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I Don’t Want a New House

I Don't Want a New House

Dear friend,

No, I don’t want a new house. It’s not that I can’t afford new construction, it’s because I don’t like new houses. Those cold and lifeless stucco boxes, or vinyl wrapped tombs make me claustrophobic. Before we get into a shouting match, I’m not angry that you want a new house. I don’t think there is anything wrong with people living in the suburbs. It’s just not for me.

I long for a neighborhood where every house is as different as the people who live in them. I long for diversity in my surroundings and the sprawling sameness of your neighborhood makes my eye twitch. Yes, you’re right, there are six different models in your neighborhood called Rolling Pines which strangely has neither hills nor pine trees, but that’s besides the point. I don’t know that moving the oversized garage to the other side of the house and flipping the master suite constitutes a truly different  design, but maybe it does to you and that’s okay.

I want to be clear about a few things that always tend to come up when I talk a suburbanite like you so we can avoid conflict and save both of us a ton of time.

First, I’m not scared of lead paint even though you are terrified for me. I don’t fear lead paint because I have been educated about it. Just like I don’t let me kids play in the street I also don’t allow them to chew on the windows sills (really window stools, but that’s another topic). I am a vigilant parent. I care about my children’s health, so I know that unless the old paint in my house is chipping and peeling it poses little threat to my family. And when it does chip or peel I promptly repair the damage to keep it both safe and attractive.

Second, the asbestos siding doesn’t make it difficult for me to sleep. Sure I would rather it was not there, but it’s no boogey man looking to strangle me in my bed. Notice how I don’t go outside and sand and cut the asbestos every weekend? That’s because I know it’s not dangerous unless it’s crumbling or being cut up to create dust. I’ve got it, but thanks for your concern. I’m actually more concerned about the rotten wood around your front door. It seems a little premature that at only three years old your entryway should be rotting, but hey, what would I know about new houses, right?

Hurricanes? Yes they are scary, and if one of those 100 foot trees in my yard falls on my house it will probably destroy a good portion of it. Of course, you don’t have to worry about big trees since nothing in your neighborhood is taller than an NBA center so you’ve got that going for you. I do have to give my old house credit though since it’s seems to have made it through the last 92 years of hurricanes without a problem. Hmmm, maybe I just got lucky or maybe it was built really well with solid old-growth lumber. I’m not sure, but I’ll take my chances.

Speaking of those trees, they keep my energy bills super low in the summer. It’s a huge help on the budget! I only pay around $170 a month to cool my house in the summer! Wow, your’s was $320 last month?! I wonder if it’s the trees or could it be all those extra rooms you guys don’t use? I have to say it would be nice to have 2 extra bedrooms for storage and a living room and family room at the same time. We make the best out of our 1,400 square feet and it is tight with 3 kids but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

For me, it’s really a character thing. Yes, I like new things, but there is something about handmade things (that includes houses) that really adds a quality to my life that I can’t find in a world of mass produced things. I like the layers of paint, the impenetrable wood that bends nails, the rock solid plaster (cracks and all). It somehow feels more real to me than the monolithic perfection of drywall. Maybe it’s because I’m an imperfect person and living in an imperfect home suits me better.

There’s nothing about me that’s cookie cutter and my house is just an extension of who I am as a person. There’s nothing wrong with being like everyone else, but that’s just not me and maybe that’s why I don’t want a new house.

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12 thoughts on “I Don’t Want a New House

  1. Like you I adore old homes. My first home was a 1927 bungalow on Long Island that we bought from the daughter of the man who built the house and then the daughter and her husband lived in it until they turned 80. Our second house, also on Long Island, was an 1898 victorian/farmhouse/mashup.
    When we decided condo living wasn’t for us in SW Fl, we started looking for an older (1920’s) home here. The problem is we are now headed into our golden years so every house we looked at had problems that would be hard to overcome. The first issue is how people have destroyed these old homes by tearing out anything of character and “modernizing” them, whether they modernized them for the 1960’s, 70’s or even the 2000’s. Whatever was the latest and greatest trend. Sigh. Or the neighborhood didn’t work. If we had found a house that could work for us, we would have gladly brought it back, as I did in my two previous homes.
    The bigger problem for us is aging in place. The older homes we looked at were not elder friendly. They had changing flooring. Or one or two steps up or down. Or the bathroom far from the master. Or they had no shower, or if they had a shower, it had a large curb. If they had a powder room, they’d be way too small to use if one of us ever had a walker or wheelchair. If they had a hallway, the hallway was too narrow for said walker or wheelchair. So we decided to build a craftsman inspired house.
    Obviously to meet code here in FL, I had to use hurricane windows so compromised by using SDL windows (3 over 1) and there is no such thing as quality wood anymore so made the decision to use 4″ lap Hardie lap siding (the smooth side!) and to get a better rate on our insurance, we went with a hipped roof, but had the trusses designed so the rafters were exposed like in old bungalows. We also have 32″ deep eaves. And yes, inside we have real window sills and trim around all doors and windows, and wide baseboards. The big thing though is that it is elder friendly now.
    Our house looks like an older home that we “renovated”. When I designed the house, the first thing I said to the builder is that I wanted it to look like an old craftsman house that people do a double take before they realize it’s not original to our old neighborhood. And yes they have!

  2. I am “blessed with owning a 1923 and a 1998 built houses. I will take the hundred year old one in a heartbeat. The new one is exactly as described, 21 years old and falling apart. Wood and windows have ben replaced due to rotting. Door frames have to be reset because they weren’t shimmed at all.
    The “old” house is so much more solidly built it is no comparison. Yep gonna rebuild each window one by one and going to fabricate the storm windows that are missing. I scavange old wood to work with because I can’t bear to put new wood in the old house. Not much beats 100 year old old growth wood. I just dont see the new house lasting more than 50 years at best.

  3. Yes. This! 100% I don’t think I could ever live in a new house again.

    Our current home was built in 1920. We just replaced the roof, took off the aluminum siding and are patching and staining the original cedar shingle siding we found underneath. Next step, repair the 38 original windows and replace the vinyl window that the previous owner put in the bathroom.

  4. Amen! I have owned 4 houses now, built in 1890, 1906, 1925 and 1930. I’ve done substantial repairs and remodeling on all of them (though in a lot of cases the work was to correct bad “re-muddling” by by prior owners in order to restore them as closely as possible to their original condition)

    I have also worked on many new houses, since I was a professional electrician before I retired and have helped friends and family with carpentry, plumbing and even roofing over the year as well as electrical work. Most newer homes (and I mean anything built after 1960) are poorly designed for best function, badly proportioned and built of shoddy materials that quickly age and require extensive maintenance and premature replacement. I have worked in newer homes that were worth over a million dollars (which is a lot in the modestly priced market where I live) that were so shabbily built that they were already showing major material and mechanical failures after less than 10 years.

    All my homes were built with old-growth lumber. I had to pay for a termite inspection as a condition of the mortgage closing on the 129 year old house last year. The inspector eventually laughed when we were going through the house, saying that he figured that inspection would be an easy one for him that day. Since the basement was fully open and there were a couple of open walls in upstairs rooms where old plaster had been removed he could see all of the structure and the massive full dimension beams, studs and joists. He said he never finds termite damage in such old houses unless there have been recent structural additions with fresh pine studs. “Termites don’t touch this old growth lumber — it breaks their teeth!” he said. He found no sign there was ever any termite or other insect damage in the entire house.

    Yes, as Scott says, drilling and sawing old-growth lumber burns up bits and blades so they are a challenge to work on, but old houses have amazing structural strength. A vintage full dimension old growth 2″ by 4″ has at least 50% more compressive strength than a new plantation pine stud. And anyone who has tried to pry a nail out of old growth wood can appreciate why houses built out of it hold up to hurricanes better than new houses which are like stapled balsa wood.

    And I love my lathe and plaster walls (which block noise throughout the house and hold up to bumps and dings) and the wide wooden window and door trims and tall baseboards. My red brick 1930 bungalow will never need paint — even the porch railing is brick with a stone cap and the porch floors and stairs are concrete. My old houses were all designed for natural cooling, with high ceilings, overhanging deep porches that block direct afternoon sun and windows placed to allow a constant flow of air. Three of them didn’t have central AC and I never felt they needed it. The 129 year old house had been retrofitted with forced air and AC but even it rarely needs artificial cooling because of the shade trees and the deep porch.

    There are often treasures buried in old homes too — when I cut back some of the quite new carpeting that the prior owner of the 1890 house had installed so that I could build closets in the upstairs bedrooms, I discovered beautifully intact hardwood floors underneath.

    I share Scott’s attitude towards asbestos and lead too. Homeowner’s don’t seem to understand that the legislation to eliminate them from products and to regulate safety when they have to be worked with was enacted to protect WORKERS who would be exposed to breathing or absorbing those substances continually. The minor exposure a home remodeler would encounter carefully removing a few old asbestos tiles or making a few saw cuts in wood with lead paint is never going to create the cumulative exposure that causes illness.

    1. Kerry,

      If you inspector said that termites dont touch old wood, you didnt have a very good inspector. I live in the midwest, where we do get termites but not like the southeast. And my 1905 home has suffered termite damage in its history. Based on what is stamped on the lumber, it is Southern Yellow Pine milled in Pollock LA by the Big Creek Lumber Co. I am sure the damage would have been more with modern lumber with wide growth rings. But point is they dont care. wet wood is food for termites.

    1. There are ads throughout to monetize my site from an ad network. I don’t choose the ads and they are different for every user every day. I think it’s pretty funny sometimes the products that show up, but that’s how I am able to keep the content free and things working around here.

  5. I totally agree with your viewpoint Scott.
    I don’t like the feeling of imprisonment when looking out of modern triple glazed windows.
    Mark from the UK.

  6. I am so tired of well-meaning comments from friends and contractors who inadvertently disparage my old house…they want me to replace my wood trim, windows, siding, etc with vinyl. They ask when I am getting new cabinets, or redoing my bathroom. Pity me that I don’t have a “finished” basement…

    I have had people tell me all about their new “hardwood” floors and say they are really not that expensive…I could have them too!

    I maintain my home. Just had a new roof put on the barn, am having my pole gutters resealed. I keep the house painted and repair wood when it fails. I will NEVER replace my windows, but I will start repairing them one by one as they need it. People don’t understand why I put so much work onto something that wont “last forever.” But I wonder how many plastic houses they have see that are 130+ years old?

  7. When I look at real estate listings I filter by houses at least 50 years old, I’m not interested in anything newer than that. My house was built in 1914, I’ve been here for 24 years. Still have a list of things that need done that’s as long as my arm. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

  8. I’m right there with you. I just moved to a new state, 600 miles from my last home. It was 20yrs old when we bought it, and we caught all of its decay cycle just right. After living in it we replaced aluminum windows for Anderson windows, hollow core doors for solid fir doors, rotting T1-11 siding for Hardie, new roof, replaced decks, all of the appliances, all of the sexterior doors and thresholds… on and on…
    What did I buy in my new state, my new city? A 90 yr old Enlish cottage style bungalow. Some rotting sills, unlevel floors, weird shaped rooms, … But I live in a living house, it has it’s own personality, a past life for me to discover.
    I get scared often enough to question my sanity in buying this place, I’m al8ne, in my 50’s, new to the area, but I atlas know what this house has in the hidden places and that the repairs will be with materials I can find.
    He’s a grumpy old house, but I love him, bad addition and all.

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