Subscribe or Renew Membership Subscribe Renew

My parents house burnt down, rebuilding?

jhazel3's picture

My parents house burnt down a week and a day ago.

I built my own house, now i would like to rebuild theirs. But my father can barely walk now due to nerve damage in his legs and arthritis. So I want to build a house that has everything on the main level and a attached garage  so he can walk from his car to the house with no steps. Barrier free bathrooms etc... Now the hard part as you can see from the photo of the burning house it is a split level and the reason is that the water table is high here and while it is sandy you hit water at about four feet. So I am not sure if a full basement is a good idea or what method to use to make it a good idea. Using four foot footers with crawlspace seems like a waste. Should I look for a way to waterproof a full basement use a crawl space or build on a slab?  Should I build a ranch with double the sq ft or build a twostory with an elevator? Looking for the most cost effective way to handle this. I used ICF to build my house and like the idea of making it very efficent also.

Thanks Jim Hazel III

(post #81258, reply #1 of 42)

Sorry to hear about the house.

If you're looking for accessability, I'd lean more towards slab on grade. That would make it much easier to get in and out with no steps.

I'd stay away from a basement unless you can be certain that you can keep it dry.

Volunteering doesn't pay

(post #81258, reply #2 of 42)

We had a similar thing, the split level destroyed by the fire and all. The area also had a water table about 5 feet below grade. We trucked in fill and set the house up higher than it was before. Don't know if you have that option. You could always sell the lot and buy another.

Are there other houses in the area with full basements? Talk to them and see what types of issues they have if any.

(post #81258, reply #3 of 42)

jim.... pretty big house to try to get on one floor

but , unless they wanted to scale back

i'd be thinking slab-on-grade... radiant floor heating .. super insulated

with conventional 2d floor for guests

all living / entertainment requirements on the first floor

usually the garage HAS to be minimum of 4" below finish floor of house

 a straight stair to the 2d floor requires about 4'x10' .. other than that all the other space on the first floor can be devoted to their  needs and wishes

think they could live in say...... 36'  x  60' .. that would give them about  2100 sf

say two BR's  ( master & caregiver )  2 - 3 baths

kitchen / living /dining   open plan

library / study

sitting room

2d floor  could have two BR's & 2 baths

but ... if the extended family is close ... then you don't need   the additonal  br's

and the other consideration is  (resale)  but with our aging population .. there will always be lots of people who would like a single-family detached retirement home

all on one level

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore


(post #81258, reply #7 of 42)

pretty big house to try to get on one floor

Thye house we moved out of in San Antonio was one floor 2600 sf slab on grade (plus two car garage).  I think it would be a function of the lot size.

"Put your creed in your deed."   Emerson

"When asked if you can do something, tell'em "Why certainly I can", then get busy and find a way to do it."  T. Roosevelt

"Put your creed in your deed."   Emerson

"When asked if you can do something, tell'em "Why certainly I can", then get busy and find a way to do it."  T. Roosevelt

(post #81258, reply #4 of 42)

I second what Mike is suggesting.

I'd also contact a lawyer to start and end the "negotiations" with the insurance company. I wouldn't bother talking to them at all.

Bob's next test date: 12/10/07

(post #81258, reply #6 of 42)

I agree.

(post #81258, reply #5 of 42)

i guess i will third mike smith's suggestion of keeping the master suite on the first floor and putting additional bedrooms upstairs.  this reduces your need for a major foundation expansion and makes the house more appealing once your parents move.

i'm sorry for their loss, this is a tremendously tramatic thing to go through.  i really don't understand why your local paper feels the need to print photos of your parents on the worst day of their lives.  truly thoughtless.

are you going to prepare an estimate for the replacement cost of their home ?


carpenter in transition

carpenter in transition

(post #81258, reply #8 of 42)

I forgot about getting a private adjuster to rep you in dealing with the insurance company. They will do all the inventory, value everything and they work on a percentage so they get more as you get more. They know how everything works, without them you'll get screwed over every way possible. Plus it will be a huge headache and take a long time.

(post #81258, reply #9 of 42)

I have nothing more to add other than wish your family well!  Loosing so much history must be difficult but something good will come from the embers.

All the contributors have great ideas!

(post #81258, reply #10 of 42)

Sorry to hear about the situation   I too say a slab house is the best way to build something accessible.  For older people I'd say definitely the radiant heating and extra thick carpet padding - definitely no tile floors.   Or if slick floors are desired - glue down pre-finished hardwood.  Google ADA.  There is a document that gives all the particulars of accessibility.  Even if you don't want to do everything accessible - you can pick and choose what seems to fit the situation.  Unfortunately, more often than not older people who have mobility problems generally have greater needs as time goes on.  I recently built a house with the garage slab flush with the main house as it had to be accessible.  I checked with the local inspections dept first and I had it inspected - A-OK.

Here's a little different spin on things though...  Sometimes building for family members adds drama to an already complicated process...  Do you do this full time?  If not are you sure they can wait a year or more?  Are they going to be OK with budget overruns?

BTW - I'm getting permits for 2 homes that burned down right now....  One of those parities had the insurance arbitrator - I think that is what they called it...

Is that Battle Creek Michigan?  One of our regular contributors here lives in Battle Creek.   Maybe he can help by providing some info...  I won't volunteer his name though... :-)


(post #81258, reply #11 of 42)

Thanks for all the kind comments. We are in michigan and it is on a 13 acre lot. I will do a complete est before starting down to the boxes of nails. I have considered bringing the lot up it would give it a more dramtic look for sure. I would have to bring it up just four feet . There is a pond in the front yard with a large paved circle driveway around it so I would have to take that into consideration.  The house outside dimensions are only 28' x 44' =1232 sq ft the part to the right  is a two car garage

(post #81258, reply #12 of 42)

13 acres... Could the new house be placed in another location besides the current one?  It would probably save a lot in earth work. 

Re raising the lot 4' - that could be cost prohibitive, depending on the availability of compactible fill.  Start by figuring out how many yards would be required.  BTW - I've got about 100,000 extra cubic yards here in NC.... Hehe :-)


(post #81258, reply #13 of 42)

Has anbody installed an elevator in a residence


(post #81258, reply #14 of 42)

I just spoke with a company that installs them. A basic unit would cost about 25k including the unit and framing accommodations.

I believe these types of installations will bode well for resale value in the near future.

Bob's next test date: 12/10/07

(post #81258, reply #20 of 42)

Drama or not, bringing the lot up is a good idea for a slab "on grade." My ex- had a house on a slab on grade and it had lots of sliding doors and every time it rained it seemed that water was leaking in. A nice, wheelchair friendly slope up to the house would help keep it dry.

(post #81258, reply #16 of 42)

Why no tile?

A-holes. Hey every group has to have one. And I have been elected to be the one. I should make that my tagline.
. William the Geezer, the sequel to Billy the Kid - Shoe

(post #81258, reply #22 of 42)

Tile on concrete is not compadible with old feet, ankles, knees, etc.

One of the things my company does is build unassisted retirement communities.  The old folks always complained about the hard concrete floors and wanted to move upstairs.  First we found that if we installed thicker carpet padding it helped with the problem.  Now we do gypcrete covered floors and it's almost a non-issue.


(post #81258, reply #15 of 42)

I'll warn you that their insurance company may throw a fit. I've known cases where the house has to be rebuilt exactly as before, down to # of doors windows, and floorplan. Double check with the insurance company before you start making too many plans.

(post #81258, reply #17 of 42)

I would be surprised of any insurance policey that had such terms.

The insurcance company has to be for the loss. Not for replacement.

Now in figuring the loss they might want to use the existing house to use in figuring the value.

"I've known cases where the house has to be rebuilt exactly as before, down to # of doors windows, and floorplan."

What if codes won't allow that house to be built with the exactly has it was.

Egress windows, size of halls and stairs, dimensions around toilets are just a few examples.

A-holes. Hey every group has to have one. And I have been elected to be the one. I should make that my tagline.
. William the Geezer, the sequel to Billy the Kid - Shoe

(post #81258, reply #18 of 42)

I agree with you Bill. I still advise getting the attorney involved at the very beginning though. It'll cost $2500 and net $25,000.

Bob's next test date: 12/10/07

(post #81258, reply #19 of 42)

a public adjuster may be the best way to go.  most attornys don't have the experience working with insurance companies.  I belive the poster was correct. the insurance co. with replacement  insurance require to be built the same, with accomidations of change in building code.  this comes into play if you want to collect the final 10%.  insurance co. are only looking out for themselves


(post #81258, reply #21 of 42)

With our situation that I explained in an earlier post, same type of house and a pretty much total loss, they could care less what you wanted to even do with the money. They will fight you for the value of the house and the contents but once you reach a settlement, if you want to go to Vegas they don't care, its your money. My grandmother had a split level ranch that burned down and the replacement was a sprawling cape style, and it was quite a bit larger.

If you don't rebuild the exact house, unless you do work yourself or get great pricing, you'll be short on money. The foundation will not be called a lose, so right there you'll have costs for demo, excavation and the new foundation and slabs.

(post #81258, reply #23 of 42)

My family is very close friends of our insurance agent who runs a large firm. He said since the house is an obvious total loss that the insurance company will have to pay the maximum that it is insured for. The contents are a total loss so they pay the maxium on that ,the third thing they pay is for loss of use. So you have to pay a private adjuster 10 percent that comes out of the money you would recive. So if you have a partial loss sure get a private adjuster but if a total you are just losing 10 percent 

I plan to do it myself it will be much simpler than my house and any subs i use here in michigan will be easy to come by in our crappy economy. but when you ask if i do it full time I will just go back to my old schedule of leave work at 5 and work till midnight 5 days a week and 12 hour weekends. I am going to build a rectangle with maybe a covered entrance and try to figure a way to make the roof interesting with dormers. proable will use polysteel icf walls ( shop made assy) I am concerned about a cement floor because it is hard on your feet but my mom would just as soon have carpet in ever room in the house. In here house that burnt she had beautiful maple floors that she covered in carpeting, she even put it the kitchen and bathrooms :).

Thanks Jim III

(post #81258, reply #24 of 42)

Jim, I would shop the job to a General Contractor or builder instead of automatically taking on those hours. You might save a lot of money and not have any of the hours to put in. It sounds crazy, but it's very possible.

The reason it works that way is that GC's or builders get much better pricing out of their subs. If you contract with Acme Plumbing, it is very likely that you will pay more for your plumbing than if you had Acme Plumbing do the job through a GC. The trades discount their services to GCs and Custom Builders because of the volume and familiarity factor. You will not be able to negotiate the same discount because you are building only one, not six a year, every year.

Bob's next test date: 12/10/07

(post #81258, reply #27 of 42)

 I am sure that is true but in michigan right now nobody is building, residental builders are leaving the state in droves. It is easy to get the "deal" and I do almost all of it myself anyway. And I do good work show up on time stay till done :)

What I am interested in is either good way to  raise the level   a better way to do the foundations so no leaks  or make the house a reverse walk out so the back of the house is filled in with dirt or make an elevator stuff like that  I appreciate all theideas so far. I am curouis why gypcrete would be easier on you than concrete thought. I was also wondering you thought of those squares that have the plastic base with a wood top they use to remodel basements.


(post #81258, reply #32 of 42)

"It is easy to get the "deal""
Don't say I didn't warn you.

Last fall, in MI, we put a bid in on a project for 305k. We would have made about 60k. The guy opted to do it himself and save the big bucks. He spent 300k using some of our subs.

Bob's next test date: 12/10/07

(post #81258, reply #34 of 42)

Jim  I will remember and your advice is good I will check for sure.  but the thing you dont know about me is that i will use very little in the way of subs I like to do it all. I find it hard to belive they can do it cheaper when my labor is free.

(post #81258, reply #38 of 42)

 Do you have siblings?

And... is there a mortgage on the house?

Edited 2/16/2008 11:26 am ET by Matt


(post #81258, reply #39 of 42)

My sister died from cancer 18 years ago and yes  there is a Mortgage.


(post #81258, reply #40 of 42)

Sorry to hear about your sis.  Mine is very dear to me.

Regarding the mortgage - I think above I mentioned that I was involved in a similar circumstance.  In these 2 instances the disbursal of money is being controlled by the mortgage companies.   First thing my company had to do was submit signed and notarized documents stating information about the building company, builders licence number, liability and workers comp insurance info. etc.  Wasn't a big deal for us but still necessary items.  This could have a significant impact on your plans for building back... especially the DIY part of it.  Maybe if the mortgage is fairly small the mortgage co could be paid off to get them out of the picture.

Also, in both cases the amount of reimbursement for temporary housing is limited.  I think I mentioned either in this or another thread one of the HOs is getting very antsy because the plans development, engineering and permitting processing is taking some time... it's been about a month since they signed their contract and still no permit and they say they are afraid that they will end up in a situation where they have to make their mortgage and rent payment simultaneously - which will be my fault...