October 8th, 2007

Karrie Jacobs, update on the playhouse, and Where the Money Goes

After ballooning out of control, the Playhouse Dreams got scaled back to a 10ish or 12ish by something or other shed, probably from Reeds Ferry, with bigger (and more) windows, a loft, upgraded to pressure treated flooring. We'll hire someone to do the foundation and wiring, and debate the relative merits of DIY insulation and sheetrock vs. hiring it done. That will probably come down to what our family size is at the time, and how deep into the housing bubble burst we are. There's a point at which you really should hire people who are desperate for work.

Wait, you say, Playhouse?

Oh, yeah. So I ordered a play structure from Cedar Works and R. cut down a bunch of trees and ran the brush through a chipper I bought him. The combination of reading Jacobs and looking at that open space and thinking about play structure made me think about a playhouse. First, it was going to be a shed. Then, a bigger shed with a loft and wiring and basically an adult sized version of what my dad built for my sisters and I. Then it became a guestroom/backyard office built with SIP panels. Then I slept on it a couple nights, and it went back to being a shed. Which is good.

But the process of spec-ing out a guestroom/backyard office built with SIP panels meant that when I got to the section of Jacobs about making a modernist A-frame using SIPs, I could pretty much tell her what Massie was talking about with the square footage.

I'd also spent a lot of time between when I read most of Jacobs and when I finished it, talking to R. about construction. Part of this was trying to figure out the questions I'd need to ask the building inspector as part of the planning-for-the-playhouse. But in the course of the conversations about foundations, while the playhouse was at its most aggressive point (with a full basement -- who knows why we were discussing that), I started adding up the costs of building a house that happen before the house proper is even started: site prep, foundation/basement, hookups for utilities (which around here, means septic tank and leach field). There was a point where I was entertaining putting in plumbing in the guestroom (wiring was a given -- we know that can be done reasonably, altho there are legal hurdles). I was unenthused about running a below-frost-line pipe from the well. I was unenthused about running the waste uphill to the tank/leach field. We were concerned about frost-line issues on that pump and pipe run as well. And I have an amazing desire to switch to composting toilets (this is what happens when you succumb to a certain kind of peer pressure) at some point so I was looking at those. Alas, it does not save me the hassle of connecting to a blackwater system (here, the tank/field) unless I get one of the Clivus whatever ones that are legal in MA which involve a big holding tank which has to be pumped every couple years and introduces the same problem with having driveway access to the building we've been at such pains to avoid. That is, after all, why the in-wall, electric heat pump instead of a propane furnace and connection.

As a result of all this thinking, it had occurred to me that after land costs, pre-"build" costs associated with the site are a HUGE (probably) unavoidable cost. Which was Jacobs' conclusion after all her research -- that the prefab people were making still cheaper the part of the process that was about as efficient and inexpensive as it was likely to get.

The Playhouse is thus back to being a shed. If I get a Dutch Door (as in the playhouse of my childhood), I'll probably put it on the back entry (either the exterior door, or the door into the house -- there's a mudroom/connector between the barn/garage and the house; a less-than-perfect-energy-saver door is reasonable in either location). I can return the Jacobs' book to my friend R.

Should you read _The Perfect $100,000 House_? Not if you want a cheap house of your own. Possibly if you are at the dreaming about houses stage. Probably if you want a readable introduction to the pre-fab movement that isn't trying to sell you something but instead open your eyes to the problems/costs/sketchy nature of it. It was nice that by the end of the book she acknowledged she had a serious issue with commitment. It was certainly obvious enough throughout.