This 850 square
foot wooden house was built from a kit in the early 1950's by a previous property
owner. It was originally a three bedroom, one bath. At some point the back
porch was enclosed to provide a bathroom/laundry room combo. For several years
before we purchased the property in mid 1999, the house was rented out while
horses were boarded on the surrounding fenced acres. Most tenants were people
in the process of building a permanent home nearby. The last set of tenants
(now neighbors) were a couple with six children. The first time we met, I
asked "How?" They replied "bunk beds."
For all of its age and lack of creature comforts, the house was one of the
attractions of this location for us. It wasn't fancy, but it was livable.
Being thirty seconds' walk from our construction site -- and making payments
on only one home site instead of two at once -- were big advantages toward
us building our own home. The house was thrown in free with the purchase
of our 28 acres. On a strictly as-is, seller-not-responsible-for-the-consequences
basis. We quickly took to calling it the Zombie House because pieces
were constantly falling off. We lived in the house from August 1999 to mid-spring
At different times we had plumbing leaks (both bathrooms and the kitchen
sink). We had broken windows. We had water leaks in the roof (rain). We had
constant air leaks in the roof, walls and floors (hot air in summer, cold
air in winter). Finally, the water heater died on us. We had rats at one
point, which was probably the worst part. The wiring was un-grounded, very
much not to modern code. Every windstorm -- and there are lots of those,
spring and fall on an exposed hilltop in Texas -- made us worry that the
thing would fall in on us. Fortunately, we didn't know at the time that the
floor joists were simply sitting on concrete blocks on the ground, rather
than the concrete or wood pier-and beam foundation we thought we had.
The house had a fairly recent central heat and AC system, which we were able
to get working, but the structure was so energy-inefficient (by modern standards)
that the system couldn't do us much good. We baked in the summer even with
a supplementary window air conditioner in the bedroom. We froze in the winter.
You know it's cold when a Labrador Retriever (bred to jump into Canadian
lakes and rivers) doesn't want to sleep on the floor. We spent two winters
and one and a half summers in the dratted thing. That house did everything
to us except actually fall in around our heads. We complained pretty much
non-stop during the whole time we lived there. But it kept us and our stuff
in something faintly resembling civilized comfort until we could get our
indestructible concrete house built.
The Zombie House has been sitting empty since we moved into our dome, not
even in use as storage. It had one last evening of occupation last Halloween,
when a bunch of us went through it with video cameras making a "Blair Witch"
sort of impromptu home movie. We had made attempts to give it away -- to
be moved off the property at the recipient's expense -- either whole or in
salvageable pieces. Nobody wanted it, even for free.
We wanted it gone for a host of reasons. It was an eyesore, it was a fire
hazard, it was likely to fall down on its own at some random and probably
inconvenient moment. Finally we gave up on getting rid of the house without
spending any money, and started calling local demolition companies.
A couple of local contractors gave us vague promises of a call back and no
action. One of them, contacted on a Monday, turned up to look at the house
on Tuesday and gave us a firm (and reasonable) bashing bid on the spot. When
we called back to accept the bid, some weeks later, I gave a verbal acceptance
at 9 a.m. and their Bobcat(tm) was bashing walls by 1 p.m. (Luck played a
role, too. A job that was in line ahead of us had unexpected delays, freeing
a hole in their schedule. But I'm still impressed.)
By that afternoon, an entire wall of the Zombie House
had been hauled away in pieces in the back of a big truck. As I write this
a week later, the last of it is gone leaving us a clean, empty
yard we can garden to our heart's content. Good riddance and well worth the
demolition costs, in the end. But in another way I'm kind of going to miss
the thing. It was a part of our lives, even if it was an annoying part. To
a great extent it made it possible for us to build our dome house at our own
pace, even though we weren't living in style while we lived there. It did
more for us than a 1950-vintage kit-built house could reasonably be expected
to do. It's good that it's going away. But it's a little sad, too.