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Rebuilding After a Disaster

Photo courtesy of Wright Construction.

By George Harvey

Carl Lavallee is the Chief Operating Officer at Wright Construction in Mount Holly, Vermont. He has some insights about disasters. He told us, “With a forest fire, what we see is huge devastation and all seems to be lost. But there is rebirth. In a house, a disaster may be an opportunity to rebuild in a sustainable way.”

Lavallee has a number of points he would like to share. He relates these to the story of a woman who lost her husband and home to a devastating fire. It was so destructive to the house that nothing was left but the well and septic system. Even the foundation was ruined.

Be conscious of your budget.

It is wise to plan for disaster. About 90% of the people who lost their homes in hurricanes last year did not even have flood coverage. Many of those who were flooded out had seen no need to buy insurance, because they were not even in 500-year flood zones. Even when disasters are covered by insurance, they are often not covered for the full cost of replacement.

In the case of Lavallee’s example, the couple had recently retired at a relatively young age. The husband had taken care of all the finances, and the disaster forced our heroine to take on responsibilities that were largely new to her. This takes a different mindset, and it imposes a need to focus on the problems at hand during emotionally trying times. After a disaster, it is wise to be certain the professionals involved are also careful for your finances.

A comfortable porch with a mountain view. Photo courtesy of Wright Construction.

Build to suit your current and future needs, not your history.

There is a strong temptation to try to rebuild a happy life as it was. But many things a disaster destroys can only exist in the past. Though they can still be remembered, recreating them is probably out of the question.

This is true of the home, including its design. Our heroine had lived in a home with five bedrooms. She really wanted to return to her old house, on the same land. That was financially possible. It was also not even close to necessary. What her life required, at least on the short term, was entirely different.

Another aspect of planning for the future is maintenance. Wright Construction suggested that the siding, roof, and layout of the home should be as easy as possible for a person who was likely to age in place. The roof was designed to be maintenance free during her lifetime, and the siding was chosen in part because it would not need to be painted. Fortunately, she agreed.

Keep an eye to resale value.

A redesign of the home could have been for a single bedroom, but that would have been unnecessary and quite probably even unwise. Extra bedrooms would not only accommodate guests but boost the future resale value of the home. We have to keep in mind the things that will make a home attractive to typical buyers in a given market, who might need two or three bedrooms.

Another issue was a walk-out basement that is ready to finish which was what she was used to and what she wanted. What little extra it cost would add greatly to the value of the house for adding useful rooms inexpensively.

Take best advantage of resources, both physical and aesthetic.

The old foundation was a loss. That meant that the new home would be built on an entirely new one and could be placed and oriented to take advantage of both the sun and a lovely, sweeping view of the mountains. In some respects, the new home in the story could be superior to the old.

The new home was greatly improved with insulation and weather sealing. Carl Lavallee’s work started with careful consideration of potential moisture issues. The cedar shingles, for example, sat on top of Cedar Breather®, a product of Benjamin Obdyke. This goes beyond shedding water, venting moisture out before it can get into the home. And though that product was designed for roofing, it was adapted to eliminate moisture penetration at the foundation.

The whole of the design, including insulation in the basement, walls, and attic, along with sealing insulated windows and doors, was built to be as inexpensive as possible while meeting or exceeding the Vermont Residential Building Energy Standards. It is a comfortable, though not extravagant, place to live.

Wright Construction’s website is www.wrightconstruction.com.

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