House & Home

Whole-House Recycling? Why Not?

Posted November 3, 2013

Ever see a beautiful old house put to the wrecking ball? It makes me cry every time I do, and not just because I'm always sad to see the destruction of something old, gorgeous, and imbued with decades or centuries of history. It's also tragic because of what it often represents: a huge waste of totally recyclable material that could be repurposed in other construction, allowing the house to live on while making way for new construction.

Thankfully, because of growing interest in architectural salvage, breakdown and recycling is happening with more and more old homes slated for destruction. Salvage crews can take as many usable components as possible, from drawer pulls to intact wood, recycling them for new projects. All of that is immensely exciting for the ecologically-minded construction lover in me, but...what about the poor house? Does it really need to be torn to pieces?

Welcome to the world of whole-house recycling. By which I mean: moving the house somewhere else for preservation, rather than breaking it down for scrap. By saving a house, you're holding on to a little piece of history and preserving a perfectly usable structure to avoid the need for new construction.

While people have been moving houses for a very long time, the technology behind house moves is getting better, making it easier, safer, more cost-effective, and more practical for homes that may be in need of some TLC. If they can move a space shuttle, they can move a handsome Victorian to a safer spot.

Such homes are often destroyed either because people believe they can't be rehabbed cost-effectively, or for the purpose of new development. Tragically, many could just be moved to another site, with an added bonus: if you've ever walked past a home that you love and thought it would be just perfect somewhere else, now's your chance! Longer moves can be more expensive, but if you can arrange for a move within reasonably close proximity, you could benefit from a gorgeous new plot of land with an amazing house on it.

Old homes are often listed for free or at very low cost for anyone who can move them, and once you begin looking, you'll start seeing them right and left. This Old House actually maintains a "Save This Old House!" list of homes across the country; you can check out the archives here. Recent listings include an 1850s Greek revival cottage in Georgia and an 1895 Queen Anne farmhouse in Texas...that's already been moved once!

Interested in doing the environment a solid and recycling an old house? You'll need to work with a remodeling team that specializes in house moves. It's a good idea to assess the house before you put down your symbolic buck and haul it off the lot, to determine what kind of work it might need and whether you're willing to plunge into the job. In some cases, you may be able to get financial support from historic preservation groups and other organizations, so it's worth looking into that option if you're intimidated by the potential cost of rehabilitation.

Once you're confident you can take on your new acquisition, get your move set up. Your team will need some time to prep before the move, followed by several weeks on the other end to get your foundation settled and put the house in place. Then you can hook up electricity, water, sewer, and other services, in addition to performing any necessary construction; you'll likely need a team of San Diego carpenters to help out with many aspects of your historic home.

Be aware that moved houses are sometimes treated as new construction, and thus you may need to make immediate modifications to bring your home up to code even if it was compliant before under a grandfather clause. If these modifications pose undue hardship or would compromise the historic value of the home, you may be able to discuss an extension on the deadline or an exemption, depending on the building code.

Costs can vary depending on the size and type of house, the distance of the move, and of course how much you have to spend on renovations. The cost of the lot can also be an important factor; plan on spending around $100,000 at least to purchase a lot, cover the costs of the move, and handle basic renovations. You might be able to spend much less in the right area, or a whole lot more if you're doing an extensive remodel, moving a house a long distance, or installing your old home on a lot in an area where real estate is expensive.

Once you're settled in, though, it'll all be worth it.

Katie Marks writes for

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