Ask the Architect

Fixing the house for the long term

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Q. We’re in our late 50s, the kids are out of the house and we want to fix it up, add a den and porch to live in it for at least 20 to 30 years more if we can. The house is paid for and it probably costs less, all things considered, because our grown kids are starting families nearby and we want to stay near them. Some of the ideas you’ve written about seem interesting, like metal roofs and refitting our lighting to be LED, but the costs concern us. What materials do you suggest we look at to decide what kinds of expenses we want? We’re on a budget.

A. There are many costs, obvious and hidden, that can affect your budget over the years, no matter your age. I have seen clients in your bracket, on a budget, decide on less costly materials or impractical ones, and regret it later when they discover that as they got older, the expenses recurred and material costs increased, putting them in serious financial straits.

The most obvious one, which you mentioned, was roofing material. After I found an installer in Pennsylvania who was willing to travel and install 100-year metal roofing for about $1.65 more per square foot than 30-year shingles, it was a practical decision to spend a little more to get something that won’t haunt me when I want to retire on a fixed income. The comparable cost on Long Island was estimated at nearly triple the price, at $16 per square foot, so it was worth it to pay for the installer and two helpers to stay in a hotel nearby for three day (for $200 to $300). I have yet to see 30-year shingles in a high-wind zone, like Long Island, last 30 years. From my office window, I look around at roofs that have shingles disintegrating here or there and several that have blown away.

Better windows and hardware are also an energy and operation benefit, especially because frames can deteriorate, deform and leak. The constant cost of heating and cooling makes it another good idea to insulate with foam instead of fiberglass anywhere you’re renovating, since utility bills are forever increasing. And joint sealing in wall cavities, around door and window openings, attic access doors, tops of foundation walls where pests can enter and at any pipe or wire penetration is a cheap but very effective way to limit heat loss and water penetration.

As you also mentioned, retrofitting your incandescent and fluorescent bulb fixtures with LED fixtures is a must, since the savings will pay for the retrofit over and over and keep utility costs lower in the years to come. And synthetic decking is far better than wood decking, as long as you don’t power wash the surface away, and will look better for years to come. The important thing to remember is the long-term savings. Good luck!

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.