The Life and Times of "The Zombie House"

whole houseThis 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 2001.

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.)

missing wall
mostly down
bare dirt

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.

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