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Redefining the Term "Mobile Home"

Posted by Jim Gunshinan on March 08, 2011

The most energy efficient home is one that's already built. Keeping a home out of a landfill saves all the materials in the house, as well as all the energy used to create the materials—the building's embodied energy. And historic homes preserve a slice of culture that would otherwise be lost forever. And what's better than keeping one 100-year-old house out of the landfill? Keeping two 100-year-old houses out of the landfill.

Tom White, publisher of Home Energy Magazine, and his partner Dmitri Belser are both interested in historical preservation. When they heard of a house scheduled to be torn down on the University of California, Berkeley, campus that was being offered for $17 and the costs to move it, they decided to go for it. The Swiss-chalet-style house, located above Boalt Hall, was built in 1902 by Warren Cheney, a publisher and editor of The Overland Monthly and a real estate developer of the Panoramic Hill area.

If Tom hadn't already earned his green building chops after almost 3 years as publisher of Home Energy, this house move would certainly do it. They own a plot of land on 62nd Street with plenty of room for a house. But there was already another 100-year old house on the plot that had to be moved first. It's a one-story 1870s Frontier Italianate style cottage. Are you getting the picture here? These guys are willing to back up their green convictions with money, sweat, and many days spent with pegged frustration meters. Did I mention the house they decided to move has two stories?

Here's the plan:

Phase 1. Slice Cheney House in half. Lift second story. Move first story to rented space in Albany. Move the second story to Albany. (Note: The perpetual construction on Haste, telephone poles, parked cars, and other obstacles.)

Phase 2. Lift the cottage on 62nd Street. Move it back on the lot about 100 feet. Dismantle the brick foundation.

Phase 3. Bring the second story of the Cheney house from lot in Albany to lot on 62nd Street. (Note: Perpetual Road construction on Sacramento, telephone poles, parked cars, and emergency vehicles trying to get by.) Lift it up. Move first story of Cheney house from Albany to 62nd Street and place it beneath second story.

Phase 4. Build new foundations for both houses.

“I think we visited—at least once—every single department in the city of Berkeley in the last week before Phase 3,” says Tom. “The departments don't always communicate well. The police didn't know we were moving a house—half a house—and so there were still lots of parked cars blocking us along Alcatraz. But they had them cleared in no time. The whole trip from Albany to 62nd Street took about two hours.”

The first story of the Cheney house has yet to be moved to the 62nd Street plot. Still to do: Phase 4, and a long vacation.

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