Wednesday, April 15, 2009


The list kept growing: We wanted a house. We wanted an old house. We wanted an old house with lots of original detail remaining. We wanted old house with lots of original detail that was cheap enough that we could afford to do a gut rehab to make it green. And we really wanted it to be on a particular block on a particular street. It was beginning to seem bleak, even in Cleveland, where depopulation often makes it possible to achieve one's wildest housing dreams.

But then, one Friday, we got a call. Copper thieves had broken into a vacant, circa-1900 house on West Clinton Ave. in Cleveland's Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. The house had been occupied for 70 years by a Romanian woman who'd recently died. It had rapidly fallen into disrepair following her death. Her son was eager to sell.

A friend on the street gave the son our names. The next afternoon, we walked through the house. By the end of the day we made him an offer. Several days later, the offer was accepted and a purchase agreement signed.

There were many things about the house that made it right for us:

- It still had its original wood siding and wood windows.
- It looked structurally sound.
- The interior had all of its original, unpainted woodwork, including beautiful oak columns, an oak fireplace, heavy oak doors and a linen closet whose 100-year-old latch still latched with a satisfying "click."
- You could see a tiny bit of Lake Erie from the attic window.
- It was on the exact block we wanted.
- It was big (4 bedrooms) without feeling cavernous.
- It was cheap enough to allow us to spend $$ on a major renovation.

The purpose of this blog is to share our efforts to certify this house under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Homes program using an FHA-insured 203k purchase-rehab loan. Though we're only a week into the purchase, the nights have already been long and the headaches splitting. But we hope the payoff -- in terms of lessons learned and end product -- will be huge.

Why should we want to "learn lessons"? Well one of us -- Justin -- is a planner and developer who specializes in building green neighborhoods. The other -- Dan -- is an architect whose clients are increasingly demanding green. And because we're, well, nerds.

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