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blooangl

Informal Poll: Is owning an old house 'green'?

Blooangl
18 years ago

I say it is.

We were sitting in my old frankenhouse, having a glass of wine (or two) and this conversation came up.

My reasons for feeling this way:

It upholds the tenents of "Reuse, Recycle"...ie, if I'm living in my old house, it's not in a landfill.

With love and care, old houses can be as energy-efficient as new houses. There are several examples of retro-fit 'green' technology at use here in Chicago, paid for by a group of builders and the city.

I also just like plaster walls (a luxury finish these days), more ornate woodwork, and wood floors.

A friend of ours says no. He lives in a new condo(don't judge him too harshly, he's a good guy, just misguided)

He says that if all the old, inefficient houses were razed, and brand new green, energy saving building technology is used we'd all be better off.

He feels that old houses can look shabby, and adversely affect the way people feel about their neighborhood. That new houses would make people feel better about where they live. (We live in the Austin area of Chicago, the poorest place in the city, with the highest crime rate)

He also feels that people who live in old houses are resistant to recycling, and new technology in general.

I say bull pucky.

So, I'm taking this to the gardenweb forum, prove me right and him wrong, or vice-versa. I know you are all passionate, outspoken, intelligent folks, and I'm just curious about this.

How do you feel?

Was the feeling that you were preserving something important to you? Did you see your choice as better or equal to owning a 'new' home?

Lastly, do you recycle or compost? Have you worked to make your house more effiencient? Do you think old houses adversely affect the psychology of the people who live next to them?

Comments (28)

  • vjrnts
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    It depends on the old house. I live in one of the older neighborhoods of my city. Most of the houses were built between 1910 and 1930. They're gorgeous, huge and very well-maintained. No one's going to feel bad living next to any of these old ladies.

    We thought about building before we bought this old girl, and we certainly would have been buying lower energy consumption (one of the few places where the individual has some genuine impact on the environment) and more convenience. And a far less scary basement. It's going to take real money to tighten this place up and make it more energy efficient, and it'll never be as tight as new construction.

    But our area of the country is losing population slowly. One of the things that really did concern us is that for every house that's built further out from the city, there will inevitably be a house at the city center that ends up abandoned and rotting. It might be a long chain of buying and selling, but there are only so many households in the county. Adding to an overage of housing stock must be balanced somewhere else. So we went from the suburbs to the city. We own a piece of local history (our house was owned by Frances Gershwin Godowsky in the 30s) and we're doing our part to stem urban flight.

    Well-kept old houses are the character of the neighborhood. It would be a shame to see them go. But I think the key is "well-kept." I think neighborhoods are adversely affected by run-down or vacant properties. Every now and then our local police pick a block in a poor, high crime area, do a needs assessment, and then spend a week picking up trash, doing home repairs and helping people plant, weed, paint and fix. The residents work alongside, and the blocks that have been spiffed up tend to stay that way. The people who live there like the way it looks, they know the local officers by name from having worked with them, and they don't let the drug dealers and gangs back on the block. I wish there was enough money to do that to all of the economically depressed areas every summer.

    Vicki

  • cecilia_md7a
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I feel that by living in an older house in an established neighborhood (in my case, just outside the city line), I am doing my small part to promote what the State of Maryland terms "smart growth," fight exurban sprawl, and preserve some of Maryland's open space lands.

    BTW, I do compost, garden organically, and use a push mower to mow my lawn. Even thought I might have a few more bugs, weeds, and blackspot than some of my neighbors, I feel I am doing my part to save energy and help prevent runoff from polluting the Chesapeake Bay. And we're lucky here in Baltimore County - we have curbside recycling.

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  • Carol_from_ny
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I live in an area where there are alot of old homes. Most are well maintained on nice size lots.
    These established homes have mature trees which help clean the air. They add visiual beauty and interest to the town.They weren't slapped together with inferior materials, on too small lots and have stood the test of time.
    Most were made to house families and all their stuff for a long time.
    Many of the newer homes are too small and families quickly out grow them forcing them to move on and build yet another house...using valuable resources.
    My old home doesn't have AC but it stays cool none the less cause the walls are thick and thought was given to where windows were placed and trees planted.
    Not using AC I save a small fortune every summer not to mention I'm not using up resources.

  • scryn
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Our house, an old c1850 farmhouse, was BUILT to conserve electricity. (well ok, it was built when there wasn't electricity)
    The design of our house allows us to use alternative heating during the winter (pellot fuel) and to not need to cool our house during the summer (many windows placed it appropriate places for a breeze) Our low ceilings and smaller rooms (that have doors) are greatly different than the high ceilings and great rooms that we see in newer houses. We are able to close off rooms when we are not using them and not heat them.
    Our house does not use any new materials and therefore we are "recycling" per se by buying it. We compost, have our own garden and even carpool to work. Oh and I am crazy about recycling. We recycle what we can and reuse everything else.
    Now to counter your friends other statement: My husband and I LOVE technology. We have internet running to every room (wireless just doesn't work with our old walls) and while on vacation we even had video cams watching our pets so we could check up on them and see what they were doing while we were gone (of course we had a friend come and feed them too) but it was really neat to be able to use my husband's cell phone to see what our pets were up too!
    Now that is technology!!!
    One super thing about our house:
    We live in a swampy area and EVERY new house has 2 sump pumps running 24-7 (that is ALOT of electricity) we have a sump pump and have never plugged it in! ha! I love it!
    The builders of the house were smart enough to build the house on a hill!
    So I think your friend is WRONG!!!!!
    Plus, everyone that i know buys a new house and then 5 years later buys another NEW house! They keep buying and trading in. now us people with old houses wouldn't dare to move. You know, because it took us SOOOOOOOOOo long to finally fix everything we just don't want to start over!
    -renee

  • bulldinkie
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Wow...Hes way off base...Our home is 1700 pre civil war,lots of history,A col.George Himes in gettysburg civil war owned my home in 1822.We have deed with his name.History...We completely restored the home,new plumbing,new wiring ,new heating system,We chemically washed the house painted all the trim,replaced 22+ windows re -built,I guarantee you my house will be here another 200 years,you can keep your house that all neighbors have with few differences,plastic shutters,I doubt these new homes will last 200+ years..I have the real thing.My home more than doubled in value since we bought it.

  • spewey
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Your friend is out of touch with reality. Tearing down all the old houses (and some on this planet go back thousands of years) and replacing them with new ones would require clearcutting virtually all the forests on earth, do massive damage to steam systems to retrieve the sand needed for making concrete, leave great open pits from the removal of clay for brick, and use up probably the last of our fossil fuels for production of the materials. It would take centuries for any fuel efficiency savings to offset the energy needed for the production and transport of the materials.

    I live in an historic district and get all kinds of good karma from my surrounding neighbors in old houses (though I live in new, architecturally compatible infill construction LOL).

  • glennsfc
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I live in an area that has seen wholesale destruction of existing housing stock to replace with new versions. We have 'townhouses', 'condominiums' and overbuilt, souless monstrosities we call 'McMansions' for some reason.

    Sad thing is that these 'developers'...as we call them...rip everything down so fast that there is no chance to salvage unique architectural features and 'parts' of these homes. There is no opportunity to recycle, reclaim or reuse.

    Some of the homes have seen their useful life, weren't very good to begin with and were good candidates for the wrecking ball. However, others were fine old homes with much useful life left. Some people need to live in an area of trophy homes...good for them...but you would never find me residing there.

  • AmyHeem
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I think your friend has the mind set of many people theses days that newer is better. I have to say our 1820's farm house is not the best in the summer though our electric bill only goes up about $15 a month in the summer. The winter is pretty good. We have sealed cracks and around windows. We have had to purchase new appliances so we did so with energy efficient ones. We have recycled many of old materials we have found around the property for other projects. But I can tell you that we have a ton of technology here. My husband is a systems administrator for a major company and my house is fully of new devices constantly. We fell in love with this house when we walked in the door. We never wanted a new house, we wanted a house with history and one that has stood the test of time. This house has been around a long time has been maintained very well. The outside is not an eyesore to any one and we absolutely love our home.

  • valtog
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I agree, bull pucky! When you own an old home you are conserving natural resourses by using an existing building rather than building new and you're keeping the debris from an old building being razed out of a landfill.

    You can bring an old home back to life (given that it was well-built to begin with:) and make it energy efficient. I know that here, many old homes were built to take advantage of nature's heating and cooling with orientation and placement of windows. Many people also planted trees in strategic places. They were also constructed to take advantage of one or two centrally located fireplaces/woodstoves.

    Many years ago, when I lived in the "other" Portland, every person I knew at the food coop I belonged to lived in an old home. It was considered a "waste" to build something new when older homes existed. And yup, I've been trying to be green since before the term even existed.

  • scotland1
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    What does your friend suggest we do with all of the old houses we raze? Use Alabama and Mississippi as a landfill? How often would we need to tear down all of the old houses? Every ten years? And he's out of his mind if he equates "new" with civic pride. True, some older neighborhoods look trashy. But would the people who live there keep their yards free of junk cars if their houses were new? I think not. Wealthy and middle class areas tend to be well-maintained, while poorer areas tend to not be so well cared for. The age of the housing is irrelevant.

    Something else your friend should consider is that houses just aren't built as well now as they were. Inexpensive new houses feel flimsy to me. The windows aren't positioned for good air circulation, so you have to run the air conditioner. The low ceilings don't help. There's no shade because the whole neighborhood was clear cut. I always feel sorry for the people in those new neighborhoods with their lunar landscapes. How much pride can you have in a house that unattractive with no landscaping?

  • Blooangl
    Original Author
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Just to let you all know, I'm forwarding my misguided friend all your responses:)

    Keep 'em comming. He's starting to crack.

  • Ideefixe
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    When public housing projects were built, often old brownstone apartment houses were torn down. Public housing was supposed to be NEW! CLEAN! and MODERN! It turned out to be impersonal and crime-ridden. No one took pride in their surroudnings, the new construction was cheap and shoddy and many of them have now been razed. Pruitt-Igo anyone?

  • bulldinkie
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    P.S..My hubby owns 2 construction companys.Our home is 1700s.Imagine that...

  • Lily316
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Your friends is nuts. Most old home owners are very conservation minded. We car pool, we compost and we grow veggies. I lived in a brand new house for 13 years. I was the first person who lived there before I bought this 1840 farmhousew/ horsehair plaster walls and great molding and three fireplaces. It has CHARACTER which I'm sure your friend's condo sorely lacks!!

  • Carol_from_ny
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    If you own an old home you know how hard it can be to to find replacement parts. You can't just go to the store and pick up a part. You have to SALVAGE and RECYCLE everything from old windows to door knobs to mouldings to tile to complete floors and staircases.
    It takes a certain kind of person whose willing to go the extra mile or two to go thru the process of recycling parts to make them useful. It also takes a certain amount of willingness on the old home owners part to go thru this process to begin with when other homes are available where you don't have to wait or search for replacement parts.
    Old home owners also are kind of guardians to our past.They preserve homes and pieces of history for all to enjoy. Without old home where do you think all those antiques you see for sale would reside? They'd be lost too.

  • quiltglo
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I'll play devil's advocate and agree with your friend TO A POINT.

    A old house is not automatically green. Not every old house is well made or archecturally interesting. Old houses can be very energy draining and not all areas have funds available for upgrading.

    Our home is only 40 years old. We have a 70% heat loss from the roof. No amount of reusing or recycling is going to improve this situation, yet the $25,000 needed to correct it is not what I'm going to spend the money on for the next few years. While our current home isn't "old" by the standard of most of the homes here, I've lived in the hundred year old boxes which should have just been torn down.

    Now, onto your friend's thinking. It's already been mentioned that the "build it and they will come" mentality only works in movies. Urban renewal of the late 60's is a great example of a dismal failure. Habitat for Humanity only works because the new homeowners must invest sweat equity.

    Green products are not readily available all over the country. $$$$ for making anything other than a box are not readily available. Green products do not automatically mean less energy usage when production and transportation of those products is factored in. Current green products will be outdated within 20 years, meaning his "green" houses will no longer be considered "green."

    In the US, we didn't really get concerned with energy in the home until the oil crisis of the late 70's. This means many of the houses he equates to ungreen are much newer than your home. Where's the cut off. 1960? 1880?

    Your friend strikes me as very young and not very experienced with a variety of people. He seems very set in his stereotypes. A concern with recycling has no limits for housing styles. If anything, I would think the stereotype would be just the opposite. When I see people driving gas guzzling SUV's and pulling into the lastest McMansion neighborhood I make the assumption that they care less than me (probably an error on my part.)

    Owners of old homes who are wanting to invest and maintain their homes need income to take care of those homes. People with income are much more likely to invest in technology. Right? So I don't see his connection.

    Maybe we should define what he means by technology. If he means do I want the latest and greatest digital stove, washing machine, a homing devise to tell me directions in my car or have my drapes open and close with a remote, then the answer is no. Are we willing to invest in the most up to date stuff so that my husband no longer needs an office and can work all over the country while sitting in his sweats, then yes. We invest in technology.

    He is correct that decay leads to poor housing. Build a pig a new, beautifully landscaped pen and check and see what it looks like in a month. Home ownership is the largest factor in areas being reviatlized and we are seeing inner city areas coming back to life. The city takes on new life, because of the investment of the people. Not because buidling are new.

    When you are young, you sometimes think that everyone would be happier if they were just like you. I realize your friend really can't understand that if I had to live in his box condo I would really have to fight depression. Even the idea of living on a street where every other house is built on the same McMansion floor plan is depressing to me.

    Historical building give a place a sense of time. I live in a new city. The oldest home (and the only one) was build around 1917 and it's now a museum. There are a few (very few) homes built in the late 40's and 50's and they are very small boxes because it was hard to heat buildings in Alaska then. My mid-60's home is old for the community and built after the large earthquake in 63. This is a rather blah looking city. Not much history.

    The older you get, the importance of what came before us become more evident.

    Gloria (we recycle and compost)

  • GaleForce
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    We could mill the beams in our great room and build a whole subdivision. Of course we would probably get lynched by the architectural community.

    {{gwi:2003750}}

    When I feel bad about living in a ridiculously large house, I remind myself that not all potential owners would have cared enough to reduce their electric usage by 51%. (big, big grin)

    My parents had the place for sale for six months when we made an offer. They got a full price offer the same weekend from someone who was going to turn it into a B&B. I think they were planning wall-to-wall marble.

    Here is a link that might be useful: blog -- electric use

  • joyce_zone5
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Wow galeforce--incredible room and beams!

    We live in a 100 yo home that was beginning serious decay when we bought it 17 years ago. We have slowly increased the energy effeciency while keeping the charm. We took something that was an eyesore and restored its good looks. We could not have built a quality home for the same money. We garden without chemicals, recycle, reuse. Since we bought an older home in town instead of a new one out in the subdivisions we can walk or ride our bikes almost everwhere we need to go.

    A few years down the line,and new homes are no longer new--what matters is how they are maintained.

  • cjra
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    It fits the reduce, reuse, recycle. But it's harder to maintain an energy efficient home than it is a custom built green new home. However, the vast majority of new volume build homes are *not* "green". Sure, they may have a few features over the old homes, but they're built with the intention to run heat/a/c 24/7, and at least in this area, the lots are clear cut (no more shade), which is certainly NOT green.

    So, it depends. When we get our windows all fixed, we'll be able to leave off the a/c all summer - in So Texas (I know this because we lived without it before). We have double hung windows, situated to maximize airflow, old trees shading the house, and the house is situated to make the most of hte shade and sun when it needs it. That is was built before central heat/air makes it naturally more suitable to this climate. However, now the windows are not fixed so n ailed shut and we use the a/c, which is not efficient as it could be as we don't have low-e glass.

    For the new stuff - low flow toilets, energy saving lights, light tubes. Would like to install a tankless water system and solar heating but that's cost prohibitive for us at the moment. We still use about 1/4 the average amount of water and gas/electric for residents in this city.

    In sum, yes and no.

  • jakabedy
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Another "yes and no" vote here.

    First, we have to define "old" house. Most of us here think of an "historical" home as being 1930s or before, built with care and a hope for longevity. Some here have homes constructed as early as the 1700s. But your friend's position on "old house" may encompass far more structures -- poorly constructed tenant/mill housing, post-war cottages with no intrinsic value, poory built 1970s "contemporary" structures . . . Do we find value in those simply because they exist and therefore require no new construction tax on the environment? That being said, I don't agree with his position that tearing down all old substandard (in his opinion) housing and replacing with new will result in a net gain in efficiency. It's just not possible, as there is too much housing stock out there.

    I think when we -- posters on an "old house" forum and therefore assumedly gung-ho if not fanatical on all things old and architectural -- think about people who own old houses, we picture ourselves. We picture our quaint neighborhoods and settings with loads of other folks just like us, stripping paint off trim, jackhammering concrete and removing vinyl siding. We are a minority.

    What we DON'T picture is the vast majority of folks who own old homes. They own them for various reasons. They inherited them, they liked the location, or most likely -- the price was right. After all, the homeowner on the lowest end of the buying power scale will almost always have an older house. Newer houses, by virtue of simple inflation and the tendency of the market to increase value usually, stagnate at worst will seldom if ever sell for less than they cost to build. So they remain unaffordable for the bottom-end buyer. He ends up with an "older" home by default. And if someone is stretching to make the house payment, maintenance and upgrades becomes an issue. And when cost is an issue, this work is either delayed, or done in the least expensive manner possible. The homes are shelter to many folks, not a statement. And many of them have become rental property, which is another post unto itself. This is the struggle we have in my current neighborhood. Yes, it is difficult to maintain the momentum in our historical association when abesntee landlords, renters who couldn't care less, and residents with "questionable" home improvement skills and plans seem to thwart us at every turn.

    As for recycling, I don't think it has anything to do with where a person lives. I think making the decision to "bring back" an historic home automaically qualifies you as an activist to some degree -- you buck the conventional wisdom of moving to the 'burbs, you're making a statement. I think an "activist" is more likely to do he heavy lifting like recycling and composting. But, there are plenty of recyclers in certain suburban areas, too. After all, a lot of those folks are a lot like us, but just want to be able to put their kids in public school (sad but true).

  • corgilvr
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I ran down the junk man this morning because I couldn't stand to see good stuff go to the dump. While my house may have materials that are now thought to be dangerous, I'll continue to restore my old windows and repair my slate roof instead of buying new replacements that will not outlast the repairs. I am cautious with paint removal and disposal.

    I am sanding old floors with a great machine that collects all visible dust and using tung oil to finish. I rent it, so one machine can serve many. What is used to fabricate all that engineered wood flooring? Can it be burned greenly?

    I hope that the efforts I am making now will last my lifetime. The next stewards will have to decide how "green" I was.

  • Ina Plassa_travis
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    this is the mindset of the nebbishes who put up asbestos siding over hundred year old clapboard or shingle-sided homes, tore slate roofs off for asphalt shingles (or courrogated steel in one case) in our neighborhood, and the putzes who slapped up masonite-with-picture-of-wood paneling over hard plaster walls, and the laid vinyl roll goods in the BEDROOMS for a 'modern look'.

    this is the mindset of the people who tossed their hand-constructed Tiffany lampshades in the trash when they fell out of style...

    grr! can you tell I'm still cleaning out the remuddle?

    Technology is not a love of mine-so I pick and choose what technology I use.

    electric can openers? piffle. not even my mom uses one- though I did get her a nicer, ergonomic model when she hit 70.

    love my home theater...loathe the idea of cable TV. love my MP3 player...hope never to get a cell phone.

    the house is drafty in places- mostly where they botched the aluminum siding install 40 years ago, and around the crappy 'new' windows- oddly enough, the hundred year old exterior doors are weather tight, but the 20 year old windows aren't even close.

    my brother has a modern house- well, 70's contruction, which was one of the 'greener' periods of history. it's 500 more sq ft than ours- and his utility bills are more than twice what ours are. part of that's his modern usage patterns- but part of that's the construction of the house, which sprawls, where ours is a neat little stack in a dull little style that's worked for 150 years :)

  • Frieda__IL
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    We bought a huge farmhouse that was built in 1887. At the time, the township really just wanted the house burned down because it had been neglected for years. We jacked it up, dug, and poured a new deeper foundation/basement and put the house back on. We also had the all 38 sets of windows restored. We heat with propane hot water heat and last year our total propane use was under $1,000. for the year. Not bad for a home that's over 4000 sq. ft. We build and buy real estate for a living and have never lived in a new home because we find the older homes more economical even with the renovations.

  • joed
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The reduse reuse philosophy of an old house is green.
    However if it has not upgraded with insulation, engery efficient windows, new heating system, low flow toilets and showers, it is very ungreen in the amount of energy being wasted from heating and cooling.

  • dayleann
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I am sitting here in the living room of my still somewhat decrepit 19th century house, which I bought last year. I bought it because I could afford it, and I could see the potential in the mess. And it is in a village I wanted to live in because it has a vision that people are working together to achieve.

    My house still needs a lot of work, but then I live in a neighborhood of houses that are nearly all "works in progress". The houses are sound, but many suffered from decades of neglect, due mostly to a combination of poverty and slumlordism.

    Some of the same folks still live here. They are good neighbores. Newer owners range from professional to working class, young families to retired people. We are patient with one another. We share a commitment to our neighborhood and to our community. We share our house stories with one another, and we are all proud to see our neighborhood becoming a street that people admire as they walk or drive down it.

    And yes, it is green. We are reclaiming not only our houses, but our community, and the environment around our community. This is "making do" with a creative vengeance!

    I've seen this same process in other neighborhoods in other cities. My daughter lives in a similar neighborhood in Portland, OR.

    Joed, the issue of "upgrading" with all those things" is not even the point. People do what they can as they can afford it. Yes, there are old houses that don't get fixed up. They are generally owned by people who can't afford it, or slumlords who don't care. That is another issue from what we are talking about. But even many of those houses do get weatherized through various programs. We need more of those, and we need, as communities, to include the poor in our "gentrification".

    My house had been owned by the same family for several generations, with each generation doing the best they could. Illness and subsequent poverty was the reason the house became so in need of help. But it had a new furnace, insulation throughout, and aluminum storm windows. Never mind that I hate those windows-- they work. And it was cared for, in spite of the needed repairs. The people who lived here did what they could. They only gave up when they were so overwhelmed they could not continue.

    By the way, they came to visit to see what I've done so far, and hear my plans. It made them happy to see their family home in the hands of someone who could do what they were unable to do. I don't have much money, and so things will take time. I prioritize-- new roof, new wiring, new plumbing last year. This year, repair water-damaged walls, replace some windows. Next year, paint job, do the kitchen, more windows. Year after that, redo floors, more windows...

    Oh, and I just found the perfect 5 foot cast-iron set-in tub with a left hand drain for my bathroom! It was in someone's barn. Freecycle scores again.

    Dayle Ann

  • Rudebekia
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Like others have expressed, I too am proud to be an urban pioneer--helping reclaim an urban area of gorgeous homes (in our case, 1910s-20s bungalows) and thereby doing our bit to reverse urban flight and protest the ever-increasing (and ugly) tract McMansions now dotting what used to be the countryside. To me, this is almost as green as it gets.

  • corgilvr
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Ditto and amen.

  • 33Cat
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I suppose it's not too green to have to haul half your house to the county dump, but if the previous (and original!)owners had just fixed the roof we wouldn't have had to. At least it was easier to rewire, update the plumbing, and insulate the entire place (not to mention repair all the studs that were water damaged)without the fiberboard walls. We are saving every single thing we can and replacing what we can't with versions that are better than what was here previously.

    Now if we could only afford those custom storms!