Rebuilding our New Old House – Want to Help?


Here’s the front view in “before” condition. Not bad, but wait’ll you see the back.

This past Friday, Mrs. Money Mustache and I walked downtown and purchased a bag of bulk cinnamon and a nice Midcentury Modern house. The ease with which these two errands could be combined reminded me how much I like this town.

As for the house, It’s the same one I mentioned earlier this month, but now we actually own it, and boy do we have some renovations in store for it.

The original plan was to rent it out for a year while we take our time planning things out and giving ourselves time to contemplate the implications of downsizing our living space by 1000 square feet.  But this time we decided to be a bit more adventurous and just go for it: full-power renovations, starting as soon as possible.

So what are we doing?

This house is a textbook example of  “good bones”. Or maybe, “nice legs, shame about the face*”.

The location is perfect. The placement of the house on the generous 80×80 foot lot is great too. Solid brick construction, graceful overhangs, spiffy window arrangement, a great wood-burning fireplace surrounded by bricks, and nice wood floors.

On the downside, the kitchen is Junk City, all the windows are single-pane and warped (requiring a prybar to close them), one bathroom is a tragicomic room obviously designed for a previous generation of much smaller humans. The ceilings are all only 7’8″ high, the attic insulation is not very good, and all the electrical and plumbing work needs to be redone.

The solution, of course, is to immediately tear off the entire roof (not just the shingles, but the roof), and rebuild it with a new slope. This will give us higher ceilings, great insulation, optimal light fixture placement, and room for a row of high South-facing windows that will give us most of our light and heat for free – forever.

Here is a a photo of the current South-facing side and a couple of quick concept sketchups of the new roofline and windows.


Here's the South face as it stands now. Obviously, removing all that television-related bullshit will be among the first tasks.

Here’s the South face as it stands now. Obviously, removing all that television-related bullshit will be among the first tasks.


View from SW corner showing South facing side of house with new roofline idea

Front view of house with new roofline

Front view of house with new roofline

After this most destructive part of the renovation, everything else should be pretty simple: tearing out a few unnecessary walls to open up the space, building a nice new ensuite bathroom for the master bedroom, and making a kitchen.

On the exterior, I have plans for one of those fancypants outdoor kitchens overlooking the public park (which we’ll be treating as a 1.3 acre extension to the back yard), a new fence and some gardens, and eventually a 20×20 accessory building that will serve as my workshop, office and the new crossfit gym that we open up to all the friends in the area, allowing everyone to avoid the $130 per month fees that have become popular these days.

The Financials of Home Downsizing

Although this project should bring benefits to many aspects of our lives, it’s hard to ignore the boost in the money department as well. Let’s check out the estimated benefits over my usual ten-year time horizon:

Base price of new house: $240,000
Estimated Renovation costs: $60,000 (this is on the very high end of possible costs)
Carrying costs during renovation (taxes, utilities, capital cost of tying up $240k for 9 months @3.5%): 6000

Total cost of house in finished condition: $306,000
Estimated value of house at this point: $400,000
Estimated proceeds of current house, after selling costs: $420,000

Amount of capital freed up by the move: ($420k-$306k) = $114,000
Annual property taxes saved from smaller house: $1,000

Estimated value of investing $114k @ 5% after inflation, plus adding $1k per year: $181,000

So 10 years from now, just as little MM graduates from high school, we’ll be about $181,000 wealthier than we would otherwise be if staying in the current house**. To put it one way, this move alone would pay for several complete university educations. Or another way, with a net benefit of over $18k per year, this move is paying for about 70% of our total family living expenses for the next 10 years.

Note: Yes, it is easy to take exception with any of my assumptions here, especially on how to account for the capital or appreciation. You are free to tweak the numbers as you like. For me, these represent my best back of the napkin calculations for the moment. Since the number comes out overwhelmingly positive no matter how I tweak it, it tells me the project is a “GO”.

Another interesting thing here, is that I’m using a portion of my own savings to do this project, and if you do the math they will be returning considerably higher than the 5-7%-after-inflation I sometimes quote around here for investment returns. And I couldn’t do this project if I hadn’t amassed the savings. Thus, although you can’t reliably beat the market by trading stocks, you can occasionally beat the stock market in your own life, by having savings that allow you to take advantage of unique opportunities.

Whether it is a strategic house remodel/downsizing, springing on an undervalued Toyota Prius on Craigslist then taking the time to get the most when selling off your Lincoln Navigator, or other tricks, a ‘stash has a way of multiplying itself.

So where do YOU come in?

I really need a Colorado-licensed Structural Engineer to help with my plans for the new roof. The people I have worked with in the past have become unreliable or too busy. But if we’re lucky and a reader of this blog happens to hold this license, we could have some great fun coming up with a design. Of course, you’d still get paid, and it’s up to you if we profile your role publicly on the blog or anonymously.
Update: I found one! We’re now jumping into the design stage, and I think I found the perfect guy for the job.

– Carpenters and assistants needed: Although I will be working full-time on the project, I would like to get to move-in condition as quickly as possible, which means giving up my old tradition of doing everything myself. If you are a framer, roofer, electrician, or willing to try your hand at a little demolition, get in touch!

– Construction boot camps: Occasionally, we’ll be doing some easy but fun things that are educational to help out with for the first time (replacing windows, building interior walls, laying out plumbing for a new bathroom, running new electrical circuits). If you live in the area and would like to help out in exchange for learning these new skills, let me know through the about->contact button at the top and we can organize a little club. This might sound a little Tom Sawyer style (hey! Want to paint my fence for me while I sit in the shade relaxing?), but it’s not quite like that, since as the “instructor” I’ll be just as busy.

The end result of this big construction project should be a house that is ready for the next 65 years of its life, with a bright and airy new design and a dramatically reduced level of energy consumption to go with it. Stay tuned for more updates as the project progresses.


* It’s an old 1970s English punk song from the Monks. No more emailed complaints about my alleged insensitivity to women, please.

**You could make further adjustments based on the projected resale value of each house at that point, but for now let’s consider them equal (the new house is in a more prestigious location which should be more valuable over time).


  • Nate October 4, 2013, 8:20 am

    I’d love to help! Let me know when you’re having a work party. I’m still in 9-5, so make it a weekend for the rest of us still on the road to mustachianism.

  • Lauren October 4, 2013, 10:08 am

    Saw this very cool post today on a passively cooled house and thought I’d pass it along. Looks like the north/south sides are flipped from what MMM is going to be doing, though I’m sure it could still be designed to apply. A great alternative to solar that could be paired with MMM’s passive heating:


  • Laurie October 4, 2013, 3:20 pm

    Hi MMM, I haven’t read through all of the comments, so don’t know what kind of help you’ve found so far. If you need assistance on the energy side I’m here for ya. I’m a big fan of yours. I’m also a big fan of small energy efficient houses. My credentials include being an architect for over 20 years, LEED AP (since 2005) and CPHC (certified passive house consultant since 2010). I’m not registered in CO, though I did spend 9 years in the Boulder/Denver area and am an alum of CU Boulder and CU Denver so I am familiar with the climate. It sounds like you have a good handle on the energy thing, but if you need to talk through anything please let me know. I’m happy to help. Maybe you want to design that 20×20 building as a passive house? Just sayin’ – Laurie

  • Amanda October 7, 2013, 3:15 pm

    Great project, I’d love to get in on any bootcamp sessions – or assistant needs to learn more about reno- Mark and I are back from Africa in Nov. – keep me posted on your schedule!

  • Jeremiah Manegold October 17, 2013, 10:15 am

    nice house,has a frank loyd wright vibe.I live on 18th street longmont.Definetly want to help

  • Sully November 14, 2013, 11:50 am

    I’m in the area, and would love to learn these skills! Please, keep us posted!

  • David July 2, 2016, 4:42 pm

    I find it interesting that you describe an 80 x 80 foot lot as generously sized. Where I live you can’t get a building permit for a new house with less than 200 feet of road frontage and a minimum lot size of 0.8 acres.


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