We have a new house! Kinda sorta.

We live in a somewhat unfashionably old house — not old enough to be exotic, but old enough to be a bit, well, shabby. That’s exactly the right word for it. It was built in the late 1940s by the Wohler family, who were sort of a big deal in these parts, since they owned the most important bar in town, the Old #1. It was sold shortly afterwards to Ed LaFave, a banker, who was also one of the civic leaders who led the effort to get the University of Minnesota Morris built here, in the late 1950s and 60s. So anyway, we’re sort of connected to small town royalty through this house.

LaFave had bought it for his mother — his home was across the street — and she lived her for several decades, which means, of course, that our home is known as Granny LaFave’s House to all the locals. That’s fine, none of the subsequent tenants, including us, have had her endurance, so she earned it. Unfortunately, while the interior was quite nice, the exterior had gotten a bit run down over the years. Here’s what it looked like a few years ago.

There’d been a few poor attempts at tidying it up. One of the worst was that it was covered with nice cedar shakes, but they were painted over white, and that paint was flaking off, and some of the windows were in less than pristine shape, and there were those odd wooden strakes protruding over the windows (I think they used to have some kind of screening over them) that were simply falling off.

So this summer we hired a contractor to give it a complete make-over.

We had the old shakes stripped off and replaced with siding. New windows everywhere, with better insulation. The deck was resurfaced. Some of the stonework was patched up. Now it looks completely different!

Strangely, at the same time all this was going on, the county sent us a notice that they’d decided, for some obscure reason, to change our house number from 300 College Avenue to 209 College Avenue, so now we can pretend we’ve moved to a completely different house with none of the hassle of actually having to move the contents.

Oops. I just doxxed myself.

I made a brief video of walking around the house. Most of you won’t care, but I’m sending this to family — this is the house where my youngest two kids grew up, so they might be curious.

Right now, the interior is cluttered because we had to pull everything away from the walls (because they were doing some major work with new windows), and most of our posessions are piled up in our living room. One of the things we’ll be doing this long Thanksgiving weekend is de-cluttering and moving everything back to where it belongs.

Also, most importantly…that room with the bay windows used to be our daughter’s bedroom, and I’m taking over. We had the interior redone (most importantly: grounded 3 prong outlets everywhere), and I’ll be setting that up as my home office. Yay! Electronics will be neatly organized, I’ll have a quiet writing space, and it’ll have wonderful light!

No, the house is not up for sale, and this is not an advertisement. We’re planning to stay here a good long while yet.


  1. blf says

    I thought it was supposed to be wrapped in dinosaur skin? Which, it the legs were still attached, would explain the change in house number: It got up and walked to the new location. Walking dinocave!

  2. Robert Dorr says

    Thank you, for sharing this.
    I love seeing people I like, also love their homes.
    (It’s also reassuring to that part of my brain that needs reassurance, that PZ believes the future is bright enough, to warrant fixing the place up.)

  3. chigau (違う) says

    Very well done.
    (The “before” picture needs an old pick-up on blocks.)
    (where is the bird feeder?)

  4. brucej says

    I keep getting flyers in the mail offering to buy ‘distressed properties’ such as ‘squatter occupied’, ‘mold contaminated’, and ‘human tragedy involved’ (i guess meaning someone was murdered leading to unnatural haunting??). I think they’re trying to tell me something….and that something is ‘you need to paint, dummy’…

  5. says

    The bird feeder is off its pole and is off to the side for now. We’ll wait for spring to put it up again.

    Glad somebody noticed the important details. In the video, you might also see our cat peering suspiciously out one of the bay windows, wondering what I’m up to.

  6. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    Wow! I’ve never heard of changing street numbers on you. That would be damned inconvenient.

    Our number is 600-and-something even though we’re short of 6th Avenue. I think at some point they decided to rename 1st Avenue “Railroad Avenue” and just slid the street numbers over–but they didn’t mess with the house numbers!

  7. gijoel says

    Yup, old man Meyers use to live here.Some say you can still hear his laughter if you play a creationist video.

  8. chigau (違う) says

    I am so sorry about your elm.
    My city is still holding the line on “dutch elm disease”.
    I think that the occasional fortnight of -30°C might help with that
    and also being at 53°N.
    I had to watch three times before I actually perceived the demon cat.

  9. Crudely Wrott says

    I was also concerned about the bird feeder. (Hi, Chigau!) You might want to consider restoring it sooner than next spring. After all, little dinosaurs who winter at your longitude need plenty of eats to make it to spring. Suet cakes packed with seeds and live, trussed up bugs help too! Though it is hard to hog tie the little rascals, you know that the birdies will be grateful.
    As an old carpenter and home improver, I must say that the “after shot” sure beats the “before shot”. Great news about the updated electrical system. Knob and tube doesn’t make modern devices happy. No, not at all.
    May you and your family enjoy your new/old home for a very long time. That’s assuming your gadabout offspring can ever find it again.
    Who knows, in a few decades the townsfolk might start calling it “The old Myers’ Place”. It would only be fitting.

  10. chigau (違う) says

    re: knob and tube
    works fine if you are OK and prepared for sparks
    (please note that “sparks” are actually “flame”, it will BURN)

  11. cartomancer says

    And, of course, you also used the cover of the renovations to expand the secret underground supervillain facility with new holding cells, torture chambers, plotting oubliettes and the like.

  12. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    My house was built in the late 1970s, but the electrical still had to be reworked a bit when my parents first bought it in the early 1980s. Every single switch and 3-prong outlet was not only ungrounded, but the ground wire was cut back to the sheathing where the cable entered the box, so had to dig into every box and splice a new ground into the bundle. Part of me thinks it may have been the electrician wanting the builder dead since this particular house was built for him and his wife. Probably just the builder being notorious for shit houses throughout the area; partly because there were no locally-enforced building codes until fairly recently.

    Also, there is no sheathing or moisture barrier between the siding and wall cavity. And the basement walls are not waterproofed on the exterior or steel-reinforced anywhere, so prone to leaking during big storms and several other houses from the builder had basement walls collapse.

    Welcome to Georgia. Buyer beware.

  13. jacksprocket says

    Yet another contrast in local definitions of “old”. When your house was built, many of the houses in our village were 250+ years old; mine (about 1680) having been heavily modernised about 1880, which involved making 3 floors in the height that had previously had 4. Good thinking upgrading the electrics. Ours seemed to have been installed by a homicidal maniac of deep cunning. And you call that cluttered?

  14. kevinv says

    I hope in addition to ground wires you had some network cables run. Nothing beats a solid wired network connection when you can get it.

  15. razzby says

    Seconding Robert in #2! Seeing progress even in home upkeep is darn reassuring. It would be a house post that drags me out of lurking after five years of avid reading.

    And /wave at PZ! Forgive the gush, but just a quick note of thanks from a someone raised in pioneer level Mormon household -and all that that implies with gender, world view, and adherence to old grandiose slash fiction. Following my oddity for a deep love of science, and finding lights like this site, helped me and my crew battle our way out of that and into brighter realms. You helped with that. The community you helped build aided in that.

    Sorry for the fangirl-ing, but thank you!

  16. birgerjohansson says

    The renovated house *totally* has no 20.000 volt burglar traps….or hidden cellars where you can temporaily keep stuff that might start smelling if stored in warm conditions. Wink, nudge.

    I recall a Lovecraft story about a renovated house in New England with an interesting window of coloured glass panes, overlooking an old structure that was “perfectly safe” as long as there remained water in the stream running around the structure. It would be intereting to see the surprises hidden in P Zs garden.

  17. steve1 says

    Are you sure the address change won’t be a precursor to raising the property taxes?
    All of a sudden you live in a higher rent section of town.

  18. fernando says

    Why in the USA almost houses are made of wood, and without terracotta roof tiles?
    Bricks and terracotta roof tiles seem to be more durable.

    It is a cultural thing? Or is more economical to build family homes in wood with that plastic/rubber(?) roof tiles? Maybe is because your countruy has alot of forests?
    Is some security rule, for example for limit the damage of earthquakes? Or to make a quick reconstruction after a tornado?
    Or is something else?

    Mind you all, im not saying that your houses are worst that houses made with bricks, i simply find the extensive use of wood in your houses quite curious.

  19. johnniefurious says

    I don’t know, that before house… seems like all you needed was a little tinfoil on the windows and that room would be a perfect place to compose manifestos.

  20. steve1 says

    Fernando #21

    Cost is a big factor in housing. Wood homes in general are cheaper.
    Climate is another factor in housing material.
    Terracotta tiles can be used in cold winter climates but there is a risk of them shattering in the freeze thaw cycles in the winter.

    I live in Florida and wood frame homes are not favored. They are disparagingly called stick homes. Most people in Florida prefer cement block home. They stand up to hurricanes better. You can build a strong wood home but it takes more engineering. There are many old wood homes in key west still standing. Wood homes also cost more to insure in Florida.

    The best roof to withstand a hurricane is a metal roof.

  21. machintelligence says

    fernando @ 21
    “Maybe is because your countruy has alot of forests?”
    Right the first time, mostly. Wood is cheap and easy to use, plus built up brick has poor thermal efficiency. Even “brick” houses around here have a wood frame, insulated and faced with brick.
    Tile roofs are great, until you need to repair them, because you can’t walk on the damned things without risking breaking tiles. They also cost significantly more than composite shingles. (Thank goodness the popularity of wood shake roofs has faded to almost zero.)

  22. bryanfeir says

    @PZ, Very Reverend Battleaxe:
    My parents’ place had its numbers changed many years back. The entire area did. In Victoria (B.C.), even short roads don’t start numbering at 1, they start numbering based on a east/west or north/south distance from the designated 0 point at the inner harbour. So you know if you’re on a north-south road and the numbering is in the 7000s, you’re up in Central Saanich. It actually makes a certain sense once you’re used to it. But at one point they changed the official ‘lot size’ and had to recalibrate some of the numbers up where we were.

    @Crudely Wrott, chigau:
    Thankfully, the 1940s-built house I’m in now doesn’t have knob and tube, but it does still have a few spots of ungrounded wiring.

    @fernando, steve1, machineintelligence:
    And where I live now in Toronto, there are a LOT of brick houses (usually wood frame to start with but solid brick around the outside) at least in part because somebody found some nice red clay in the Don Valley and set up a brickworks there.

  23. feministhomemaker says

    May I please take advantage of you doxing yourself and send you a xmas card with congratulations on this awesome remodel? Will both address numbers work? I’ll send a card to each and you can find out! I agree with other commenters. Seeing this example of hope, renewal and creative improvement touches me deeply during a time of such horrible political decay. Thank you for sharing!!!

  24. carlie says

    Could you explain the beams over the deck? I’ve seen those a lot, but never quite understood what they do. They don’t keep the sun out, don’t keep the rain or snow out, they just… sit there over the deck?

  25. rabbitbrush says

    PZ, you need to put those silly pergola beams to use and turn them into a grape arbor. Why else would one have them in a Minnesota climate??? Or put a roof over them, or turn the area into a greenhouse. As Carlie noted, They don’t keep the sun out, don’t keep the rain or snow out, they just… sit there over the deck

  26. Rich Woods says

    from 300 College Avenue to 209 College Avenue

    So has this moved you closer to or further away from your lab? I hope they gave this some thought before going ahead with the change.

  27. fernando says

    Thanks for the all the explanations steve1, machintelligence and bryanfeir.
    I never thought that terracotta tiles could break because of freeze-thaw cycle – most probably because our Winters are quite mild, nothing like the frigid Winters in the north of the USA or Canada, with alot of snow and frozen lakes.

  28. Onamission5 says

    carlie @27: Pergolas are sometimes decorative structures from which people can suspend lighting, curtains, or shade covers, but I also see them used quite frequently as supports for heavy vines like grape or wisteria. I’d love a pergola over the concrete pad in back of my own house, as to break up the expanse of cheap assed white vinyl siding action we’re rocking at present and to provide a modicum of privacy (or the illusion of privacy) once we remove our old diseased grape vines.

  29. Onamission5 says

    Oh, and PZ, the before and after pictures are striking in their difference! It really is like you have a brand new house, congrats.

    I hope when we finally get it together to reside our own home the results are as dramatic!

  30. Moggie says

    I’m worried about all the people who lived in the 91 deleted College Avenue addresses. Hopefully they didn’t end up in the cornfield.

  31. says

    Ahhh, the joys of being a home owner. We bought a house in the summer of last year and then spent the first couple of months tearing everything but (most) walls down. The house was built in 1960, semi-detached with about 10 or so more of the same layout in the street.
    The house was in what I lovingly called “well kept original condition”, which meant black tiles with a piggy pink toilet in the bathroom. Also, of course, old heating, electricity, not to mention water and the damn asbestos infested tiles on the outside.
    We spent about the same amount of money on renovations as we did on the purchase and dragged everything kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Now our house has the energy efficiency of a newly constructed house (insulted roof, insulated walls, tripple insulated windows, new pellet heating).
    Not to mention the many hours we spent doing what we could ourselves. I have a very intimate relationship with my kitchen, because I’ve seen it from angles that are usually reserved for the cooking pots.

  32. says

    You have a nice home. Sorry to hear about the tree. We finally had the 70 foot Siberian elm in our front yard cut down last April. We were in fear of it falling on someone and it was a twig factory. The base was hollow and full of ants. Following it’s removal we had ants in the house for several months until they found new digs elsewhere. We replaced the tree with a hornbeam and put it closer to the street. The colors on your house are pleasant to eye and the sun porch we would love to have as my partner is plant lover. It’s probably more of a three season porch as it is Morris, MN. We live in Madison, WI and sometimes we wish we lived in Minnesota, with our rat faced Governor and his cadre of shilling morons. But, we like our city for the most part. An our neighborhood is nice. I like the location of your house, seems like a nice place to live. All the best, Renee and Megan.

  33. carlie says

    Pergola! I kept thinking cupola but knew that was wrong.
    Vines and hanging things makes sense, thanks. I’m just so sun sensitive I see no point in high up things that don’t protect me from it!

  34. magistramarla says

    We’ve had problems with oak wilt killing the live oaks in our neighborhood. It cost us over $3000.00 to get our oaks properly trimmed and treated to save their lives, but we think that it will help us to sell when we are ready. Those homeowners in the neighborhood who have spent the money to do so still have green leaves and shade. Most of the others now have dead hulks that will be expensive to have cut down and hauled away.
    Our arborist was spitting mad about the woman a few houses down who has the biggest and oldest live oak in the neighborhood on her property. When he offered to give her an estimate for saving it, she told him that she was praying over it daily and that “God would save it”. That beautiful old tree is now in the process of dying. Now the one next to our driveway will have the honor of being the biggest and oldest tree in the neighborhood. Religion ruins everything!

  35. Pierce R. Butler says

    Several years ago they renumbered my place: since I share the driveway with neighbors, it became an official street, and instead of living at # 2211 __ Blvd, I transferred (without moving) to # __ 22nd Lane. This supposedly makes it easier for emergency vehicles to find each house, though at least three of the neighbors have to give my address to visitors and tradespeople, as their own house numbers remain unknown to GPS.

    Almost every town in the US has odd and even building numbers on opposite sides of the street (e.g., here in Gainesville, FL, the odd numbers are on the east and south sides, the evens on west and north).

    Unless Morris allows exceptions for mad scientists and their ilk, it would seem at a minimum you’ve been re-oriented. Did everybody in Morris/on your street get renumbered? Perhaps they intend to move College Ave to your (& your neighbors’) back yards?

  36. says

    Fernando #21 — every reply so far has been spot-on, but there’s one more point: in much of Canada and the US, the forests were old growth forests, full of huge trees that were hundreds of years old. The lumber from those trees is remarkably straight and strong, and cures into iron-like toughness. I’m always sickened when I see old lumber thrown away in favour of laminate and plastics.