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Or, The Saga of How the Mobile Home Met Its End.

Welcome again to Saturday Morning Home Repair blogging, where we talk about fixing houses, the things in them that are supposed to work for us, and fixing them up.  An ad hoc cadre of building professionals and gifted amateurs attempt to answer questions that arise from readers, and offer encouragement and advice for those inclined to do things for themselves, if they can.  We all do a lot of things, collectively, and can probably help out with insights from our vast experience.
Or sometimes, we just gab.
When we bought our farm in 1997, the parcel consisted of 41 acres in a half mile strip of riverbottom field between an old road and the Shenandoah River. It was part of an historic plantation, and happened to be the parcel that the plantation house sat on, and we set about restoring the house and land. Three years later we bought a 27 acre field across the road. This parcel was also long and skinny and stretch the other way between the old road in the main highway. So our property makes a huge L.

One of the reasons we bought the second field was because part of it is on a hill, and gives us about one acre of land that's out of the floodplain. It already had a well and we had a little extra cash, so we thought it would be sensible to put a new septic and grandfather a house site, since when we're old and finished with mucking about in old house stuff we'll have a nice modern passive solar to look forward to.

We thought that grandfathering the house site might prove fortuitous, given how often flood plain maps are redrawn and expanded.*  So we bought a secondhand mobile home thirdhand, a 1976 Criterion, 12’ x 60’, renovated at least once, and put it in place. At first we thought we were going to rent it out, but we were having trouble with our tenant house renters just then and didn't want to borrow more trouble, when a relative wanted to clean off her porch and asked us if she could store some of her things in it. Said relative is not quite a hoarder, but rather an assiduous collector of just about everything.

You can probably see where this is going. Yes, the mobile home became a storage unit.

At least, it became a storage unit until last year. That was when we realized that, given the economy, interest rates would probably never again be as low as they are now, and we decided to build our retirement house. It’s a small plan on a small footprint: three bedrooms, two baths, a great room and kitchen, all of it handicapped accessible. We drew it up ourselves, and were eager to get started. There was one thing standing in our way: the old mobile home.

The mobile home in October 2013
* See the Flood Disclaimer at the bottom of the diary.

Last October, when we launched this crazy project, the mobile home had been a storage locker for about 12 years. And it would not be quite true to say only one relative was using the place. It took a while to get it cleaned out, and after a certain amount of, shall we say, family tension over the loss of storage space, and after three weeks of packing and hauling and blowing up a vacuum cleaner, the place was finally clean. Not only the record albums, books, dishes, Avon bottle collections, children’s toys, old clothes, furniture, cooking ware, history of ashtrays collection, seashells, etc. etc. etc. cleared away, we had also exorcised dead mice, snakes, spiders, and everything you can imagine associated with mice, snakes, and spiders. Nasty work, best done with gloves and masks, and we used 'em.  We were lucky we were working through late fall and early winter, because at least it wasn't stiflingly hot, and nothing slithered

We took care to clean the mobile home well because we had five different people who had asked if they could please have it when we were done, but of course when the time came they had all made other arrangements. I should stress that the mobile home was old, but it was still habitable and actually, in pretty good shape. Someone could have easily lived in it.

From the living room looking into the kitchen.
The living room.
Having all our potential takers back out on this was Andy’s worst fear. So I said, "Don’t sweat it. This is easy—we’ll put an ad on Craigslist" (famous last words).

The next chapter in the saga is probably something you’re expecting; yes, we got taken by a con artist, the scanner who ripped all the aluminum off the exterior of the trailer, removed a bunch of windows, and disappeared. When we tried to find him, his TracFone had been disconnected. We haven’t seen him since, (probably a good thing, because I think Andy would break the little weasel in half). This is what we were left with.

He left the insulation open to the elements.  We spent almost a whole weekend securing what was still attached and rounding up what blew away.
After we were done turning the air blue with indelicate language and wrapping our brains around the fact that it was just the two of us who were going to have to do the recycling, salvage, and destruction, we settled down to work. No sooner had we gotten going when it rained.  And then it snowed.

You may not know this, but mobile home floors are not made of plywood or hardwood, but particleboard. And not just any particleboard, mobile home particleboard, thinner than the regular stuff.  Like the regular stuff, when it gets wet, it gets spongy and heavy, and crumbles away, only mobile home particleboard deteriorates faster.  For two weeks weather kept us away while water poured in through those empty window frames, making navigation at time a bit dicey. So it was on a dry Saturday morning, armed with crowbars and sledgehammers, that we set out to start un-making the mobile home.

The kitchen cabinets came out without too much trouble, and the interior walls came down with relative ease, which means they were no match for the sledgehammer. Andy did most of the heavy work, while my part centered on hauling and stacking the paneling, the one by threes, and the two by fours that held the walls up. We have a fire pit in our backyard, and now we have fuel to last the entire summer.  As we went, we gathered the old fiberglass insulation. By the time we were done, we had around 25 bags, but at least it didn't blow out into the fields.
The bags are full of insulation.  Nasty nasty mouse-infested, wet, dirty insulation.
Once we had the frame down to stud walls, and the carpeting and underlying mats were removed and laid out on the grass to dry before they went to the landfill, it looked like this.
The view's great, but it was a bit airy.
Another look at the wide open inside spaces.
Andy puzzled for a few weeks before he figured out how to take down the roof. Since none of the 2 by 4s were salvageable, he wasn’t worried about saving them, and decided the safest way to put the roof on the ground was to remove about every other 2 x 4, get on one side with his tractor and front end loader, and push.

It came down like a wave of dominoes.  We pulled the roof clear of the frame, knocked the wood caps away from the roof. (The rafters were 2 x 2s and almost the entire structure was fastened together with long staples.  Wherever we found nails and screws, they were parts of the renovations.)

Andy cut the tin roof into sheets with a Sawz-all and sent it all to salvage, along with the furnace, water heater, broken window frames, duct work and all the other metal we could find.  Again, my primary responsibilities mostly came down to hauling stuff away, stacking materials for the fire pit, and bagging crap.

That left the frame.

At first, we supposed that we could use the frame as a bridge across the creek on our property. At least, we reasoned, when it flooded, it wouldn’t float away. But soon enough, we realized that it, too, wasn’t going to work. Just lifting one end so we could take down the cinderblock pillars the home rested on bent and warped the frame, and gave us our first hint that the I-beam base was as flimsy as the rest of the building.

It was also the only part of the construction that was solidly connected to another part of the construction, meaning the 2 x 4 buttressed particleboard floor wasn't going to come up easily.  

After some gentler attempts, we opted for the reliable sledgehammer (or front end loader) approach:

You can do a lot with a tractor and a bucket.
Andy sectioned the floor into chunks which, cleaned off, are destined for the fire pit.  The frame is left.
It all comes down to this.
This, too, is destined for recycling.

What we learned from this experience:  desperate people will rip you off; not only can a sledgehammer do amazing destruction, wielding one to take out interior and exterior walls is immensely satisfying; low-grade wood burns amazingly fast; a tractor, properly employed, is a versatile handyman's tool.

Everyone should have one.

P.S.:  A few weeks ago, flatford39 asked after our plans for the new house, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, and around 1300 square feet.  We're working from a basic sketch, which I'm putting here so you can get an idea.  I can send larger copies and a description to anyone who wants one.  By the end of the process, we'll probably have blueprints.  

The house has a shed roof with 10' porches front and back, and decks around.  Because the views are spectacular, we're putting in glass doors and as many windows as possible.
*Flood Disclaimer: Floods are dangerous and terrifying events that kill people every year. I do not in any way mean to minimize the risks and dangers of floods.  However, at our place flooding is a known factor.  The river current splits above our property and leaves us in a backwater.  We keep a thick buffer of woods upriver that keeps trees and other large devastating chunks of debris from hitting the house and buildings.  At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.  We haven’t experienced a major flood while we’ve been here, but the house and buildings have stood for 200+ years, so I think we’re looking at maximum inconvenience and mess, but not maximal risk.
Okay, that's all from me, and I'm happy to grab a cup of coffee and shut up for a change.  What have you been up to?
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