Anything between 'don't touch a thing' and 'tear it down'?

lavender_lassDecember 26, 2010

While on the old house forum, it seems that many people don't want to touch any features of an older home, no matter how much it might improve the use of the home. On the building a new home forum, the answer seems to be tear it down and start over. Is there anything in between?

I thought I'd try this forum, to see if there's anything between restoration and demolition.

We have an older farmhouse, original part built in 1904, addition put on in the 1950s. The original part of the home is a front to back gable, with a large bedroom/attic upstairs, a cellar below, and a bath and porch...that are now pulling away from the original structure.

The addition is in better shape. Added to the 'right side' of the house, it's a living room with fireplace, bedroom and bath behind, with an attic above and a family room (with second fireplace) and bedroom in the basement.

Here's a picture of the current floor plan and a drawing of the proposed remodel. (Each square = 2 feet, but for some reason the first picture looks smaller, after going through my scanner.)

I'm still in the planning process and definitely want to open up the kitchen to other spaces. We live on a farm, so storage is important...that's why we have the big pantry and mud room. The porch and bathrooms need to be rebuilt, but the rest of the house is in pretty good shape. We are choosing to keep the smaller floor plan, with all new electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and structural repairs, rather than adding on a big addition. We want this home to last another 100 years :)

Thank you for any input or suggestions. Hopefully, there will be something other than 'don't touch a thing' and 'tear it down' :)

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I think a big reason people are either 'Don't Touch!' or "Gut and Double!' is because often adding room(s) creates huge problems.

Adding horizontally means trying to match new foundation to the old. Sounds simple. It is anything but simple. If the same level is desired, that even complicates the job. New construction settles in the first several years. The amount and how the settling happens is impossible to predict.

That plays havoc with finish work(sheetrock and trim) in the addition where those areas connect with old construction.

Adding vertically means the probability the old foundation/lower framing will be overloaded. Means major bracing and reconfiguration of the old framing/foundation.

Overcoming those problems is usually much more expensive than just razing and rebuilding new. Even when 'saving' an old building(for historical/sentimental reasons) the cost can easily out pace the prospective value.

You nwrote part of the structure is pulling away. Exactly what can happen when adding. That is a lot of money to spend and have to repair at some point in the future.

So, those are a couple of reasons most folks are Gut or Leave.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 11:31AM
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Sophie Wheeler

If a home needs significant upgrades/changes with major systems like electrical, plumbing, foundation, or roofing, and also lacks adequate space, then the most financially sound decision is to tear the old down and build new. Tying in the old with the new leaves the old looking "wrong" for the most part. And, it's tons more expensive to try to create a "patchwork" of old and new than it is to either leave the old alone, or do completely new. If you hadn't described the old home as having so many issues, I think the responses would be different. But with so many things wrong that cost major money, you're describing the very definition of a black hole money pit that will you will never recoup expenses on.

What does your pocketbook say? Can you afford to spend twice the money of new construction for a remodel that will leave you with a "patchwork" of old and new and won't appraise at a new home rate? Old homes have to hit a certain "historic" age (and be kept up!) to be able to appraise anywhere near the value of new construction. If it isn't historic, it's just "used"! Just like a used car. If it's going to be a classic one day in the future, then it may be worth keeping up in a garage, but would it be worth doing a complete restoration on a rusted out basket case Pontiac Fiero? Not really---unless that's how you stay busy for a hobby.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 6:39PM
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I would think any old house should have the plumbing and electrical redone and probably the furnace system upgraded, as well. As for the new addition sinking...doesn't the contractor dig down to the frost line? Here, we have to go down four feet for any foundation work.

I still find it difficult to believe that a well done new construction would be cheaper than a well done remodel. Here, new construction is expensive and that doesn't guarantee it's well done. Maybe it's different in other parts of the country?

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 10:13AM
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Let's take the case of rewiring an old home vs. a new one. In the old home like yours with structural issues, you'd have to remove all of the wall coverings down to the stud level to assess the condition anyway, so that's a "given", but it does factor into the added costs. In a home of the age of yours, with no grounding, you'd have to remove all of the electrical runs that are there first. Then you'd have to run a completely new service from the pole to the new panel and only then could you treat it like new construction with running all of the circuits from the panel to the various locations. A rewire job of an old home is at least 50% more costly here than starting fresh in a new home.

Same thing for the plumbing. You have a septic? Well, you'll probably have to have that resized and repermitted for the larger home, and that means new leach fields and tank. That would be a given, regardless of remodel or new construction. But, with a remodel, you also have to take into account the existing fixtures and the amount of slope that exists to the tank with them. Designing and implementing a complete plumbing system for a new house is MUCH easier than REdesigning one for a home, even if you have access in the basement to the pipe runs. More complicated=more money.

It's the marriage of the old with the new that takes so much time and care to do correctly. Time is money, and that's why remodeling is so much more expensive than new construction. That's why I suggested to salvage the sentimental portions of the home (the fireplaces and any other finishes you can) and build new from scratch for the rest.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 11:36AM
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Live wire- Good point about the electrical, but I figured I would take everything down to the studs or it would be silly to put any money into the house. Old electrical just means more chance of starting a fire, when combined with new appliances and electronics.

Funny you should mention the service, because the circuit panel is on the OUTSIDE of the house. Crazy, I know. The pole is right across the road (maybe 150' away) so not too expensive, there. We have a very good friend, also an electrician, who has offered to help us with the wiring. He'll probably make me help with the grunt work, but that will be fun and save some money :)

As for the plumbing, we are grandfathered in with the septic and would only have to change if new bedrooms were added. The upstairs spaces will be unfinished for now and not have closets, so no new septic. I'd rather add armoires, if necessary (just me and my husband for now) than a whole new septic system. If we don't need bedrooms, they'll probably be office and guest space.

I think it will help that all the plumbing is together (on purpose) and that the well is off to the right and the septic off to the left (behind the house).

I appreciate your insights and this is more of the conversation I was hoping to find on these forums. Good questions, to make me think things through...and make sure I have answers, before problems arise. I've done a lot of research, but I value this type of input.

Tear it down...period, is a little harder to respond I look forward to more questions like these :)

Also, I'm a little disappointed that no one has talked about my floor plan. I worked very hard to keep load bearing walls in place, work with the existing constraints of the home and try to find something we would enjoy, but would still be feasible. Any input or suggestions?

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 2:12PM
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I'm a little fuzzy on why you would necessarily need to take things down to the studs to replace electrical, plumbing, and HVAC. How many stories is your house? Ours is 1.5 and about the same age, and we have completely rewired and now re-plumbed all but a bathroom sink, plus replaced all of the ducts and furnace---and the only thing we opened a wall for was the kitchen sink (done during a kitchen remodel). Some of the other walls needed holes cut in them in order to get wiring through, for sure, but those were patched quickly and cheaply in the space of an afternoon with a tub of patching plaster. I can see how this would be more complicated if you had three or four stories---maybe it's less feasible then. But don't underestimate how good electricians are at fishing wires through walls! (If the walls themselves are damaged, that's another story.)

Our main circuit panel is also outside; I think that was fairly normal at the time our house got electricity. We added a new sub-panel in the basement when we upgraded the service. Had the option of having that outside too, but it made much more sense to have it inside where we have lights.

The tear-down vs. restore debate also has an important missing factor: location. Where we live, houses are expensive, and even post-crash, you're going to spend $500K to get a little house in a middle-of-the-road neighborhood. So $10K to rewire everything or $50K for a new foundation could well be worth it. I suspect this is a very different decision in places where homes are worth $100K, so a new foundation is half the value of the home. There's also a premium paid here for older homes that are preserved/restored vs. gutted, so there's an incentive to do that if the house hasn't been too badly mangled over the years.

It sounds like you need to have a civil engineer out to see the house and determine why the addition is separating from the original house before you can start to make these decisions, though. Once you find out the cause and put a price tag on it, you'll have a better sense of what does and doesn't make sense financially, and can really get into the details around floorplans and other fun things.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 9:38PM
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ditto the previous responses. If you need to read it again, before you believe what you are being told, I'll add that as my first statement

lavender_lass your response shows (to me) that you are not hearing.
I quote
"I would think any old house should have ... redone and probably the ... upgraded, as well. As for the ... sinking, doesn't the contractor dig down to the frost line? Here, we have to..."
Here is your answer: the answer is no. Furthermore, I feel that saying one "should think" is not a learner's stance.

Please let me know how I'm doing. In your view, is my post appropriately mannered or not?

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 1:04PM
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sorry i mis-typed. "would think" not "should think".

As for the floor plans, post again without the furniture please.
Congratulations on using load bearing walls in your drawing of a new structure.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 1:08PM
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... f.y..i one can replace load bearing walls with other load bearing walls. It's not required to keep them. It's not a big deal to "move" a wall, assuming you know what to look at first. It doesn't change the scope of this (proposed, massive) project.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 12:02AM
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Here's a beautiful floor plan that Summerfield did for me on the Building forum. What a nice and thoughtful thing to do :)

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 2:18PM
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For your project to succeed (fiscally and functionally) you need a talented architect and perhaps a structural engineer.
What exists between tear down and do nothing? A world of possibilities.
I am a preservation carpenter. I am privileged to have worked with some wonderful homeowners (and many less than!). When they are really committed to the project, wonderful things can happen. In this example, and architect had been retained, but facts on the ground presented themselves as we tore into the building that actually made it more desirable to abandon the 1920's remodeling to an "open concept" and replace the walls as they had been built in 1817. The structure of the house had been severely compromised by the "opening up" of the rooms. Who'da think?

There was a 7" sag in this poplar summer-beam. It is the attic floor. It got a steel I-beam dividing it into two half-spans.

The second floor framing was all sistered, and four steel columns support the deck.

The first floor framing was entirely replaced, and eight footings for posts to support it were added in the basement.
A new ledger was bolted to the masonry walls front and rear.

The end result:

This work also added three new full baths, reframed the entire roof (from beneath, as the standing seam metal roofs were only 10 years old). No kitchen work (except paint, new disposal, some plumbing repairs to tie in to the rest of the house, as that was completely new). The finishes included some very nice touches; Central A/C, keeping the old hot-water radiators; Original windows kept, weatherstripped with spring bronze and new locks; millwork to match original profiles; the old first floor boards all were carefully taken up, re-milled, and re-installed with some new reclaimed heart pine worked in. The second and attic floors were retained in place and just cleaned and waxed. We were able to pull this house back from the brink, literally. It was collapsing in the very center.
All this was accomplished for 1/3 the cost of the house. That made good economic sense for the homeowners (and the historic tax credit doesn't hurt either). The house is in a village that is entirely a National Historic _Lamdmark_ district. And the work had to be approved for its authenticity and appropriateness. So even this level of gutting/restoration to an authentic prior appearance _can be done_ if it's carried out by thoughtful and skilled people.
Banish the thought from your head that "it can't be that bad" because it probably is worse.

Here is a link that might be useful: Photobucket of this house, others

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 11:34AM
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There is a lot of wasted space, duplicate space, and poor utilization of the "prime" space in your proposed "after".

You do not need two bathrooms downstairs when only one bedroom is located there. Eliminating the "master bath" in favor of a powder room and more storage or an office space would be beneficial. Your mud room and pantry occupy the most choice location exterior walls and monopolize any daylight into the home. You'd do much better to locate your kitchen/keeping area in that space or you're going to have a very dark home. Duplicating your entry also wastes space. You don't need a vestibule and an entry way. And the view from that entry is not attractive at all. You're really limiting yourself here, and badly. Trying to work within the existing confines could be done, but you're not taking advantage of any of the positives of the home with this design. What are the traditional positive features of a home? Windows, space, and light. Your design has very little of that which benefits the resident.

On the whole, I'll suggest what others have done. You need a professional's services, both in space planning and in budgetary planning if this is to be in any way successful.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 12:45PM
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Casey- Thank you for the pictures and information. I've done a lot of research, so I appreciate your detailed account of the work done, including sistering the second floor framing and using the steel beams. The steel I beam was something I was considering, if I took out the wall between the living room and bedroom, but decided against it. Your restoration project turned out to be just beautiful...thank again for the pictures :)

GreenDesigns- Actually, I do need two bathrooms. I'm not sure if the upstairs bathroom is going to 'work' yet, so this may be the only bathrooms we can put in. There are already two bathrooms, so I'm just utilizing the available space.

As for lighting, the back of the house faces northwest and is not the best view. The front faces southeast and the keeping room faces southwest...wonderful light all year round, at least in our area.

I appreciate your input, but you really have no idea what I may need or not need. The vestibule keeps heat in the house (-14 F. last night and -4 F. this morning). The vestibule and mudroom are both keeping the cold air out of the house...and my cats indoors...since we have coyotes. The barn kitties learn to adapt, but we still lose a few every year.

As for being attractive, I think the staircase will be beautiful, the fireplace is a lovely rose brick and the keeping room windows will provide a lot of light as you enter the kitchen. The clawfoot tub is wonderful...and I'm basing this on a 1920's home that's been indoor plumbing would be something that is shown off...not hidden.

I believe you're making quite a few assumptions, so perhaps it's better to ask for details, before passing judgement...but that seems to be a common enough situation on some of the forums. I'm happy to answer questions, so please ask them, if you'd like more information :)

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 2:27PM
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Here are a few pictures, I took out the window this morning. Here's the side of the farmhouse (out our office window) in our manufactured home. The roof has sheet metal tacked on by my husband and his friends, to keep all the snow from making a few leaks worse, until we can make repairs, this spring. Our GC told me to come up with a plan, so he'd know if I planned to add a second story, or keep most of the existing roof...which will help him determine how to repair or replace it. I like and trust our friend/GC, so please, no negative comments about him.

Here's the horse/hay barns...which is what you see out the mudroom back door...not our best view.

Here's the view out the back, to the right (which can be seen from the hot tub).

And here's the garden, on the other side of our manufactured home...and one of our best views. The manufactured home will still be our office area for our home based business, even after the remodel.

Note all the snow and it's been very cold (-14 F. last night) so a vestibule, mud room and any other way to keep the heat in and the cold out are well worth it, in the winter. In the summer, July and August are in the 90s and higher...that's typical in eastern Washington.

Ideally, as for the outdoor spaces, I would love to have an arbor over the deck and then put a patio off this area, with a covered space, for eating. We have some friends with this set up and it's beautiful and very functional. Before everyone says it's too far for food or to the bathroom...we have 100 acres and a lot of yard 30' is not very far, to us :)

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 2:48PM
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I have built houses and repurposed houses(extensive remodel) with Habitat for Humanity. I also had my own small remodeliong company for several years(as a retirement function)

As a result, I got some experience in the difference. HfH uses volunteer labor for a large percentage of the work on a house. Purchased services like foundations, HVAC, roughin plumbing, cabinetry, and electrical account for the rest.

Even with low cost labor, it was always less expensive for HfH to build new than rehab. We did three rehabs---on donated houses---no initial cost.

Now, I have done a lot of repair work on houses where folks had the kind of work the OP asked about. Some was good, muchj was not good.

I know Casey is a competent craftsman. I have seen his work and read of his knowledge. If he says the work can be done for less than tear down---I have to take him at his word.

But, my experience says his work is the exception, not the rule.

If you can find competent workers, might make sense to try.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 4:19PM
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Well, it depends on what the house is valued at. It makes no fiscal sense to spend as much on a rehab as the house is worth. But 33% is a reasonable rehab budget.
In the case I presented, 1/3 of the purchase price of _that house_ would build a nice new house of about 2300 sq ft.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 8:07PM
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You have a beautiful property. That said I can see why you are getting the advice you are getting. Your proposal does not seem cost effective.

"We are choosing to keep the smaller floor plan, with all new electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and structural repairs, rather than adding on a big addition. We want this home to last another 100 years :) "

I am looking at your plan and it looks like your new plan converts a porch to living space, adds an addition to the back, updates the systems, and salvages the existing structure with its' foundation issues.

If that is correct, I can see why you are getting the advice to leave it alone or tear it down. Casey's remodel (gorgeous) cost one third the price of the house, but it looks like it didn't involve an addition. If you were happy with the existing space that may be an option, but to remodel that space and add on would seem to put you at the price point where you are better off to tear down and start over. That is generally cheaper per sq. ft. because it is easier to do.

You also get a more cohesive result. Finally I think your plan will not net you much at resale, because according to you, you will have only one true bedroom. There doesn't seem to be enough improvement for the cost.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 1:48PM
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Cori- I appreciate your input, but we will have two bedrooms upstairs and a bath...if I can get the rooflines figured out. Of course, my plan is not the final say so...just something to give an idea to our GC and everyone else...what we want to do with the house.

As for resale...not really an option. It's a family farm, so if we don't have any kids, it will eventually go to a nephew of niece, who can make any changes they would like.

Summerfield had some suggestions and I asked for a few small changes, so here is the slightly altered plan. Thank you, Summerfield! :)

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 7:01PM
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