By Dr. James M. Dahle, WCI Founder
A few weeks ago we published a post about our upcoming home renovation. Since this is almost surely the largest purchase of our lives, I figured we've got to milk it for at least a few blog posts. When we last left you, we had figured out what we wanted to do, we saved up the money to do it, we hired a general contractor, and we had plans drafted up by an architect and engineer.
One of the most painful parts of the experience was moving out. Why was it so painful? Well, let's start with the obvious. It's a lot of work. Somebody has got to box all that stuff up and carry it around. Aside from the physical labor, there's a lot of opportunity cost there.
The time we spent moving was time I couldn't spend seeing patients, writing blog posts, or arranging partnerships. Plus, it's really expensive. We needed a truck, pods, tape, blankets, and plenty of boxes. But most importantly, we needed someplace to live. You see, it's been 9 years since we wrote a rent check, and 2 1/2 since we made a mortgage payment. Going back to having to pay for housing is painful!
Luckily for us, thanks to a little luck, good friends, and smart planning, we were able to limit the pain quite a bit. You see, we only moved about 200 yards. Granted, you have to do almost as much work to move 200 yards as 2000 miles, but it isn't quite the same.
It was nice to be able to just rent a little Uhaul truck and make four or five trips with it half full rather than trying to pack it all up into one big truck and haul it across the country. We are also able to stay in the same neighborhood, schools, carpools, and church congregation, nearly eliminating the effects on our children and social lives. We're in a friend's “spare house” they've been meaning to rent out for a while, but it's wonderful to not only be close but also have a month to month rental at an extremely fair price.
Another great move for us was to use a couple of “pods.” Pods are loaded once, then hauled away to a warehouse by the company. They are then returned whenever you request it for you to empty. But they are less than half the work of renting a truck, loading the truck, renting a storage unit, driving to the storage unit and unloading the truck, renting the truck again, reloading the truck, closing the storage unit, driving the stuff back to your house, and then unloading the truck again. Since our rental house was partially furnished and there were a lot of things we didn't need there or during the Winter, we simply put those things into the pods.
The best part about moving, and the reason we outsourced almost none of it, was what I like to call The Purge. No, not that purge. Over the last nine years as we have gone from 3 kids between one and six years old to 4 kids between four and fifteen years old we have accumulated a ton of stuff. I was amazed to see us not only fill our gigantic house but then to run out of room!
Those of you who have moved your parents out of a place they lived for their last 3 or 4 decades know exactly what I'm talking about. The purge is the process of reversing that trend. We had too much stuff and we needed to get rid of a lot of it. Where did that stuff go?
- A lot simply went in the garbage. Luckily our move coincided with bulk trash day for our city!
- We sold a few items. Always nice to swap something you don't want for a little extra cash.
- We donated a ton of stuff to charity. Not even counting the cabinets, fixtures, and appliances from the house, we had over $12,000 in donations. I don't think there was more than $5,000 in any one category, so no need for a professional appraiser in order to get that tax deduction.
At any rate, it was really nice to get rid of so much stuff. It's amazing how everything you own ends up owning a little piece of you.
Given the extensive renovation planned, demolition was quite the ordeal. We kicked it off with a fun activity for the youth in our neighborhood. We let them come over and run through the doors (and when I say run through I mean run THROUGH), kick apart the banister, punch holes in the walls, and impale the banister pieces into the drywall. My son got a little carried away and took out one section of drywall we weren't planning on replacing, but other than that it was pretty good fun and nobody got hurt.
The next day the pros showed up and things got serious. Within a week it was pretty clear there was no going back on this project! You haven't lived until you've seen an excavator go to town on your house.
Within 2 or 3 weeks nearly all the trees on the property, the lawn, the sprinkler system, the stucco, the carpet, the wood floors, the shelves, the drywall, the porches, the garage floor, the appliances, the fixtures, the cabinets, the windows, the doors, several walls, entire bathrooms, 1/3 of the garage, part of the roof, and I'm sure a lot of other things I've forgotten about were gone. Simply gone. 5 or 6 dumpster loads had been hauled away, and that doesn't include what was donated to Habitat for Humanity.
We are adding some square footage to the house. Most of it is the new WCI office space, but we're also replacing the space the expanded pantry and kitchen are taking out of the living area. There's also “The Bunker”, a half-buried concrete-walled storage area under the garage on the back of the house. The Bunker isn't any sort of a “Prepper Paradise”; mostly it's a storage area for the lawnmower, gas cans, and gear, but it's probably a good place to be in the event of earthquake or small nuclear warhead.
So the next step after demolition was digging the holes for the foundation for these new areas and laying that foundation. The concrete has to sit for a week before you can put the dirt up against it again and really start framing above it. Hopefully, we'll have it all closed in by the time the snow really starts accumulating.
Our next really big chore is to make a bunch of choices — where to put electrical outlets and lights, window sizes and window frame colors, shingles, fixtures, etc. Luckily, most of this stuff matters more to one of us than the other, so she gets the privilege and responsibility of most of that work.
As you start tearing down a house, it isn't uncommon to find a few surprises. There were several areas of the house with significant water damage beneath an apparently fine exterior. So those boards were ripped out and replaced. We had a colonoscopy done on the sewer line and found a $3,000 problem too. On the city's recommendation, we enlarged the water valve coming into the house to improve flow. We discovered a bend/kink in that water pipe too, thanks to the original shoddy construction. We also found out that our walls were not 6 inches thick as expected, but only 4. So in a couple of areas of the home that get hot when the sun is baking on them we thickened them up a bit. Demolition also revealed a few areas where the original house was not constructed according to plan. Hopefully, we've found most of the surprises now that the house demolition is complete.
When we started talking about such an extensive project, I asked several times if bulldozing it would be cheaper. It wasn't, not only because we preserve a lot of walls and foundation this way, but also because by systematically taking the house apart we can donate a lot of the material to charity, specifically Habitat for Humanity. At our marginal tax rate (42%), that's a pretty nice little deduction. Other people doing renovations may also qualify for tax credits available for improving energy efficiency.
Dealing with Guilt
One of the things I have run into with this project has been the guilt of doing it. This doesn't seem to bother Katie, the kids, the contractor, or anyone else but me though. The night demolition started, I woke up long before dawn thinking about some verses in Luke 12, where Christ recounts The Parable of the Rich Fool.
And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying,
The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, aSoul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Watching that excavator pull a wall off my house for an addition sure feels like “pulling down my barns and building greater.” Maybe we should have just donated the entire sum to charity. While it has caused me to work to ensure I am also rich “toward God” (and my fellow man), I wondered if this was a common issue for renovators. I asked my contractor about it. He said he absolutely has run into it with many projects. Lots of people feel guilty ripping out a perfectly good 10-year-old kitchen, even if they can afford to do so, just because they don't like something about it. Apparently lots of them get over it when they realize the appliances are going to Habitat for Humanity.
There is also the environmental issue. Not only will my larger house use more energy and resources to build, but it may require additional planetary resources to maintain, heat, and cool. Watching dumpster after dumpster of material being hauled off really gives you a sense of what “being a consumer” really means. We think of houses as being permanent, but the truth is everything we own is disposable and slowly being consumed and renovations are not particularly environmentally friendly, especially when renovating a completely functional house. No answers here, but it's an issue I didn't think much about beforehand.
What do you think? Have you done a big renovation? Did you move out? What was demolition like? Did you encounter “decision fatigue”, have any surprises, or feel any guilt? Comment below!