Do you remember when we used to make enduring things in this country? Solid, well-built things that would last for generations. I was too young to grow up in a time before plastics, solidly in the midst of the Replacement Generation. I grew up in suburbia surrounded by things of little value in houses that were a commodity and so cheaply built that they would need constant rounds of replacement parts to keep them going.
I recently had the chance to drive past my childhood home while on vacation with my family in Plano, TX (a northern suburb of Dallas). The house looked familiar, but I was struck with the how much it had changed. Fortunately thanks to Zillow I was able to take a peek inside as well and you might be surprised at what I found (or maybe you won’t!)
I found the bones of a house that only vaguely resembled the house of my youth. This was not due to additions or other changes an owner might make to improve the house or add modern functionality. After all a lot of has changed since we lived there in the early 80s. The changes were more along the lines of replacement for the sake of maintenance.
A lot of it is expected. In small doses it makes sense but when taken as a whole I realized just how wasteful our houses are today, and it led me to the idea of the disposable house.
The Disposable House
This is not some new bio-degradable house I’m toting here. It’s about how we build with such terrible products using short-sighted techniques that we have torn down historic, enduring structures and inadvertently created a country of disposable houses.
Wondering what I saw in my old house that got me so fired up? Well, here’s the list of things that had been changed out since I was there. And remember, I understand that these things need changing, the point is why are we using so many items that need replacement after such a short time?
- Replacement windows
- Both exterior doors
- Wood shingles replaced with composite
- New aluminum gutters
- All landscaping save two big trees
- All carpets
- All cabinets
- Tile floors replaced with wood
- All light fixtures
- All plumbing fixtures
- All kitchen appliances
- All fencing
That’s a lot of stuff in the landfill, and I think my house is probably on the good side compared to other houses. Compare that to a lot of the historic houses I renovate and you’ll find a striking disparity.
Historic homes I see typically have their original windows and doors, they retain their original wood and tile floors, the plaster walls are largely intact, The original metal or tin shingle roofs are still in place, original box gutters or yankee gutters are still working like they were 100 years ago, even a lot of the old light fixtures and a few plumbing fixtures are still doing their job.
Do we really have so much prosperity and so little sense that we don’t see the wastefulness of this mindset? We are building disposable houses that are used and trashed like Kleenex when we’re done instead of enduring structures that our children or our children’s children will get to see or experience. This has to change.
The Story of The Dust Pan
To this day there is a dust pan under my mothers sink that was originally her mother’s. It’s a simple metal dust pan that quickly reminds me of my childhood whenever I visit and my children make a mess that I have to clean up. This simple object has served her household for probably six decades!
No, a dust pan isn’t a big deal, but it’s a reminder of the mindfulness that went into even the little things once upon a time. This simple metal dust pan doesn’t crack or wear out like the plastic ones today. It wasn’t design to be replaced every couple years which is probably bad business sense but it makes good social sense.
If we would only build houses with the technology we have today using the mindset of 100 years ago we would have the finest homes imaginable. Lasting, enduring, and beautiful is a legacy we can choose to leave, but first we have to make the choice to do it.