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Ten Rod Road: Episode 2

Some of you suspected the same thing that I did. And we were right to be suspicious. The reason I had so much trouble getting the real estate broker to accept my offer was because there was another buyer! Apparently, another investor was so sure the deal was done that he hired a structural engineer to evaluate the house and submit a report to the town stating the home was unsafe for habitation. That was the strategy! If the town issued an “Order to Demolish,” then they’d have to issue a permit to replace the existing home. But the “Order to Demolish” came to ME!

(Note: Click any image to enlarge)

A Note from the Publisher:

This article is part 2 in a unique series by Rick Arnold.
Visit part 1 through this link to review where Rick left off.


Of course, I opened the letter containing the order from the town on a Friday evening, and obsessed about it all weekend—the same weekend that Gary and I shot the first video.

But first thing Monday morning you can bet I spoke with the Building Official about the “Order” and reviewed the engineer’s report which initiated it. The result of the meeting was that the Building Official gave me the choice of either working with the existing structure or demolishing and rebuilding it. If I chose to repair the existing structure, upon completion I would have to hire a structural engineer to verify that it was safe and habitable. Fair enough.

Now the choice was to demolish or build new. I chewed on that for quite a while, comparing numbers, and truthfully, I expect that decision was the most difficult part of the job.

I had already grown attached to the little cottage home and imagined rebuilding it almost exactly as it was originally, with a few updates.

Sure, a new dormer would change the appearance of the roof, but then how else could I get headroom at the top of the stairs!

At first, I leaned heavily toward repairing the house. I’m a big believer in historic restoration projects. I’ve worked on several, two of which I currently own: one a 265-year-old duplex, which was originally a tavern; and a much younger 110-year-old residence. I’ve found that in the fourth quarter of my career, I prefer that type of work over new construction. I enjoy putting my effort into craftsmanship, and my affection into saving historic buildings.

But—yes, there’s always a but—this was a business decision, which involved not only the capital outlay for improvements but also the value of the finished product.

The existing stone foundation was in excellent condition (within one inch of level!), so my calculations started from there, and included a new bond beam course to cap the stone foundation. In the end, my spreadsheet work revealed that the cost to build new would be about $4,000-$6,000 more than repairing/restoring. And by “repairing” I mean a complete gut and rebuild.

There was no way to repair all the structural work without gutting the entire home. After all, the main portion of the home had extensive rot and insect damage in the floor system, including the 2×5 joists, sills, and the 6×6 center beam and columns. And there were no footings beneath those columns. From the bottom plates to the top plates, the balloon frame walls were infested with rot and insect damage. All of the windows had rotted jambs and sills. The rafter seat cuts were not bearing. Most of the roof was rotten, right through the sheathing. There wasn’t enough headroom at the top of the stairs, which would require a large dormer—and more roof framing.

Then there was the rear addition! The floor system was built on wood sleepers in direct contact with dirt. All the windows were painted with lead-based paint. Should I go on?

After consulting with a real estate broker, we decided that the value of new construction over a remodel job was about $12,000 to $18,000 higher, and, too, a newly-built home would be much easier to sell.

Sadly, I chose to go with new construction. I am still conflicted about the decision, but it was dollars and sense, and I am moving forward. I guess that means we’ll have to re-title the name of this project. It’s no longer a remodel!


12 Responses to “Ten Rod Road: Episode 2”

  1. Mark Ellis

    In the first episode it was discussed that because of setbacks, you wouldn’t be allowed to replace it with new. What changed?

    • Rick Arnold

      Hi Mark,
      I wasn’t aware of the ordinance that allows one to replace a structure (without going through a zoning hearing etc.) if it’s condemned by the Building Official until after the first video was made and my subsequent meeting with him.

  2. John Bunday

    Well shucks, I was hoping to follow along on a whole house historic rehabilitation.
    Still looking forward to following the new build as it unfolds.

    • Rick Arnold

      Me too John.
      However I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the new build; as usual I’ll be doing some unconventional things because of both the period design and my preoccupation with modern building science.

  3. j watson

    Anyone who’s anticipating a major remodel or “fixer-upper” project should tag along for these two videos! You guys really touched all the bases, including the choice to restore, tear down or something in-between—even real estate shenanigans and legal processes…

    Thanks, and Good Luck


    • Rick Arnold

      Thanks JW. Not done with decisions yet, wait till part 3 is published.

  4. Kelly Taber


    Thank you for taking us through the whole decision-making process. I’m sure it was more difficult than you describe. Good luck with the project. I am really looking forward to following along!


    • Rick Arnold

      Yes it was very difficult. I do a lot of weighing before I make a decision like that. My wife says it’s because I’m a Libra.

  5. Sheridan Lloyd

    Thanks Rick, for a great walk-through on assessing a building for restoration. Sadly, sometimes an occasional old house can be too tough to restore. Glad you and Gary did a full tour and explained all the initial ups and downs of a restoration. Great insight into an anguishing decision. Thanks for saving architectural details to pass on the legacy to the next version of the house!
    Like you mentioned, the old wood is much stronger, so 2×4 rafters actually worked for 100 years. The down side is the old wood’s strength and rot resistance is lost in the new house, but gains are made in energy efficiency and headroom to the second floor!
    Looking forward to the continuing story, and see you at JLCLive in March!


  6. Rick Arnold

    Thanks Sheridan.
    Stop by for my last demo of the day at JLC. I will have beer.

  7. Emanuel

    Rick and Gary,
    Thanks for taking the time to show us the process and also educate us along the way. Looking forward to part 3.

    Thanks again

  8. David Lee Persha

    Great Series on older homes Rick! I like the way you and Gary are scripting and sequencing this process. It shows real time not your HGTV remodel in a 30 minute segment which includes commercials. You guys are fantastic. In a tear down process I like the thinking of saving original ornamental architecture and reusing on new structure. It makes some fun out of a demanding schedule. Keep it going!


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