Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Unpleasant Duty Regarding Old Houses
It is my unpleasant duty to tell anyone who will listen about OLD HOUSES.
I just adore old houses.  I was a member of Old Sturbridge Village.  Worked as a volunteer at Kings Landing.  Strawberry Banke is marvelous,
Every house museum on the east coast is fair game on road trips.  But they can be bad news for a home owner.
I had a 1766 house in Wiscasset Maine for a number of years, and while it was a wonderful experience, it was an endless task just keeping it from collapsing into the basement.  It was hard, or damned near impossible to heat; the foundations were shakey; the sheathing was planks...wide, fascinating, and with such big gaps between them that it was impossible to secure siding without major compromises.

Old houses, even small ones as we discuss them here, are an obsession and a trial.  They require one of a couple of prerequisites before contemplating them.  You must have infinite patience with an endless timetable, or you must have abolutely skads of money.  If you do not have one of these, build new. 
If you have an old house that was on a property you owned, my advice is to tear it down, or tear it back to the skeleton, saving great materials, and rebuild. 
Of course, if you have an historic building, or a rare survivor of a particular style or time period...or perhaps the birthplace of a famous person or an all means ignore this post.

Old houses are....OLD.  Repairs and renovations can take decades.  If you have endless resources or endless time, then perhaps this is an endless hobby for you.  But they will only rarely save you money, no matter what the real estate agent tells you.
A beautifully restored antique house will always be appreciated by a large number of enthusiasts, and many will pay a good price for one.  But, if you are on a budget, you will always be making compromises.  Saving that 2 feet of copper wire to splice into another 4 foot piece to make a run, just to save enough to start on the next project, or to tear the sills out for replacement.  Then there are codes to contend with!
If someone handed me a broken down cape  from the 18th century, I would jump at it, but I do not have to feed my children, I can limp along with one cold room for a couple of years etc.. But the average American simply cannot do this.  In the northern states especially, you will be constantly broke trying to have enough for next winter's heating costs.
It is not hard to build a small house like some I have pictured here in the blog, and to find salvage materials to spruce up the usually antiseptic look of an new house, and have it well insulated, with good electric and plumbing on a good foundation.  All the old look can be recreated or made up from salvage.
If you are one of those with all the money...thank God for you, because these old houses often need angels who will try not to ruin them.
Just one example, I once looked at an old house for sale in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  It was lovely in all ways, but the entire interior, lavish with 18th century woodwork, sparkled inside, as every exposed piece of wood was varnished....a great No-No.  The ad said that the inside of the house looked like it had been "CANDIED" and indeed it did!
Perhaps, as I work on my 15th century house in Italy, I may be able to remember how to address problems of the old house in America.