Thursday, February 28, 2013

Save or Tear-Down an Old Barn: What To Do?

Farmhouses and barns go together. 

This barn belonged to my great-great grandparents who immigrated to America in the late 1800's. My decision to save or tear-down the barn was based on emotion and finances. You can't ignore either one.  As a little girl I spent a lot of time in this barn and many events occurred in this barn.  I'll share one story.

"It was a winter day in the 1940's. Light snow flurries began around noon. By mid-day, snow turned into a wet heavy sleet. Household chores kept my mother busy during the day, but when she finally turned to look out the kitchen window while starting supper, the snow had turned into an icy sleet.

Everything was dropped as she rushed to put on her heavy coat.  Looking first for a very pregnant cow, mom knew it needed to be sheltered because the calf was due any day, but the cow was gone.  It was not uncommon for cows to escape occasionally through a gate left open but this was not a good day to wonder.  How long had she been gone?  Looking down the hill, my mother saw her standing in the creek, drinking.

It was getting dark.  The cow had to get back in the barn.  My mother slipped and fell going down the hill to get the cow.  The sleet was still falling and with dusk, it was getting cold and the sleet was turning to ice. The cow cannot get excited.  She'll fall and slip down the hill.  She could break a leg and equally as bad, lose her baby.

My mother approached the cow gingerly, careful not to cause her to run. Slowly, she led the cow up the hill only to slip half way up.  They tried again and once more.  The cow started to get nervous.  My mother pulled and pushed with no success.  For a moment, all efforts were still, letting the cow settle down. One more try was made and again, both my mother and cow slipped.  Mom looked toward the hill for a better way to reach the top.  Using another path, step by step, my mother guided the cow sideways and eventually worked their way up the hill through shrubs and brush.  It took an hour but finally mom led the pregnant cow safely into the barnyard and into the barn for shelter.  It was a night my mother remembered and she told this story for 45 years!"

A few days later, the cow delivered a beautiful healthy calf!

For us kids, the barn was a place of adventure.  We would climb up the old wooden ladder and jump into the hay loft, laughing as we tossed hay in the air watching it drop like rain.  In the spring, we would notice the mama cat was pregnant and the next day she was thin.  Where were the baby kittens?  We would watch mama cat climb up into the loft.  Aha! We would giggle with our hands over our mouth.  We knew we had found the treasure.  Up we went on the ladder and there we would find the cutest little kittens all in different colors. Which one was our favorite?

At the end of summer, grain was harvested.  Wheat and barley bags would be stored in the barn until they were taken to the fuel and grain store.  As kids would take our coffee cans and fill them to the brim with newly harvested wheat.  My cousins and I ate a ton of it!  We would fill lunch sacks with wheat (there were no Baggies or Zip Lock bags - only plastic carrot bags) and head to the woods for the entire day where we pretended to be explorers in the wilderness.

So, the question is, "what should I do with the old wood barn"? 

Fix the ol' girl and make her useful again.  There is no question about it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Does an Asbestos Report Look Like?

Sample Asbestos Report

The top half written portion is a log which assigns a number to each sample taken.  The log also identifies where the sample is located.  The bottom half is the actual report and analysis.  You will see that some of the samples detected no asbestos while other samples reported positive.  From this report, you will be able to obtain an estimate of asbestos removal costs.
(Click on image to enlarge.)

Here is my experience with an asbestos inspection

$575.00 was the cost of our asbestos test and report in 2007.  The cost is based on the number of samples collected and tested.

I ordered this test before the project was sent out for bidding.  Why?  Asbestos removal costs would be added to my overall budget and the work would need to be completed by a certified asbestos removal company before any construction or demo work could begin.

The report is valuable whether you decide to proceed with renovation or demolition.

The representative came to the house and performed the inspection and sampling.  He took small pieces of old plaster, interior and exterior paint, tile and sheet vinyl floor covering. He also took samples of old sheet siding on an outbuilding.  In an old house there may be layers over layers of old flooring. All need testing unless you will not disturb the floor.

The representative provided his state inspector license number on the report.  The report indicated which samples came back positive/negative, and those that required removal were addressed.

Should you think you can eliminate this expense, think not.

Government regulations have made asbestos removal a renovation or demo cost you can't avoid.

One, you will need to dispose of the materials.  If you take them to the local dump, they will inspect your vehicle and load.  They are trained what to look for so if they spot any potential hazardous materials you will be sent away.

Two, if you have a dumpster on site, the contents will be looked at upon dumping.  Neither the dump or the dumpster company is willing to take your hazardous materials.

Three, contractors are now required to sign certifications regarding asbestos and they are not willing to accept liability for fines simply because you do not want to spend the money.

My Tip of the Day!

If your renovation requires removal of old linoleum floors, old roofs, lead pain on exterior siding, and other hazardous materials, pay for an inspection and know up front what is required.  If you hire someone to remove these materials, insist on a detailed estimate before they start work, and a receipt and report of disposal before you pay the vendor.  If you hire the general contractor to arrange this for you, make sure there is a line item  on your proposal for "Asbestos and Hazard Material" removal.

How to Organize Your Construction Project

Renovating or remodeling your dream home is an exciting project.  You will be faced with making many decisions about cabinet styles and colors, faucets, flooring, and paint colors.  Records must be kept for contracts, permits, surveys, budget, and other "business" issues.  Keeping organized will save you time and keep you and everyone else in the house from going crazy!

I would have been lost without my project folders.

Here is my "high tech" recordkeeping system.  Laugh if you will but my little traveling file cabinet went with me everywhere.  Make a trip to your local office supply store.  Everything you need will cost just a few dollars.

It's not fancy but boy oh boy, it does the job!

I used this system when we built our custom contemporary house, the farmhouse addition, the farmhouse renovation and the barn restoration. Everything at your fingertips!  As the French say, "Whala"!!!


Folder Suggestions

Air Conditioner
Designer, Interior
Contractor, General
Asbestos Report
Bathroom Design
Change Orders
Doors, Interior and Exterior
Exterior Siding, Soffit, Fascia, Gutters
Kitchen Design
Light Fixtures
Moving and Storage
Shower Door
Trim, Interior
Warranty and Rebates
Water Softener
Window Treatments
Windows, Screens

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Home Inspector will Save You Money on Your Renovation

OK.  You love the house.  It is in rough shape.  Well..........maybe not rough shape, but there are areas that absolutely need changing.  I know you want to jump in with both feet.  You're excited.  You can see yourself sitting on the porch swing. How bad could it be?  Go get a cup of coffee and gather your senses.

Patience is a prerequisite that is non-negotiable.  Remodeling or renovating a home is a process.  If you have no or little patience, your life and all those around you will be a living "#?x".

This man is your friend.
Hire a Home Inspector.

Trust me on this one.  At this point, you do not have enough information to determine if you should renovate, demo, or walk away.  Unless you are Bill Gates or have a Rockefeller trust fund, you will want to know HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?

Call your local mortgage department.  Ask for a list of reputable home inspectors. Yes, this will cost you a few hundred dollars but the information will be priceless.

Unfortunately there are contractors who may tell you they can "spot asbestos, mold, and rotted wood" a mile away and you do not need an inspection.  Really?  Ask your contractor if he/she has a state license inspector license number?   Ask what lab he/she uses for analysis.  Licensed inspectors disclose where the samples were submitted and who did the analysis.

Take caution.

Establishing a realistic budget is important to a successful renovation or remodel project.  Do you really want this surprise to rear its ugly head after you sign a contract?  And oh yeh, this would be a "change order" which triggers a contractor fee.
There is one more benefit to hiring a home inspector.
Should you need to get a loan for the renovation, permits and code compliance will be required by the bank. The mortgage department will send an inspector to your home before they approve your loan. 

Critical issues are expensive to fix.

Don't buy your kitchen cafe curtains just yet.

Here are just a few areas that could cost thousands to repair or replace.  I don't want to discourage you.  I want to help you stay on budget and enjoy the renovation.  That means you need good information.

Foundations and Basements. Structurally sound, no cracks, no evidence of water intrusion, proper insulation, able to withstand renovation changes. Sump-pump.

Mound or Holding Tank System. Code compliance - huge issue. Private or shared.  Malfunction and wet areas outside. A holding tank requires pumping at $120. per pumping.  Budget, budget, budget.

Well. If this house is on an old farm, be prepared for old wells covered by sidewalks that were not filled but just covered with plywood and covered with topsoil and grass. Test water quality, water flow, age of pump, and electric to pump.  Private or shared.

Exterior and Landscaping. Rotted, warped, and flawed siding and decorative trim from bugs or water. Old, cracked and uneven concrete.  Steps, sidewalks, garage apron, garage floor. Old trees too close to house.  Outdoor spigots.  Lead paint, or asbestos siding and mold. 

Windows. Old, single pane original or cheap windows that are not energy efficient, don't match, broken seals. Some rooms may have windows too small for egress compliance.

Roof. Sag in the roof. Roof vents that don't exist. Old unused chimney. Old TV antenna. How many roof layers are on the roof?  Three may be the limit and that may be a problem for you if you are considering an addition.  Is there a rubber roof on top of the porch? Flash?  Drip edge?  Asbestos materials.

Gutters and Downspouts. Do they exist, are they rusted and are there enough?

Porches and Decks. Old front porches typically have wood decks.  Inspection of old wood porch support structure and top deck, steps, handrails, and guardrails. 

Interior. Old plaster walls, wood paneling or other old covering. Ceiling cracks. Retain, repair, or replace.

Doors. Alignment, both interior and exterior doors.  Do they match?  Door knobs work?  Weather sealed on exterior doors? Bathroom doors wide enough for handicap access. Is the swing direction awkward?

Floors. Old, unacceptable carpet. Old vinyl tiles or linoleum may be hidden under carpet and may be old with asbestos.  Wood floor workmanship and condition.  Uneven. Creaky.

Kitchen and Bath. Cabinets, counter tops, fixtures, range hood exhaust venting, mold, mildew, leaks, old plumbing, appliance and fixture condition.

Stairs. Width, tread and risers, handrails.  Code compliance, comfort, condition, ability to move furniture to second floor.

Plumbing. Evidence of leaking pipes or old out of code pipes. Water drains.  Sewer waste lines.  Flush toilets.  Can you hear water washing through walls? Hot water heater age.  Vented properly.

Electric. Is electrical panel adequate for current house?  Will it handle a renovated house electric needs with added modern appliances, computers, home offices, new garage, new addition?  Outlets, light switches and ceiling fixtures in working condition. Ground fault circuit interrupters or breakers. Overhead or buried electric service.

Furnace and Air Conditioning. Adequate capacity and installation. Working condition status.  Age.  If house uses propane gas, inspect for gas leaks, proper appliance adapters, exhaust, cold air returns.  Location of tank must be "x" feet from a structure or it must be moved.

Barns and Outbuildings. Asbestos, electric and plumbing code violations, roof, floors and hazardous materials.

Old Farm Landscapes.  Buried gas tanks, old dump sites, old buildings with hazardous materials and buildings in flood plains.

I hope this helps and provides some food for thought!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Should I Renovate an Old House or Build New? want to renovate a farm house?  Or, did you find a charming old house that captured your heart?

I understand totally.
An old (some call it vintage) house gives you a feeling that it will always take care of you as it had done for all the families who called it home before you.

The house has spirit. 

It has soul. 

You feel refuge and comfort is yours as long as the ol' girl will have you.


"Renovation is an ambitious undertaking.
Not all old homes are worth renovating."

4 Important Reasons to Renovate
  1. Family homestead property
  2. Real estate lot is to die for
  3. Architecture features are fabulous
  4. Historic or preservation district