly remodeled house built in 1910. Beautifully redone. The distance to work was too much and only 1 bathroom. We ended up with a new house, finished in Jan 09 that we bought in Aug 09, had never been lived in. 1250 sq ft is plenty for us as we use the garage as storage to keep the house cluttter free. its one of the smaller houses in our gated community of Clearwood. Bought it for almost 40,000 less then original asking price and got a 8,000 tax credit. Side point alot of the larger homes are now empty and for sale....
  17. billb3

    billb3 Minister of Fire

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    I think a lot of people buy an old home and spend a lot of money and waste a lot of resources turning it into something it was never designed to be.
    I could easily have done that with my old 1920 house.


    I downsized to under 900 square feet in 1999.
    Took the capital hit.
    I'm staying here.
    It was built over a hundred years ago.
    Any serious changes or upgrades would mean tearing it down and starting over.
    property taxes are almost 3 grand, though.

    I see a lot of people able to afford the additions they've always wanted but couldn't afford until the kids moved out go ahead with them with an empty nest and really don't need them any more. If anything what they needed was fewer rooms, not more.

    Mcmansions are nice, but to never save anything and put it all into a house that in theory only is an investment is rather risky.
    Course, I've seen pensions disappear into thin air and 401K money, too, so what do I know.
  18. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    I would be interested in seeing the floor layouts for those of you who have small homes, certainly 1500 sq ft or less. That might provide some good ideas to others who would be interested in seeing how this might work for them. Also, the availability of a basement likely is impt, for storage if nothing else.
  19. midwestcoast

    midwestcoast Minister of Fire

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    +1 and add to that the problem of these more casual owners re-modelling or putting on additions that not only don't jive with the original design, but are poorly constructed & excelerate the deterioration of the rest of the house. Bad DIYers and bad contractors both to blame IMO. It only takes 1 bad roof job or addition to let water in & destroy a home.
    The original builders of my home didn't care much for insulation or air-sealing, but the materials were good & it was built to last. The only really bad workmanship I've found has been from reno work.
  20. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    Sarah Susanka (http://www.susanka.com/) is a pretty good resource for building smaller.
  21. pugetsoundwa

    pugetsoundwa New Member

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    Wish I could find a way to. Basically Its a typical rambler, Kitchen, dining and living room all 1 area...small hallway with 2 bedrooms on left and 1 bathroom and master on right. 1 extra full bath off of master. small landry room that shares door with main room on one side and a door to garage on other wall. But for wife and I with a few small dogs and cats its the right size. No basement as water table is too high. We do have one of the larger yards however which is nice except for mowing..lol
  22. pglotov

    pglotov Member

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    I live in Bay Area, and have bought an old (built in 1958) house about 2 years ago. Since I hadn't had any experience with houses at all prior to that, I didn't care much about house structure proper, it just felt great to have one. Well 2 years later I have done so much fixing and construction it felt like second job for periods of time. You say weather is nice here - it is, but houses are equally less insulated, so I hear my neighbors running heat pump constantly during winter nights. When I was replacing my roof with metal and was tearing old (tar and gravel) roof off, the only insulation the roof had was 1.5" of some kind of foam - and thats it: gravel, felt paper, 1.5" foam, wood deck - and you are inside the house ! I was so astonished to see it. Anyway, when I read posts from people from north-east I see that construction quality is much better up there, and CA houses could've had nearly zero heat costs if only they were built to northeast building codes.



  23. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    What about taxes driving us towards smaller homes? Bankrupt municipalities are going to start sqeezing harder.
  24. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    No doubt. 15 of the 17 towns in our county are handing out double digit property tax increases this year.
  25. pyper

    pyper New Member

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    Restrictive covenants will preclude that anyplace where there's an active HOA.

    I've read Sarah Susanka's books and I think they're great. Her basic message has nothing to do with investment or anything of the sort. It's that you can spend the same amount of money and end up with a house you enjoy much more.

    You can build a house that's smaller, but higher quality (trading off size for quality at a given price point). And with good design, a smaller house can seem larger than a bigger house. My wife and I have been house shopping, and some of the houses definitely give you a better feel than some of the others. It's no surprise to me that those houses were designed by architects. No silver bullet there though -- architects build plenty of duds, too.

    The house we're looking at now is 1600 feet on the main floor and 600 feet in the basement. I think it's about right, size wise, but the design is less than perfect. We need a somewhat larger space than most people because my wife requires a music studio for teaching lessons. One thing those high ceilings *can* be good for is acoustics.

    Some old houses are good quality, some are not so good. The house we live in now was built in 1940 and the joists and rafters are both undersized. Everything is sagging. Most of it wasn't square or plumb when it was built (In one spot the studs were four inches closer together at the top than the bottom. Those old studs burn good, btw. ;-)

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