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Why Save Old Homes

Art12_SaveOldHome1There is a very natural, human & socially conscious desire to save a charming old home from demolition, especially one of distinctive architectural style. Perhaps, there is a historical purpose, to keep something around from our past as a reflection of who we were, how life used to be, and as an indicator of how we got to where we are today. Or maybe we want to save an older home because it reminds us of a more gentle/relaxed time, a warmer way of being with people. I suspect most of us, at some emotional level, want to go back to grandma's house.

Photo: Outside Grandma's - Courtesy of davitydave

The Bull-Dozing Mentality

Art12_SaveOldHome3Yet, for decades the usual practice in home construction has been "bull-doze & build new" - with all the extra strong, extra durable, and extra pretty old-growth lumber going to a landfill; along with the concrete and roofing and lath and plaster and flooring, all of which can be recycled - you get the picture.

Yet, it isn't just the materials that are never used again, lost forever. It is also the energy used by the demo workers (usually electricity), and the petroleum-based fuel burned by the trucks that haul away the newly created, man-made debris (which used to be a home). Don't forget the pollution generated by electrical & fuel use - and the many consequences, that should be included in the assessment of the loss.

Photo courtesy of Steve A Johnson

The Big Loss

Art12_SaveOldHome2Ironically, an older home project often involves the removal of very nice materials. For example, almost all the lumber, and siding, and trim, and finished flooring are old-growth wood. Pre-tree-farm Douglas Fir is 3 times as strong as today's Fir and Hemlock lumber. Old-growth Cedar is no longer available. Today's Cedar does not have much of the natural resin that made it rot-resistant. So even if it is not possible to re-use these old materials in the immediate project, they can be used again in other projects, and they have a marketable value. They can be found for sale at outlets listed in this directory.

If you donate usable materials to a non-profit entity, you can deduct their market value from your taxes. Get a donation acknowledge letter.

Another economic/business element to consider is the return on expended capital. Spending thousands on the tear-down and haul-away effort does NOT produce a direct profit. It's all expense, no return of its own, and can only be justified by being included in the total cost of the build-new project.

Photo Douglas Fir 1293-1963 - Courtesy of Jason Riedy

Reuse & Recycle: The Largest "Green" Feature

When taking a re-use/recycle approach to the design of an addition or remodel of an older home, the "throw-away" losses can be reduced and occasionally completely avoided.

Every board, every fine old door that does not go to a landfill is that much of fewer trees that need to be logged, hauled to a mill (fuel burning), milled (electricity used), shipped to your local outlet (more fuel), transported to the site (more fuel) then trimmed or worked to fit its place (more electricity used).

In some cases the amount saved, expressed in dollars, can be more than $100,000 per home, with directly related reductions in wasted electricity & fuel, and produced pollution.

While there are hundreds of specific green-tech items that be incorporated into a home design, this one design element, the re-use approach, can easily be the single largest "green" feature of an addition or remodel project to an older home.

Rebuilding the Future of Humanity

There is, of course, always a potential threshold in a re-use vs build-new approach, of which a designer must be aware. And there are some old homes so dilapidated there isn't a viable re-use course available. The old saw about re-work costs often being higher than build-new cost is very true - but usually ONLY when the value of the saved materials is ignored.

So perhaps the point of the re-use intent is to just move that tear-down threshold away a little further. Maybe there is a value in accepting some added cut-to-fit costs, in knowing what you're saving, in knowing what you are preserving for another 50 or more years.

AND - regarding the embrace of a social consciousness, the larger picture to an older home re-use approach is the reality of the future of humanity. Obviously, we humans are rushing toward a resource-scarce environment. Some who don't know any other way, some blindly, some with willful blindness.

You can see one bit of evidence of this fundamental trend at every gas station today. But it isn't just gasoline for your car that is becoming harder to find and produce. It's all petroleum products, like the plastics in our daily lives. Like many pharmaceuticals. And fabrics. And computers & smart phones & the packaging for our food.

This becoming-scarcer trend isn't just petro-chemicals, it's almost everything else we humans need and use. A recent PBS documentary found a mining expert who said only about 10% of lead is left in currently developed mines. Easy-to-mine & smelt copper is almost gone.

Traditional fishing areas from the 1950s are depleted. Our markets now carry what used to be called trash fish. Some of which - because its flesh is chewy - is being processed into fake crabmeat.

Art12_SaveOldHome1aA list of all the approaching-scarcity indicators would be long. The message I want to state and underscore is: Humanity cannot continue its one-time use, throw-away mentality with our resources. If we want our children & grandchildren to enjoy at least some of what we have, the very fundamental truth is we MUST conserve what we have, think about what we choose to send to a landfill, and be smart with what we remodel, add-on & build new.

And I can say with a LOT of confidence how good it feels to see a completed project, keeping or re-using as much of the old house as possible, looking like it was built 90 years ago, and now ready to be your family home that even your grandchildren could use.

Will Thomas Designs, Residential Design & Drafting Service. Check out facebook photo album