The Next Big Thing

Happy New Year to everybody. May this be the year you finish up all those projects lying around unfinished.

So, what exactly are we going to do this year as part of this big renovation? I thought I would kick off the new year with a series of posts about our plans and what steps we need to take to get there.

First of all, let's start with talking about accessibility.

My parents will be coming to live with us (maybe not right away; they may decide to rent for a while, depending on what the rental market looks like). My hope is that we design to accommodate any medical care including the kinds of things that would otherwise check an older person into a nursing home, because people are generally happier and have better health outcomes when they get care with family than with strangers. That means we have to do something about the stairs.

Our original thought was to build an actually little cottage in the back yard for my parents to live in. We could build it at ground level, all accessible, and they could share a lot of facilities in the main house. But Alameda is actually really terrible about backyard units because there is a general fear of density here. So while I could do that, I would have to put in more parking (ugh) and the cottage would have to be sited in the center of the back yard, making things nice for exactly nobody. The lady at the planning desk rather earnestly informed me that this was to make a better environment for the tenants of the cottage, which is the kind of social lie I hate the most. The purpose of those regulations is to keep people from putting in backyard cottage and living like we are in a major metropolitan area.

Well, back to the drawing board.

I briefly considered adding on at the rear of the house -- legally we can cover a lot more of the lot if we want to, which makes the whole cottage thing even more crazy -- but Noel objected to anything that would touch the deck he suffered over. So we came down to adding on over the dining room and kitchen, which was an addition we'd been kind of planning, anyway. We decided to do it not as a separate apartment, but as part of our house, so the parking requirement would not kick in (as it is, we need two parking spaces off street; with a second unit we would need four, which would mean losing a lot of yard to stupid paved parking spaces for what would in reality be zero additional cars).

Which brings us back to access.

The house has a fairly long set of stairs from ground level to the first floor, and a very long and curving set of stairs to the second floor, neither of which is very good from an accessibility standpoint. This has actually already been an issue for us with visiting friends who have disabilities, and frankly for us with heavy equipment and instruments. So we wanted to add better access to the house, including potentially an elevator.

We also wanted to not have to go outside to get into the basement, which would mean at least an interior staircase heading down. I like the idea of a second staircase in general, one that is wide enough to move bulky furniture up and down, and that had been part of our earliest discussions of what to do with the house.

We already have an accessible shower upstairs (I know, it sounds crazy with all those stairs, but if somebody were just injured and not permanently disabled, they could be convalescing upstairs for the most part without access issues; access is not just about permanent, complete disability), but with my parents coming to live with us, we decided to put in another bathroom for them, with a nice luxurious bathtub and a roll-in shower (neither of them is in a wheelchair, and that may never happen, but a roll-in shower accommodates all kinds of access needs).

For ourselves, we decided to add another bathroom, because as this houseguest season has showed us, more bathrooms means it is less stressful to have longterm visitors, and that's something we'd like to be able to manage. My parents have lots of very old friendships, and it would be nice for them to have a place to house visitors, as well.

And since we are doing all that, we will fold in our longterm plan of moving the kitchen into the dining room (there's better light there), and making the kitchen/bathroom into a dining room that opens onto the deck. (Removing that downstairs bathroom is the major reason for adding not one but two bathrooms upstairs.)

And we'll redo the floors, which means we have to move out, since I believe that there may be a phase in this where there are no floors in the house at all.

And at the same time, at long last and with much fanfare, the roof will be replaced (with a total tearoff for the first time since the house was built; yes, the original 1876 roof is still on the house) and tied into the new roof. While I didn't intend that we would use our elderly, leaky roof as a rain charm this year (working so far!), once it was clear last summer that we would be doing this soon, replacing the roof made no sense at all. We have buckets and we know how to use them.

Coming up in later posts: some actual plans, and how this is going to work.

posted by ayse on 01/01/15


This is very exciting!

The buckets comment reminds me of the house we lived in during my high school years. The landlord wasn't going to fix the roof. It wasn't even a question. We just got out our buckets. At the time I don't even remember thinking it was strange!

"The purpose of those regulations is to keep people from putting in backyard cottage and living like we are in a major metropolitan area."

As a current resident who has to deal with this (a left over from the military in-fill days), Please let me offer a different perspective.

These units merely transfer the unpleasantness from your yard to my back yard. The exhaust smells (laundry, bathroom, kitchen, dope smoke, and loud music/TV) are vented out the back and over the fence because the design it's geared toward making it a cute cottage/victorian folly for the owner.

And while you may be an awesome, considerate neighbor, once you move on, the unit stays. The person you sell to may become an absentee landlord who installs a selfish jerk as a tenant (our situation.) Neither person has any ties or connection to the people they inconvenience and could care less. And NO, Alameda does not have any effective ombudsman process to help you. (Calling the police means he only retaliates against you and your tenants.)

Basically, your legacy would be leaving the neighborhood with a residence that terrorizes everyone else.

Khandi, by law exhaust vents are not vented out onto adjacent properties. The building code covers that condition thoroughly. Not the "dope smells" part, but to be frank, we get those from two houses over regardless of backyard cottage or not. Same thing with noise. You just have to work with your neighbors to figure out how to make things work. Hello, city living.

As for bad future owners, you have that risk with anything. If we put a cottage in the legally allowed part of the lot -- which we could do with no zoning or planning review at all, fyi -- a bad landlord could buy the property and be a terrible person to our neighbors just the same. In fact, even if we didn't, in the future some evil person could buy this house and put in a cottage perfectly legally in the middle of the garden -- cutting down my orchard and paving over my garden -- with no review or care from the city. The restrictions on where a cottage can don't change that at all.

What the current (very very bad) rules do mean is that I can't do anything to make my property work for an extended family living situation. I am forced to either have my parents live in the main house with us or to essentially destroy the landscape in order to make a cottage work. There is nothing there that makes a more livable city, nothing that makes the property better for my neighbors.

I get you about the selfish jerk tenants. My neighbor has a douchebag backyard cottage tenant (aka Mr Crankypants) who spent the better part of four years trying to have me arrested and my dogs destroyed by the city because he has a violent hatred of women. The only thing that stopped him was my going to the chief of police with evidence that he was filing false police reports. Bad neighbors are bad, but not allowing anything but the ugliest of backyard cottages does not fix that problem.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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