Camp House Kits
DEAR TIM: I've inherited a family cabin at the western boundary of the gorgeous Allegheny National Forest. It's got major roof and foundation issues. Where should I start with repairs? I do plan to spend lots of time here and the interior is in as bad a shape as the exterior. Do you feel this building can be salvaged or should I just start over? How do you make the determination and what are all the things one should consider before deciding what is the best course of action? Brian G., Tionesta, PA
DEAR BRIAN: Oh my, based on your photo of the exterior I don't know if I want to see the interior. There's no doubt you've got a serious foundation defect, and the roof looks like something out of a child's book about a fairy tale house deep in a damp forest.
As you might imagine, I've rehabilitated and restored some buildings that were in sad shape. My first house had a gaping hole in the roof you could climb through and was quite outdated. However, its foundation and all the wood framing, siding and windows were in good shape.
My gut is telling me that you're a perfect candidate for a new camp house kit. Many camps are very simple rectangular buildings that are easy to build and cost efficient because they are designed to have virtually no waste.
In my opinion, the way you approach a decision, like the one you're facing, is to step back and think about what's really important to you, your family and any guests that may stay at the camp.
Here are some questions I'd answer honestly:
When you're at the camp, do you want to spend each visit working on a Honey-Do list or would you rather go on a hike or relax in a hammock?
Are you interested in energy efficiency and minimal costs to heat the camp should you decide to use it year round?
Are you concerned about safety and creature comfort? What are your goals for potential resale or for future investment?
I think you can see where these questions are headed. You should be thinking of other things than just the repairs. The repair or rebuilding of this camp involves lifestyle issues.
Here's what my experience has taught me about massive restoration projects that you're facing. It often takes much more work to try to transform structures that have countless defects than it does to just work on top of a level, square sound foundation.
Think about the condition of the mechanical systems in this old haggard camp. The tilted walls have put all kinds of stress on electrical cables. I've seen house fires caused by this. These same stresses may have put strain on plumbing water and drain lines that are now ticking time bombs. Fuel lines could be stretched and hazardous.
My suggestion, assuming your local zoning laws permit this, is to tear down your existing building and invest in a new camp house kit home. I feel at the end of the day you'll save money doing this because you've got so many unknowns when it comes to what latent defects that are lurking in the walls, under the floors and under the roof.
With a new camp house, you'll get the utmost in safety, you'll have low utility bills and you'll have a splendid retreat that will bring a smile to your face each time you come to spend time in the forest.
I'm fortunate to live next door to people that have similar camp houses. I've seen the dread that some have who are constantly dealing with rotted wood, a never-ending list of tasks facing them and constant drain of money.
I've also got neighbors who's camps are new or newer and each weekend they come up and immediately jump into their kayaks or get out their fishing poles. Their camp houses are comfortable, cozy and look superb.
If you decide to scrape the existing camp and go with a new kit, be sure to make great decisions about the room sizes and what you want in the new structure. Think about 9-foot ceilings, generous overhangs and how your family might grow as time goes on. You want to make sure there's enough room for all when everyone sits down to enjoy a meal and people are not cramped up against the table or against a wall.
Be sure you keep in mind floor surfaces made to take abuse or not show dirt or wear. A camp is a camp, not a museum. Think about rustic materials that will look fantastic.
I also urge you to give serious consideration to radiant floor heating. It's so comfortable in the winter and you'll never regret having it. Think about low-maintenance everything because you want to enjoy your time you spend there. Stay focused on what you want to do when you're at the camp. Let that be your North Star as you make your final decision.