The Ultimate In Recycling – Buy An Old House

I posted this article on Bubblews, but thought I would also add it to this site, for those who don’t want to follow the link off to a different site. Tomorrow’s post is The Devastation of Fishes. Stay tuned!


Here in America, we have transformed from the land of plenty to the land of waste. Mountains of waste, filled with items that will take a millennia to decompose, items that are toxic, and more.

I live in the Midwest, in Missouri, which was still in the dark ages while the east and west coasts began aggressive recycling campaigns. For that matter, we still are in the dark ages – recycling is considered optional by most, sometimes extreme, and coming from years spent on the West coast, the cavalier attitudes I see still shock me. Where do they think all of this garbage goes? Why do they not care about doing their part? Our next door neighbors in the suburbs, where we lived for over a decade before moving into Kansas City a few months ago, actually thought we made money taking our recycling in to the recycling hub – otherwise, why would we be doing it? This attitude is often pervasive, but it is changing.

We moved into the city to take advantage of what I consider the ultimate in recycling – we bought a 120-year-old house on five city lots. We are now caretakers for this amazing building, constructed of brick and stone, as well as the land where four other houses stood before decaying to the point that they had to be torn down. And this house is one of countless others throughout the city – solid structures full of history, made with wood and stone now deemed far too expensive to replicate.

“But old houses aren’t energy-efficient,” you might say, “they are full of leaky windows, drafts, and inadequate heating and cooling systems.” Or others tell me, “But they are so much work!”

I’ll get to the energy-efficiency issue in a moment, but first I need to state that all homes need work. ALL of them. Not just the old ones. If you don’t want to care for a house, you would be better off renting or in an apartment. And while those in the building industry may vehemently disagree, we need to stop building new homes that have a 20 year shelf life (at best) and focus on the homes we already have that are moldering and falling apart before our very eyes. Treating a structure like it is a disposable diaper is short-sighted and ultimately destructive. Many of these older homes have been home to generations of families who loved and lived inside of them. Why would we want to live in a disposable house when we could have history, workmanship, and more?

When we moved into this grand old house in February we were told by our insurance company that the replacement cost on our $93,000 home would be nearly half of a million dollars. With eighteen inch brick walls, hardwood floors, and three times the space of our 20-year-old home in the suburbs (which cost more) our insurance agent tried several times to convince us to insure the house for at least $250k. We pointed out that, even at half of a million dollars, we could never replace the quality, the history that was inside this house. Because they don’t make houses like this anymore. The prices would be far too exorbitant, and the quality of the materials would never match up.

Now about that energy efficiency problem…

Old double-hung windows can be weatherized, or they can be replaced. For now, we will weatherize them. I’m not ready to let go of my 120-year-old windows! There are plenty of instructional videos on YouTube, Instructables and the DIY network to help you with that.

If you have multiple levels as we do, it may make sense to break down your a/c usage into zones with window air units. We do not have a/c – which was a big concern for me since I get heat sick quite easily. However, we found two working air conditioners on eBay for under $200 total. One is installed in our bedroom and keeps us cool at night (we turn it off when we aren’t in the room). The second window unit will be installed soon in the office/library and we will use two area fans to pump the cool air to other parts of the upstairs. We have a third air conditioner and will be placing it in a central location downstairs to keep the downstairs relatively cool. All will be turned off and on depending on whether we are in the rooms or not. This will actually be a quite energy efficient solution – cooling an entire house when you are sitting in only one room is actually highly inefficient, expensive, and puts a drain on the electrical grid in summer, a time when rolling blackouts are becoming common.

As for your heating system – tape all the ductwork you can find in the basement, seal it tight. This will prevent loss of efficiency. You can have a 95% efficiency furnace and that doesn’t mean it’s that efficient. It’s only as efficient as the ductwork. You will get a better level of efficiency from a well-sealed system. A few rolls of duct tape will save you hundreds of dollars off of your utility bills over the years.

The other source of drafts are the doors. Weatherize them – make sure they are hung correctly, add new weatherstripping, and sew door and window logs to keep drafts out.

There are many more low-cost weatherizing strategies you can employ with all homes – so why not save a home that has withstood the test of time, one that, with the proper care, will be there long after you are gone. Buying and caring for an older home is the ultimate in recycling. After that you can start on your first garden. Stay tuned for tips on that!

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