Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Moving houses

Damn, my Loompanics order got here fast. I thought the whole going out of business thing meant they would take forever to fill the order, and 87% of the books would be gone already, but everything I ordered showed up in about four days. I was home sick on Friday, and spent the day going in and out of nap-state on the couch while reading a book about a guy who homesteads in the desert in a little house he built for about $300. Pretty crazy, but interesting. (And no, I can’t do this on my land – we actually have zoning that explicitly prohibits this sort of thing.)

Another book I got that I was flipping through last night talks about the ins and outs of buying houses and then moving them. It’s a pretty interesting book, because I’ve always had some fascination with that process. When I was a teenager, the US-20 bypass got built, just a short distance north of our subdivision. Where it crossed, there lay a different, slightly older division of homes, and they were all bought by the government at fair market value and the owners given the boot. Most of these were fairly new ranch-style homes, maybe ten years old or so, and after The Man got the land, they auctioned off the structures for a pittance. In the year or two following, I saw a lot of homes being hoisted onto steel frames and pulled by huge trucks to their new locations. I remember one time, riding my bike to the Concord Mall, I started down a hill on Sunnyside Drive, and as I gained speed and popped over the crest, I saw a giant house blocking the whole road! That’s a pretty unusual sight to behold. They put in the house on that land, and from what I remember, they either added a smaller house to make it an L-shape and grafted the two together, or maybe they just built the new wing from scratch. Anyway, the fact that they bought these houses for hundreds of dollars (if that) and then installed them to make a house costing maybe $50K more is pretty enticing.

The author of this book talks about people bidding on houses that are being struck out to expand airports and ending up with $100K homes for something like $25. Of course, you have to pay to move it, but depending on how far you go, that could cost you only five or ten thousand dollars. You hire a mover, and they pop the house off the foundation with jacks and mount it to steel girder framing to keep it from twisting or buckling. They’re also going to do the other dirty work, like sever that electrical and wiring junk, and deal with any outcroppings, porches, decks, garages, verandas, or other pieces that are going to worm lose during the whole trip. They talk to the local PO about traffic, and maybe work around any power lines or other problems on the route. Then the whole thing goes mobile, and they prop the house up on the new site with a shitload of huge oak timbers.

Depending on if your movers are just taking you point-to-point or if they are a turnkey place, the movers will either take their money and run, or they’ll do the next step for you. The next step involves basically building a foundation under the house that’s now hanging in the air. Maybe you were able to dig a basement and pour footers and walls, in which case you’ve got a nice sill on which to drop the bitch and start wiring and picking paint for the living room. Or maybe not, in which case you do your digging and concrete work while the house sits above you. You then have to go through every system of the house (wiring, HVAC, plumbing) and get it all up to code, which might take some work if you’ve just moved a 200-year-old plantation house or something.

And despite what people thing, moved houses are not fundamentally weaker than new houses. I know that misconception sounds like it would have to be true, but for whatever reason (probably the fact that they have to jack all of the house to the right level and build a new foundation around it), the new houses are often stronger. And they don’t buckle or bend as much as you think, because of that steel below it.

I wish the Alamosa airport got some huge grant to expand and put the nix on a bunch of houses so I could buy one. I’m guessing with all of the crazy homesteaders out there though, it would cost a lot more than it would if I lived in Elkhart. (Not that I’d want to live in Elkhart…)

In unrelated news, I got a Nikon Coolscan V ED film scanner, and I’ve been pulling in a bunch of my 35mm negatives. It works well, although it’s slower than fuck. Also, I cannot find some of my negatives, which I thought were all in one place. I don’t feel like digging around for them though – I have enough to keep me busy until summer. Also, my mom has a warchest of old slides, containing a lot of my baby pictures and other early stuff. She’s going to ship those off so I can restore them and get them onto CD, hopefully.

Still writing. Still not talking about what I’m writing. It’s getting near the 50K word mark though.