Lesson 1. Donating a House


We purchased the property in the summer of 2010.  This is what it looked like:

There was really no way of saving it.  This house sat on a charming, pristine, tree-lined street in Arlington.  We thought this is a great property to redevelop.  There was no question about tearing it down.  One of our friends heard that you could donate tear-down homes to the fire department for training exercises.  We thought, “great! if we are going to get rid of it, we might as well do something useful in the process.”  We called the Arlington FD to donate it.  They were very happy to get a house to train in.

The FD told me they will probably not burn the house due to the closeness of the houses in Arlington.  It was about one week before the actual exercise, they told me that they plan to burn the house, but “just a small portion of it”.  I thought maybe they can just burn a small portion of the attic or something.  I asked two questions: 1. Do you have permits to burn?  2. Do I need to contact the neighbors?  They told me a permit was pulled and they will contact the neighbors.

At the appointed time I showed up as a spectator and of course as the homeowner.  The street was blocked off and the entire neighborhood was out.  I spoke with several neighbors and found out that they had just been notified of the burning 16 hours before!  I was quite shocked by this.  One of the neighbors asked me if I got the TV crew to come.  I asked, “what TV crew?”  There was a camera crew which I thought were just part of the FD filming it for training purposes on site getting ready to film. I spoke with the FD and was told that they were a national network news team filming the burning as part of their October fire safety month program.  I was a little disturbed that no one in the FD let me know about this or asked my permission to film but I kept quiet.  I do believe in fire safety and was hoping the program will benefit from this.

Here’s the footage of the burning that I filmed: http://youtu.be/-yBqV_wbZtQ

When it was all done. I asked the FD if I needed to do anything to secure the house.  They told me they will take care of it.  I waited around to see what they do to secure it.  When I saw a truck pull up with a bunch of OSB boards, I felt good that they were going to board up the place and left.

The very next day, this was posted on a local blog:http://www.arlnow.com/2010/10/19/house-to-go-up-in-flames-for-tv-show/  I commented that I had no knowledge that CBS was filming the burn and it wasn’t burned “for TV”.  Then I heard that the neighborhood got together and petitioned that the FD never burn in Barcroft again.

With some much negative ramifications that resulted from this.  We decided that we needed to move our demolition permit ahead of schedule.  Truth be told, after the burning, the boarded house was more secure than the state that it was in pre-burning with most windows broken (the house was in this state for years).  However, we knew neighbors probably didn’t want to live next to a burn-out house, we decided to make a separate demolition permit application ahead of our building permit application.  At the time we were about three months away from finishing up with the design.  The demolition permit still took about 2 months to get.  We removed the house as quickly as we could.  We also had to excavate out the old basement foundation, which left a large hole on the lot.  We did neglect to fence off the lot for a few weeks.  However, as soon as one of the neighbors voiced his concern, we installed a fence to secure the lot.

During all this time, we completed out designs and submitted our building permit application for plan review.  The process took another 2 months.

Lessons learned:

1. Donating a house is fine but make sure they agree to NOT burn it

2. Always be sure to secure the site

3. Talk to neighbors

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