Thinking of a house as a box is helpful #701

#701 in a series of true experiences in real estate

It took years before it occurred to me, but I finally started thinking about houses as boxes: four sides, one lid, one bottom joined together.

I don’t know why it took so long for me to think of this. It seems so much easier to understand houses now that I have. For instance, how retrofitting houses for earthquakes is done suddenly makes so much sense. Also improving the drainage around the outside of a house — getting water away — now strikes me as a simple and wise concept.

I now think of good houses as boxes with strong sides, bottoms and tops. The corners are reinforced so that the sides won’t easily cave in. Any holes that have been cut into the box are well sealed, and water flows unimpeded off the box top and away from the sides and bottom.

My thinking about this started while I was packing a gift to ship to a friend. I had chosen a fairly heavy cardboard box. It was a commercially made box, cut as one piece, then folded together. Staples were added and the seams were finished with strapping tape. I felt fairly sure that even with rough handling in transit, the exterior of the box and its contents would remain unbroken.

I had considered building my own box but, as I thought about it, I could see that piecing together a sturdy box would be difficult. The pieces would have to be cut and fitted just right, the seams brought together and securely fastened. Unless it was well made, the seams might rip open, the sides cave in; maybe the whole thing would disintegrate as it was being transported.

You’ve got the picture. Now think of houses as boxes. Most of the houses in the area where we live are built on a concrete base, the foundation. Concrete is a strong material, fairly impervious to water. Holes are dug and the concrete is placed so that it is made stronger by the earth around it.

Then pieces of wood called sills are attached to the concrete; the walls are attached to the sills. Roof rafters are added to the tops of the walls, then the roof.

The exterior of the house box is sometimes covered with stucco, sometimes wood. Insulation and waterproof paper are often sandwiched between the layers to help keep the cold and rain out. Sometimes plywood shear walls are added to give strength to the corners.

If the top of the box, the roof, is put on correctly and if all the places where the pieces come together are tight, water should be kept out of the interior of the house. There are openings in the box: doors, windows, a chimney and vents to allow people to enter and leave, to see outside, to let in light and to get smoke and gases out of the house.

Those are the elements of the basic house box. If the materials were good and the pieces were fitted securely, if nothing unusual comes along to spoil things (high winds, earthquakes or streams running underneath), then it’s a fine box.

Most houses also contain systems to provide warmth and comfort for the people who live in them: pipes that carry hot and cold water, wires that move electricity, some type of heating system and plumbing fixtures.

There are usually appliances for cooking and for keeping food cold, machines for washing and drying dishes and clothes. There are closets and cabinets for storing belongings and partitions with doors between them that divide the inside of the house for different activities.

See why thinking of a house as a box is helpful? It puts things in perspective. What you want is a good box; one that will last and is comfortable to spend time in. It sits solidly on its spot. It won’t sink or float off when it’s wet. Its sides and corners won’t bend or buckle. Inside it is warm, good light comes in, and there are no leaks.

Houses are boxes that we go into and live. We close the door to our box and we can be alone and we can sleep. Rain, people we don’t want to see, wild animals can’t get in.

What would it have been like, I wonder, to have been a pioneer, hot and dusty, coming across the plains, going into the unknown? Out there in the middle of somewhere, friends and family left behind. Having perhaps to deal with marauders and broken wagon axles, rapidly running rivers to cross.

I know that if I had been a pioneer, if we’d managed to get to a new land, chosen a spot on which to settle down, I’d be the one dying to make a new house, as we approached that certain clearing, I’d jump from the wagon looking for materials. Rocks, maybe, to pile up. Or trees to cut down.

It would be hard work; it would take a lot of time. Even after we make the sides of our box, we’ll need a lid and a bottom. We’ll have to have a door, a way to get in and out, and at least one opening, a window, so we can look out once we are inside.

I hope we didn’t choose a spot in snow country. We will fix a place for a fire, use rocks to make a spot to burn wood for warmth and for cooking. And we’ll cut a hole in the roof but it will still be smoky and chilly and dark inside.

Too bad we won’t have a sink with running water, glass for our windows, electric lights to read by…silicone caulk in a disposable tube or a roll of good strapping tape.

This entry was posted in Information for Both Sellers and Buyers. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: