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Ask the Architect

‘Enjoy living where you are’


Q. We’re hoping to renovate our older home, which we just bought, and want more technology and a more modern way of life. The house has many rooms and feels cramped, so we want to know whether we can take down all the walls on our first floor, and whether it will be more expensive than just finding a more modern house. I understand there are a lot of factors that make the question hard to answer, but in general, where is the cutoff point where it no longer makes sense to spend too much when we could just move again?

A. With enough money spent, all things are possible. Hopefully you chose for the location, school district, taxes and all the long-term reasons instead of just because the house has “good bones,” an expression most often used by people who have no idea what that really means but like the sense of substantial structure it suggests.

You can open all the walls, as long as it’s done correctly, having the work planned by a licensed professional who uses proper engineering to check the loads, load paths, predicted behavior of wind, snow, fire and floods to design the changes. All too often I’m escorted into the main area of a house where the owner bounces their heels on the floor to show me how the floor shakes, or points to the cracks in the ceiling or the easily noticeable sag in the main beam running above their kitchen, dining room or living room.

I always ask if they know who planned the work, and generally they say either that it was done by the contractor or the people before them. Either way, they want it corrected as part of the work. But I have to inform them that this time the beam will be calculated, not guessed at, and the reason for the sag was because of the fear of spending money to hire a trained professional instead, assuming that anyone can do this.

The other extreme that amateurs take when designing a beam is over-design, which just costs more, although sometimes the beam is actually so heavy that it sags from its own weight. That’s where equilibrium comes into play. Only you can decide the cutoff point where the dollars are too much. The technology part is really the simplest, since many functions are becoming wireless, and items like foam insulation (which also acts as a vapor and air barrier), heat pumps, reflective surfaces for passive energy allowance, energy recovery, radiant systems with sensors, water-conserving plumbing fixtures, backflow devices for water safety, rooftop solar with back-up batteries and micro-grid software are more advanced and have more functions than you may fully appreciate.

“Smart” technology adjusts itself, accumulating data use to activate for greater efficiency and cost savings. So stay where you are and enjoy the upgrades, well planned and correctly integrated. Install a waterless lawn and a remote backyard fireplace and enjoy living where you are.

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.