Small House Workshop

I just returned tonight from a small house workshop. It was interesting, and I learned some things, though not what I had thought I would.

The first thing I learned is how very grateful I am that I didn’t get the job I’d hoped for in downtown Kansas City. I do NOT like city.

Sadly but gladly I also learned that the house I’d hoped to buy and renovate into a smaller house isn’t a good idea. Not because renovating a house isn’t a good idea, but because the particular house I’d hoped for is a fire trap… and if there were ever a fire in it (which is likely unless wiring is brought up to code) probably one or more people would die before the smoke detectors ever went off.

That house is a 1900, story and a half house. It has very old wiring, but rather than properly rewiring, someone installed a breaker box to replace the fuse box, and left the old wiring in place. The old wiring is the type that has no ground and has bare wires wrapped around porcelain knobs. The wood is old and well seasoned due to the climate here (dry), perfect tinder. There is no insulation, which would help with fire retardancy, but above that, it has “balloon framing”.

With a balloon framed house, studs are run from footing to rafter, and there are no cross bars to help stop a flame that might start in a wall. So if a spark ignites, rather than a fire being contained to one part of one wall, the fire goes straight up the entire wall and catches in the rafters. Which in this particular house hold up another tinderbox in the form of a shake shingle roof covered by asphalt shingles. So the fire would ignite, run between the studs straight into the roof, and burn to the ground before the volunteer fire department could ever arrive… and worse, could take the roof down before a smoke detector ever went off because the smoke would be contained within the studs of a plaster and lathe wall.

There is one other problem with that house though, and  this is the one I learned at the small house workshop. The stairs to the second floor bedroom are too narrow for an equipped fireman to ascend. Anyone (most likely a child) on the second floor would be trapped between a burning shake shingle (wood) roof and a steep, narrow stairwell in the middle of flames and smoke that would be, in itself, disorienting.

I woke up in the night last night with a vivid picture in my mind of someone (not me) dying in a house fire there within the next 5-10 years. That doesn’t mean it will happen, but that my intuition sure got my attention with the image!

So the house is a no-go, and I’m sad and nervous about that, but also relieved. At least I learned it in time that it won’t be my risk. I might loose my earnest money, but even if I do, I won’t lose my life. Or spend the rest of my life bothered because I rented or sold a fire trap to someone with a child who might live upstairs.

The small house workshop was informative. Most of the information in it could be found online, and I would have said it was overpriced-especially considering that it wasn’t geared for regional codes-except for me the information was invaluable and timely. The one comment about the space needed for a firefighter in full gear to walk through probably saved me at least $20,000.

Four things I noticed that I wouldn’t have realized online: most of the people were around my age or older, rather than being 20-something tree huggers or singles like I imagined, a number were from large cities, most were considering a small house as a secondary dwelling for travel or a summer home (which doesn’t reduce footprint, but increases it!), tiny houses are not as economical and off-grid as what I’ve read online if comfort level is maintained, and apparently most people who own one don’t live in it, at least not full time. And a good number left either having decided to delay building or to do something different than they had planned.

I still want a small house, and I still know I wouldn’t want to live tiny. I’d want a house with new (and more expensive) components. Yes, those increase the footprint of the house. But they also decrease the footprint later in terms of heating costs. I would also want something heavier and more wind resistant than a tiny house would be, because my goal isn’t to live with as little as possible, but to live comfortably and efficiently with the least impact possible for the first two.

It’s about goals, and about ideals. I think if all of us learned one thing, it’s how unique those are to each of us, and that we should respect those whether they completely match our own or not.

Regarding the safety issues in the old house I won’t be buying: “most of these roofs also have a lower ignition point than a lit cigarette.” “Many types of roofing, including roll roofing and asphalt shingles, should never be placed over the top of wood shingles, such as cedar shakes. If you must reroof directly over cedar shake shingles, you should do so only with new wood shakes, though reroofing over old shakes still isn’t advisable.” “The one rather large drawback to balloon framed houses is their fire risk. With wall cavities that are typically uninsulated and run the entire height of the building fire is able to spread quickly and often without notice. Balloon frame houses should be be retrofitted with insulation and fire blocking between stories to retard the spread of fires within the home. This risk is not one to be understated.”


About thrugracealone

I'm a country girl raised city. I prefer open windows to AC, love a good thunderstorm, and enjoy hearing the owls and seeing lightning bugs. A bit old-fashioned, maybe, I can recognize many trees by name, resent elms and weeds, wish for a large garden and canning skills, and hope someday to downsize and get a few acres in the country. I am blessed with a terrific church, a good job, a sturdy house, two cats and a yard full of strawberries and mulberries in the right season. Some of my other favorite things to do are spoiling nieces and nephews, reading, swimming, biking, long walks, and blogging, of course. One of my favorite stories is creation. My abbreviated version goes like this: 1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth wasa formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters... And God moved... And God said... And it was very good. If God can speak to darkness, to an earth without form and void, and make something like this that we see everyday, and make it very good (and it was even better before the Fall!), He will surely make something wonderful out of the dark, void situations I sometimes find myself in. He has, and it's been very good. Two top posts: Can a Person Lose their Salvation? Baptism!

Posted on April 30, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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