The greenest building is … one that is already built – Carl Elefante, architect.
The house at 916 East Lake Drive in Decatur, Georgia, had to come down. It wasn’t structurally deficient. Nor was it an abandoned eyesore. The one-story home suffered from a malady sweeping through Decatur: it was too small. Once celebrated by architects and consumers, the American small house is an endangered species threatened by the impulse to tear them down and replace them with larger, “better” homes.
When an older house — old is not synonymous with historic — is demolished to make way for a new, larger home it becomes a teardown. Teardowns and McMansions of all shapes and sizes are common throughout Decatur and greater Atlanta. They are a nationwide problem because of the environmental impacts they create and because they can significantly alter the visual character and economic fabric of established neighborhoods.
Built in 1943 or 1944, the 1,100-square-foot frame house was located in a 0.18-acre lot on the east side of East Lake Drive. It fit well in the Oakhurst neighborhood where it was built. The rectangular house was an ordinary mid-twentieth century small house. It was built on concrete block piers and had an interior brick chimney. Originally clad by wood drop siding, vinyl siding had been added in recent years. The roof appeared watertight and was clad by composition shingles.
A two-person crew deconstructed the house using a Mustang track loader and bare hands. As parts of the house fell away during the eight hours it took to reduce the building to a pile of rubble, interior spaces once called home by multiple families were laid bare.
The walls, roof, windows, and doors were broken up and dumped into four-ton capacity waste bins that were loaded onto trucks and hauled about seven miles to a landfill off of Moreland Avenue where they were dumped.
Owner and builder Mike Shivers estimated that there would be about seven bin loads or about 28 tons of debris removed. Metal – gutters, ducts, etc. – was plucked from the piles and set aside for recycling. Everything else, from the concrete block piers, brick firebox and chimney, hollow clay tile flues, window glass, wood framing and siding, vinyl siding, cabinets, even the window blinds, was bound for the landfill.
In addition to the materials sent to the landfill, the carbon used to fuel the loader that demolished the building and to fuel the truck making round trips between the landfill and the site also created waste. Additional energy will be used to fabricate and transport materials for the new house that will rise at the site. No matter how energy-efficient the builders make the new house, there will be no way to recapture the embodied energy wasted in the construction, life, and demolition of the old house.
Pineview Homes, Inc., built the house that stood at 916 East Lake Drive. In early 1944 the company bought the block bounded by East Lake Drive, Spring Street, McKoy Street, and Underwood Street. The tract yielded 16 home sites shown in a plat filed in June 1944.
Most of the homes were one-story frame buildings. On May 25, 1945 Pineview sold several of the lots to J.M. McDonald and one year later the house at 916 East Lake was sold to Edward C. Young Jr. Young, a salesman who worked at Sears, lived there with his wife Ophelia until 1954.
The Youngs sold the home to Lila and Sherman Forrester. Forrester was a co-owner of the Forrester and Terry Service Station a few blocks away at 715 East Lake Drive.
Over the next three decades, the house was sold several times. The house was vacant several times in the 1960s and 1970s, according to Atlanta suburban directories. In disrepair and cited by the city by the late 1970s, the property ended up in the Decatur Housing Authority’s portfolio.
Shirley Huff, who in 1981 bought it from the city as an urban homesteader, owned the property until it entered foreclosure earlier this year. Shivers bought it at auction and is collaborating with Atlanta Intown Properties on building a new 2,000-square-foot home at the site.
According to Shivers, the new home will be a 1-1/2 story “bungalow.” Its footprint will cover 2,129 square feet and there will be a 400-square-foot garage.
Shivers owns 4M Contracting. Until the 916 East Lake project, all of his Decatur work has involved renovations. His firm has done work in Decatur’s MAK Historic District and one project they completed at 120 Adams Street won a 2011 City of Decatur Design Award.
Shivers is sensitive to context and to the potential for out-of-scale construction at teardown sites.
“I don’t do foursquares,” he said as his contractors were demolishing 916 East Lake Drive. “I think a lot of the guys down here are doing the bigger houses, what I call a foursquare-type thing. But I was going to try to keep this one more traditional, bungalow style.”
With the 916 East Lake project, Shivers explained that he was trying to build a more modest house than some of the other teardown and infill projects found throughout Oakhurst. “We’re going to take this house down and put a bungalow-style house similar to one I did over on Adams Street,” Shivers explained. “Kind of like a story and a half.”
Stay tuned as we follow the new house as it rises at 916 East Lake Drive. In the meantime, you can see the old house deconstructed in this video.
© 2011 David S. Rotenstein. Originally posted at Dateline: Decatur.