It’s been a long time since the last post here and much has occurred! Jill and I got hitched on June 2nd 2013 on the beach at the Gay Head Cliffs, then spent the next 7-1/2 days packing up our household at House 5 in Island Cohousing in preparation to moving to our new place. We closed on House 5 on the 10th. Not a recommended honeymoon.
By then the work on the new place on Great Plains Rd was in full swing. It was gutted to the studs and rafters, revealing that even though it is a relatively recent building it was paint and inertia that had kept it standing (and lack of real snow loads on MV.)
The house has an interesting history. I think it was built in 1996 or 1997, in Edgartown, as a guest house. The property changed hands and the new owner offered the house to the previous owner here, if he would move it. He put in a new foundation. I am guessing that he did that ahead of vetting that the entire house could be moved, and that the mover told him that he could move the 16’x32’ portion but not the wider half. So he got the part that had a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, and then built the rest new here in West Tisbury. This is fortunate for us, because the part that was moved was built quite poorly.
The whole place had low cost finishes – stinky carpet, vinyl flooring, and some low end wood laminate. It also smelled. There was evidence of mouse activity, the foundation was uninsulated so very moist, and there was a 14’x10’ section where the floor slab was left out and the void filled instead with crushed stone. This is not uncommon – the water heater and well pressure tank are located here, and the thinking is that leaks and condensation just goes down harmlessly. Unfortunately, stinky soil gases, and ones that have no odor such as radon, come up. It’s a bad idea to have 140 sf of soil contact in your house.
The floor plan also wasn’t optimal. It was still a one bedroom house, with poorly differentiated space. It also didn’t take advantage of the building’s south orientation. These factors, combined with the leaky shell (over 3,000 CFM50) and vague thermal boundary, all led to the main decision, which was to gut the interior and implement the thermal improvements from inside. Normally we prefer doing Deep Energy Retrofits from the exterior, but that presumes that the interior is basically satisfactory. The house also had exterior shingles, roofing, and trim that were only ten years old. As it turned out, changing the window and door openings so radically meant that almost all of the shingles have been stripped, so no savings there. In a way, we paid about $100K more than we might have for an undeveloped lot, and for that we got a four bedroom code compliant septic system, an excellent well, 200 amp underground electrical service (and an additional 100 amp one to the outbuildings), an excellent foundation, a roof and some mediocre framing! We also got two funky outbuildings, which began their lives as far as I can tell as box truck bodies, eight feet wide and 16 feet long and 23 feet long. Both received insulated gambrel roofs. Before the house was there, the small one was where the previous owner lived, and the large one was his shop.
Purchasing an existing house also freed us from what is increasingly painful to me, which is developing a new house site and all the destruction that occurs. And taking an existing house and making it better appeals to me more than starting from scratch, despite the fact that from this vantage point it’s debatable whether we have saved money doing so, and working with an existing shell and massing always generates compromises.