Functional Obsolescence

krycek1984September 10, 2010

I know that this forum is mainly concerned with the preservation and renovation of old homes.

However, I would also like to know how you all feel about functionally obsolete homes.

For example, our old house, that we still own (and always will -it's in the family), I would consider it functionally obsolete. It has 6'10" ceilings in the bedrooms, 7'8" ceilings elsewhere. It's been added on several times. It still "works" and is a solid home, but needs a lot of work to make it "perfect". If I had no heart, I'd tear it down, but I can't bring myself to do it - it would just be too sad. It's such a well built house that I would probably cry to tear it down.

What do you all think? Is there away to remediate functional obsolescence? Or are some homes just obsolete and there's nothing you can do about it?

I'm curious to hear what you all think about the issue in general.

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Lol, I'm still trying to figure out just how to pronounce "obsolescence". (JK). :-)
I'm confused, are you talking about "remuddling", and the possibility that it's ruined the house?
Have the low ceilings been "dropped", and if so, are originals hiding up there?
The additions - were they done poorly, not fitting in with the original house? How old is it?
Sorry for all the questons - you've got me curious!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 5:07PM
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Well, it really wasn't a question about my old house per se, it was just a general question, but:

No, they weren't lowered...the original part of the house is from the mid 1800's, so the ceilings were at the 6'10". They then added two more bedrooms off of that (one upstairs one downstairs), and kept the 6'10" ceilings.

They then added a living room and dining room and have those at 7'6", and the kitchen was added on at some point and they kept it at 7'6".

So no dropped ceilings! Just like anything else on an old house, these things can potentially be fixed, but it would be so expensive you could build a new house.

Which is why I am curious as to what everyone thinks about functional obsolescence. i.e. if there comes a time when a house just isn't worth fixing up/remodeling keeping.

Unfortunately tearing it down isn't an option LOL but I was curious as to other people's experiences and thoughts on the issue.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 5:35PM
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It's not functional obsolescence that determines a house's fate as much as economic obsolescence.

If it makes economic sense--at least to the owner--to demolish rather than make no change or update, that's what happens. Homes I have been tearing down for 20 years are usually fully livable. They would be considered middle class residences that would stay as is in other parts of the city, let alone the rest of the world.

"First they came for the trees...."Economic Obsolescence Dooms this House. With a new home in place, the price will double.

I bought our current home on the spur of the moment, enchanted by the lot and location. Two months in, I realize a $300K+ reno won't do. It's deserving only of demolition, which I may leave to someone with deeper pockets and move on.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 8:56PM
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Your question is a difficult one involving structural, logistical, cost and aesthetic issues. These are the issues that architects deal with every day, so you need to let one experienced with the renovation of older properties look at the house so he/she can make a realistic proposal.

I doubt it will be a DIY project.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 9:10AM
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It was not uncommon to have the private spaces in older houses not have the same ceiling height as the public spaces.

It is not something that is very practical to alter.
It would likely involve removing the entire roof structure and re-framing the second floor.

It is far more a characteristic of the house than a real problem.

I own a house from 1925 that has second floor ceilings that are 8 inches shorter than the first floor.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 10:08AM
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It was not uncommon to have the private spaces in older houses not have the same ceiling height as the public spaces.

Same now courtesy of zoning height restrictions. So I have regularly built 10' main floors and 8.5-9' second floors. Other builders here flatten the roof entirely and eliminate above grade basement windows in order to get 10' and 10'. I've also seen 11' and 9'. Very odd.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 11:23AM
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macv, it wasn't necessarily a question about my house, just a question in general about how people feel about obsolescence.

If we do anything to our old house, which is questionable, we will go to a architect to figure things DIY!

I like the idea of "economic obsolescence" because that is very true about a lot of old houses. They aren't necessarily functionally obsolete - our old house, and many other old houses, are quite livable and solid but economically it may not be worth "fixing" them up to modern standards. That's a good way of putting it.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 1:11PM
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"...economically it may not be worth "fixing" them up to modern standards."

It depends on what you think are "modern standards."

Plumbing and electrical can almost always be upgraded (depending on age and type at some expense).

Things like ceiling heights are often still well within modern standards.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 3:11PM
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I don't believe in Functional Obsolescence for houses. Look at the homes in France and England. Many have been inhabited by the same families for centuries.
Most have all the modern bells and whistles. If you start out with a good floor plan and don't wait till the walls are falling in to update and modernize and you regularly put money into it's care and keep you can get continual use of a house for a very long time. If a house isn't functional then maybe it isn't about obsolescence but rather abut a poor match between owner and house.
There are places in Europe that were built in the 1500's and they are still being used as homes today. Are they exactly like they were in 1500's no. They've been redesigned many times over the centuries to the needs of the owners but they were never tear downs. The insides might get gutted, but the shells remain. Is it ideal, no not always.
American homes are much younger and yet not even after a century some are being knocked down not because they aren't functional BUT because some one wants a different kind of house on a particular spot with all new this and that. I think alot of folks have the idea that new is always better. It certainly is easier for the guy doing the construction. He doesn't have to think too hard knocking down a house. It's much harder to revamp something that isn't standard issue.
It's one of the reason so many on old house boards warn newbies to find someone who is specialized in old house repairs to fix a place up. Huge difference in the skills and knowledge required.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 4:28PM
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carol, I agree with everything you wrote.

I also believe there is much to be gained from learning a bit of history about architecture, family life, work life before butchering homes today. With an understanding of the past, describing things like short ceilings as functionally obsolescent simply doesn't happen.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 6:31AM
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It's interesting - the one good thing I can figure out about low ceilings is it's much easier to heat. Our home now has 10' ceilings on the first floor and even that extra 2 or 3' makes it quite a bit more difficult and expensive to heat.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 2:18PM
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Krycek- Have you ever thought about keeping the living room, dining room and kitchen with the 7'6" ceilings...they really are easier to heat...and tearing down the parts that are 6'10"? Are these areas one above the other, so that all the 6'10" parts are on one side and the 7'6" parts on the other? That would make it easier.

When you replace the shorter parts, think about making a few vaulted ceilings...maybe for a family room off the kitchen or for the master bedroom/bath. Is there an upstairs to the living room, dining room and kitchen additions? If so, tuck in a few extra bedrooms and a bath and you have a lovely three bedroom, two bath house (maybe a half bath in the kitchen area/possible mudroom?) that would suit your needs for many years. Just a possibility :)

As for your original question, it depends on the emotional value and the financial value of the home. I spend tons of money on my kitties and garden, compared to much more "financially responsible" choices...and I'm an economics major! LOL

If we ever remodel our old farmhouse, it will be to preserve the fireplace and addition, built by my husband's family. The 1950s addition was built by his great-uncle and the beautiful brick fireplace by his uncle. Both are family treasures and a link to people who are long gone. I love history and think it's important to retain that connection to the past for ourselves and for the younger members of the family.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 9:55PM
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The 4 bedrooms are all in the "old" part of the house...the part with 6'10" ceilings on the first floor and the second floor is .75 of a floor I guess you could say. That's all the part from the 1800's so we couldn't tear it down. I'm at a loss. It's all so silly! Yep, we could always build a family room addition and keep the living room as a formal living room or office, dining as dining, etc. There's so many options. Of course they all cost a lot or are difficult. LOL. Such is life, eh?

No upstairs to the kitchen, living room, and dining room (just a pitched and wasteful gable roof).

I LOVE the house we live in now, I just am not too fond of the 37x97 corner lot lol. You get used to it though. We're converting the second floor enclosed porch above the kitchen to a sunroom sometime in the next year when I get a job again, so that'll be great. We shall see!

Not to sound morbid, but maybe the old weirdo next to us will croak so we can buy that house, tear it down, and put a garage down. One can hope, right ;).

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 12:39AM
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Krycek- I'm guessing that would be one expensive garage.

As for your "country home" (LOL) what about taking off the top story and redoing the upstairs? Could you raise the ceiling in the short rooms, or even all the rooms? I know you don't like your rooflines on the addition, so that might fix two problems at once.

Your home in town is a beautiful home, so I guess it all comes down to where you want to live and which is easier...remodeling an older home with a large lot or living in a home that's in good shape on a much smaller lot. Only you and your partner know which one will be best for your situation :)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 12:20PM
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Is someone bumping their head on the short ceilings? Did one of your friends get up from the dinner table with a tape measure in hand? What's the fuss about? My house is 120+ years old. It is what it is. If I wanted standardized perfect rooms I would build new with my own design. Old is good, too. I love driving through the old parts of town. Those houses are COOL!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2010 at 9:53PM
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