Special to The Washington Post
My name is Mary. I’m an aging person with an aging house. I’m going to tell the story of transforming my house from something I don’t want into something I do.
There are a few goals for this project.
First, I want to have a house where I can get more and more decrepit. I’m a classic Baby Boomer: Born in 1947, I’ll be 65 this year. I live alone. Well, I should say I live alone except for my two dogs, three cats, five parakeets, live-in pet sitter, and multitudes of guests. Both of my parents stayed at home till they died, and their house needed very little modification.
Still, though, I remember my mother getting stuck in a bathtub that had no grab bars and my father unable to climb stairs and unable to maneuver his wheelchair through the narrow bathroom door. If I want to age in place, too, I have to prepare that place.
Second, I want to have a really energy efficient house that will cost me and the planet as little as possible to maintain. I don’t know much about any of these technologies but my eyes are wide with hopes for saving the planet. I am liable to grab onto every fad and trend I hear about: photovoltaic roof shingles, geothermal heating and cooling, cisterns, countertops of recycled materials and so on. When I attended the solar decathlon this year, I felt like a kid in a candy store wanting everything I saw.
Third, I want to demolish the present house (yes, all of it,) and construct the new one in an environmentally sensitive way. I hate to think of the windows and doors and other materials going into a land fill when maybe there are people who could use them.
And fourth, I want to respect a promise I made to the man who sold me the house in November. His name is Joe Keiger and he moved to Iowa in the fall after suffering through a killer summer with no air conditioning. The week-long heat wave in late July put him in the hospital with heat exhaustion.
His daughter wanted him to move closer to her. Joe’s wife, Betty, died a few years ago. She was a piano teacher and supporter of everything musical in the area. Joe worked as a systems engineer for the Air Force and then retired to volunteer work and gardening. It’s the garden that I am committed to preserving. For 60 years, the Keigers amended and cultivated the soil. Their crops of beans and asparagus and tomatoes and okra were abundant. Before I bought this house, I lived across the street and in late summer, I used to wander over to Joe’s place around the time he was harvesting in the hopes that he would offer me the surplus. The house currently covers about 1,300 square feet of an 8,500 square foot parcel of land. I want the new house to take up the same footprint.
This blog is going to be about the whole project from start to finish.
Mary McCutcheon is a retired professor of anthropology at George Mason University.
Next: I’ll begin my research on how to tear down my house.
Read our previous series on “My Renovation Saga”