I know today is typically a News Roundup day, but instead I’m taking a minute to sit back and review a house renovation project I’ve been working on since May 2006–four years! It all started in March 2006 when my next-door neighbor’s house caught on fire from a lint explosion in the clothes dryer vent. The fire quickly spread into the attic and caused pretty severe structural damage to the roof, but never went through the roof. The laundry room and kitchen were torched and the rest of the 1952 Ranch house received severe smoke and soot damage. The insurance company totaled out the house and my neighbors decided to buy a house that they wouldn’t have to renovate.
I admit I bought the house mainly because I was sure the first thing an investor/flipper would do would be to tear out those sturdy steel casements and put in junk vinyl windows barely more substantial than a piece of paper. I also had heard that a gaggle of potential investors (this was the height of the housing boom after all) had been overheard to say, “We can just patch and paint these walls” which was ridiculous. So, I made a deal with my neighbor, jumped in with both feet and then piddled around for four years until this last week, when I kind of finished. I say “kind of” because I still have to move my tools back to my house, and I keep making additions to my punch list, but otherwise, strange as it is to think, I may just spend this weekend in my own house and yard instead of hiking next door.
Even though it’s taken forever and a day, I have no regrets. We (my patient friends and family) salvaged almost all of the interior trim, stripped, re-painted and re-installed it (had to buy new trim for the kitchen and laundry because there was nothing left to salvage); re-glazed all the windows (many broken panes from the heat); installed tile in both bathrooms; installed a glass-block window; installed re-used kitchen cabinets from my brother’s house (with his permission, of course); caulked, caulked, caulked, painted, painted, painted. And painted some more. I didn’t do the big stuff myself though–contractors did the framing, HVAC, plumbing, and electrical. I’ve learned alot about repairing a building with major damage, figured out many little tricks of the trade; I now know not to hire a druggie plumber, and really it is best to measure before laying tile.
One accusation about preservation is that only rich people can afford to be preservationists. Granted this house was not a mansion–some preservationists might even question whether the building had any historic value. One contractor, just before giving me an estimate of $25,000 just for the labor of re-framing part of the roof and back wall, told me the only thing worth saving was the hardwood floors. But just like any traditional preservation project, I had to search out replacement items that cost more than what I might have found at Home Depot, etc: the faux asbestos shingles ($3 per shingle, and they break like nobody’s business), tongue-and-groove boards to repair the garage walls and porch ceiling. On the other hand, all the time I took to salvage the nice beefy trim saved me a bundle of money on new trim, which costs a fortune and still looks like plastic. And of course, repairing and re-glazing the windows, which I did myself–it’s not rocket science–saved me thousands of dollars and in the end gave me real steel windows that look fantastic.
To demonstrate how affordable preservation can be for normal people, I present my budget, rounded out to make it pretty on the page:
House and 1/4-acre lot: $15,000
Re-framing (incl. demolition, new framing, roofing, faux-asbestos shingles): $15,000
First Plumber (Druggie Destructor): $3,000
Second Plumber (Competent Fixer): $7,000
HVAC (all new ducts, new furnace, re-used outside unit): $5,500
Electrical (all new): $4,700
Floors (sanding and re-finish): $1,600
Bathroom cabinets (went to IKEA in Atlanta): $1,000
Lighting fixtures (some salvaged, some new): $500
Windows (putty and glass–had to replace the plate glass): $400
Painting (exterior): $4,500
Painting (interior): $300
Miscellaneous materials, tools, nails, heat gun, sanding disks, etc: $3,000
Which adds up by my accounting to a 2-bedroom, 2-bath house–with garage, hardwood floors, real wood trim, all new electrical and HVAC, mostly new plumbing, and a large grassy yard in Fondren, Jackson’s hippest, coolest neighborhood–for about $64,000. And I can look over there and see my steel casements and smile–priceless.
If I can do it, you can too, and maybe in less than four years!