What Do YOU Think I Should Do?

I have a problem.

You see, I have X amount of financed construction funds left, and just learned that I have four months to spend this borrowed pool of money, or else the unspent amount gets cancelled by the bank when the loan is rolled over into the mortgage of the Cross House at the end of February, 2015.

What do I spend the money on? I mean, there are 8,746 projects which need doing NOW. But I cannot get 8,746 projects done in four months, nor could I afford to.

So, here are my thoughts:



Get the carriage house next door fixed up and rented. Great idea!


I do not have enough to get this project done, well, right. I do have enough, maybe, to get it done sorta kinda just OK. But, I have never been OK with just OK. I am more an all-for-nothing kinda guy, even in the face of overwhelming obstacles.



Spend every last dime getting the main porch fully restored. This means recreating all the missing bits (columns, lattice, railings) and restoring damaged bits. Great idea! LOVE THIS IDEA!


Yesterday my wood guy announced he can no longer accept any new projects till like February.




There are two Big Ticket items not completed:
1) While the radiator system has had its four new-ish pulse boilers repaired (at great cost), the pipes to many radiators are not connected. Some we pulled apart, and some were pulled out many years ago. Some radiators need replacing. So, I could complete the radiator system! Great idea!
2) I need to install what I call The Lid. This will be a 12-inch-thick layer of closed-cell foam between the second-floor ceiling and the third-floor. This will stop my heated air from the occupied levels from vanishing up into the unoccupied third level, and then out through the roof (85% of heat goes straight UP and OUT). Great idea!

This project seems highly sensible. These are two vital tasks, and each will cost a scary amount. While I could afford these tasks in the next four months there is no guarantee that I will have such a chunk of change in, say, two years.


It would be great, and a relief, to complete these two Big Ticket and VITAL projects. But…this will have no immediate benefit as it is unlikely I will be able to move into the house for several years. I hate the idea of having the radiator system fully restored at great cost…and not use it for years.



For the last several weeks I have been quite excited about the idea of converting the basement into an apartment. And a way cool apartment, no less. I had the thought that I would marry the sorta steam-punk look of the basement with a Hollywood-Regency decor. So, old brick, concrete, and exposed pipes juxtaposed with leopard print rugs and crystal chandeliers. Wild, right?

This idea has the added benefit of bringing in some money (the rent would cover the mortgage) and offers the huge advantage of having a living presence in the house (the house has been mostly empty since 1990).


I need to sheet-rock over the exposed wood floor joists as a fire prevention measure; I likely will be required by the city to do this. This is something I could afford, and am even eager for as fire-prevention measures are ALWAYS a good idea. But….but…sheet-rocking the basement ceiling is pretty much the last thing I would normally do. This is a project that one does after ALL the wiring is completed, ALL the ducting, ALL the radiator piping, and, well, you get the idea. I loath the idea of installing a nice new pretty ceiling and then spending the next ten years punching holes through it.



The interior of the house looks like a bomb exploded. In every room the plaster walls have large sections of plaster and lath missing, as do the ceilings. In several rooms there IS no ceiling. There is no kitchen. No bathrooms.

Yet, amidst this devastation is gorgeous grandeur: carved mantles, stained-glass windows abounding, an intricate hand-carved staircase, stunning trim and doors, encaustic tile floors, and on and on. And, the grandeur is all there. For all that the house has been through, what was there in 1894 is 99% still there. Really, this is a miracle.

So, I had this thought: Gee. Would it not be great, and highly uplifting, to make the first floor — just this one floor — NOT look like a war zone?

The new rigid cooling ducts are all now in. Most of the wiring is now done. Getting the plumbing up to the second floor is not a big deal. Then I could repair the plaster walls, sheetrock over missing ceilings and other areas, get the floors sanded and varnished, restore the half-bath, and — presto — the first floor would look better than it has in many many decades. It would not be done but it would look good, girl, damn good.

I could then move my zillion books into the library (I cannot get over that I own a house with a room labeled: Library. This sends a shiver down my spine).

What a joy it would be, over and over and over again, to walk through some COMPLETED rooms in the years to follow? Wow. WOW!

And for not too much money or effort (relatively speaking, of course).

I had resigned myself to the idea that that the interior would have to wait until the whole exterior was done, and the carriage house done and rented. But, as I cannot work on the exterior during the winter, and cannot afford to do the carriage house right now, this idea seems to have merit. And the idea just occurred to me today.

Critical Note: The basement and first floor have, separate from the not working radiator system, a forced-air heating system. Which DOES work. Whoee! With the push of a button I could have heat on these two floors. In order to KEEP the heat on these floors, I will have to put a temporary cap over the huge open stairwell. And, I can use this cap as a scaffold so that I can also repair the second-floor ceiling over the huge open stairwell!

With heat, this project becomes an ideal Winter Project.


I cannot think of any mitigating reason not to proceed with Project Five.

What do you think I should do?


  1. Betsy on October 19, 2014 at 12:29 am

    VERY tough.

    But having lived for years and years with half finished spaces in our house (now done), I would go with number 5.

    I think a lot of folks burn out and then give up. How many old houses do we see for sale with all those uncompleted rooms?

    The fact that you have forced air heat in place + can prevent all the heat from escaping via the ” cap” + cannot get the porch done + cannot finish the outside now are directing my thoughts. How encouraging it will be to have a working half bath, shiny floors and your books in place. Having this done will make having to wait for the other stuff (porch, exterior, second floor,etc) more bearable. AND should you want more money in the future, an appraiser seeing the first floor “done” will help with getting a loan in the future. Just think, you could sit in your library, sipping a glass of wine, surrounded by your books and have a half bath handy. I think having the first floor cleaned up will make having to wait for the other phases less difficult.

    • Ross on October 19, 2014 at 2:02 am

      Betsy, thank you. You comments make me feel less insane! And, I invite you over for a glass of wine in my library!

  2. Eric on October 19, 2014 at 2:53 am

    I like the fifth option. Seems like it would be the most enjoyable option for you. A place of comfort in the storm.

    • Ross on October 19, 2014 at 3:06 am

      A place of comfort in the storm.

      I like that! Thanks Eric!

  3. Meg@sparrowhaunt.com on October 19, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    With option 5, what’s to stand in the way of you moving in other than some craigslisted free cabinets/appliances in the kitchen, and a shower head over a basement drain for a shower (what we did to make ours livable at the time)? This would presumably free up the money being spent on wherever you’re living now (rent it out if you already own it), as well as get the all important warm body in the house…

    • Ross on October 20, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Hi Meg! I would love love love to move into the Cross House STAT. But, I am tied to my vintage lighting business. My current residence is 20 miles from the Cross House, and is fully set up as my home, but more importantly is fully set up as my business. Until I can FIRST move the business into the Cross House, I cannot move myself into the Cross House. Sigh.

  4. Vicki on October 20, 2014 at 12:40 am

    Number 5. I concur with all the above listed reasons as to why this is a good idea. And….that front facade is looking so awesome that a few lights in those windows would make those winter nights more pleasant for the whole neighborhood!

    • Ross on October 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm

      Vicki! I know! I cannot WAIT to get the interior lighted up a bit!

  5. Denali Dragonfly "Grace" on January 4, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    By today, I gather you implemented #5. Good choice. When my Dad built the house I currently live in, a customized mid-century two-story ranch, our family of six lived in the “basement” for six years. The upstairs was under construction in Dad’s spare time, haha. He finished out my older sisters’ rooms first and one was at the far corner, with passage through an open-framed construction/storage zone to open the door on a pristinely decorated oasis. It felt like Dorothy opening the door the Oz. Having those spaces gave us respite and hope.

    P.S. I need some mid-century vintage lighting for some minor renovations. G:-)

    • Ross on January 4, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      Well, I implemented a modified #5! I have the funds for the living room and library. So, by March, if all goes well, at least two rooms will be done in the Cross House. Only 137 more to go!

      • Ross on January 4, 2015 at 9:34 pm

        Oh! I love the story about your house. I can envision a movie from just such an idea!

  6. Kitra on January 23, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    I agree with your decision for #5. My house is full of ongoing projects, but I MUST always have one lovely completed spot I can go to when a a respite is needed. Ross, I’m just in love with Cross House and your vision and the obvious pure pleasure you get from all this!

  7. John Blick on July 3, 2017 at 9:41 am

    I seem to be alone in my thought that #4 is the right course to take. Although given that it is mid 2017, the decision was obviously long ago made and I assume was to pursue #5. Unless you are independently wealthy, it seems to me that at some point the financial burden of this house is very possibly going to become overwhelming. If I had the option to stabilize it financially, that is what I would do first and foremost (obviously after stabilizing it from further damage). You stated that the apartment rent would cover the mortgage. With that income, you could then proceed to use that income for further renovations – theoretically an endless stream of income to further fund the work to be done to the house. My next step would be to renovate the carriage house and rent that out. Then with the dual income, I would move on to #5 and whatever. If you wait 5 years to do this, you have forever lost 5 years of income that can be well utilized. You lose nothing but the delayed enjoyment by doing this first and waiting on #5. I imagine as I read on I will find what your decision was. I hoped it worked out for you whatever it was.

    • Ross on July 3, 2017 at 9:55 am

      Hi John,

      Yes, I went ahead with a variation on #5: I got the parlor and library mostly finished.

      I did not do #4 for the reason detailed in the post (having to sheetrock the ceiling, and then spend another decade punching holes in it). Just last week I had to install electrical outlets to the parlor. If the basement had a ceiling this would have been a nightmare project. A tenant would have had to endure my chopping holes all over the ceiling in three rooms, creating dust, and then spending days repairing the holes. Ditto for when I wrire the entry hall. The library. The kitchen. The dining room.

      Also, an egress issue developed and that stopped idea #4 dead.

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