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Building Science

The House My Dad Built

Green-building basics made a big difference when upgrading my childhood home

Image Credit: Mike Linksvayer / Creative Commons license at Flickr

The focus of green building has shifted during the 25 years that I’ve been paying attention. Today, it seems to be more on new homes and high-end remodeling. Earlier in my career, the focus seemed to be on improving the energy performance and controlling moisture in average homes. This post is about the latter.

My old man never made a lot of money, but by working nights and weekends he and my mom built the house I grew up in. Because there wasn’t a ton of cash to be had, my parents built the place in stages. The oldest section included a garage for Dad’s sidework and a living space about 24 ft. square. It had one bedroom, a bath, a kitchen, and a common area, all over a dirt-floored crawlspace.

The balance of the house came a year or so later, a typical 1960s ranch with three more bedrooms. The new section of the house was built over a basement. Family legend has it that when the basement was being dug, the excavator hit a spring that filled the hole so quickly he needed to bring in a larger, second machine to pull the first one out. We used that spring for domestic water until I was 4 or 5—I remember the new well being drilled.

The footing drains ran all year round and that basement never really dried out. The vault containing the well head was uphill of the house. It filled with water during the spring, and the 4-in. sleeve that carried the pipe from the new well to the house ran like a fire hose. Ever practical, Dad left a section of the basement slab out there so the water could run into the gravel and footing drains below. Also, he never got around to pouring…

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  1. Ian_Schwandt | | #1

    Great piece Andy!

  2. Expert Member
    ARMANDO COBO | | #2

    As I read this article, I scratched my head asking why would anyone would tackle this project, at the same time as laughing at a good, fun read. A rewarding and expensive way to satisfy an emotional need. I'm feeling my back needs another surgery in support! 😂

  3. user-1072251 | | #3

    Great project! And a good, valid reason for doing it.

  4. Andy_Engel | | #4

    Thanks, all. Armando, a big part of the reason to tackle the project was money. I needed to rent or sell the house, and it wasn't viable either way without attacking those issues.

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