Yak Shaving in the Craft Room

43 thoughts on “Yak Shaving in the Craft Room”

  1. Related, or at least semi related, to the yak shaving idea that these things balloon hugely.
    “In 2004, a neighborhood resident, Helene Schpak, decided the transit island needed a bus shelter.

    There would have to be new curb cuts to make the site wheelchair-accessible. A gas line had to be rerouted, and the maze of electrical wiring that connected all the stoplights had to be put into utility boxes above ground. Pedestrian walkways would be moved to make room for bicycle parking, and the surrounding grass and trees replaced by drought-tolerant shrubs and bricks. The budget ballooned to $190,000, then $237,500, up to $630,000, before the final construction cost was set at $352,470. 63 “That’s a hell of a lot of money for something that we thought was simple,” Schpak said. “It started out as a $10,000 idea. And it went on from there.””

    Actually, maybe more related to the well replacement project at the rental house.

    Anyway, in case you hadn’t seen it, it’s from this nice article about street shade in Los Angeles as a public good: https://placesjournal.org/article/shade-an-urban-design-mandate

    Hat tip to marginal revolution for the link

    1. Yes, I saw Kirsten’s video about the ADU situation in Clovis. I know of many towns that have similar pilot programs. They tend to encounter local push-back and are often burdened by endless rules, administrative fees, and the general high cost of construction relative to market rate rents. I looked in to it myself and decided not to move forward.

  2. This got me on to the housing market here in San Francisco. The entire city is one huge construction site. Every parking lot, aging gas station, defunct car wash, and dilapidated warehouse is being pressed in to service as a two hundred unit apartment or condo complex

    This is an interesting perception because the rate of construction in SF only increased the housing supply by 0.7% in 2018, which is exactly the rate of population increase in the US, and only one-tenth of the construction rate during Chicago’s growth in the last few decades of the nineteenth century. How is it that a status quo rate of construction is perceived as being a huge construction site?

    1. There are statistics and there are everyday perceptions. As I walk and bike around my neighborhood and travel to see friends and go to work I see construction everywhere. Is it enough? Is it too much? Is it the right kind? I don’t know. I will say that a substantial amount is renovations to existing properties. In many cases (I’ve written about a few) these renovations take multi-unit buildings and convert then to single family… Blog posts to come.

    2. Probably most of SF can’t be built on because of restricted zoning, so there’s a fair amount of construction in the places where it’s actually allowed.

  3. One thing I don’t understand since I live in different part of the country: What would happen if I, Joe Homeowner, decided buy an electric stove and install it into the counter instead of using the induction cooktop? Would it make the home harder to resell?

    1. There are a variety of bad outcomes here.

      To start with, if there were ever a fire or other accident (even if it didn’t necessarily involve the illegal stove) Joe Homeowner would be on the hook for the damage. The narrative would go directly to “evil slumlord endangering the public” etc. Plus the authorities would then be alerted to the fact that you were operating an illegal rental and they’d come after you for back taxes, fines, etc.

      People absolutely do create illegal apartments that violate all sorts of rules, but if you can do something that’s easier and legal why bother?

  4. This will not happen in most of the newer suburbs because of HOAs. It’s one thing to defy a distant and inattentive city planning office. Another thing entirely to defy the HOA when there are busy-body retirees patrolling your block on foot every day on their morning walks.

    1. I agree. But sometimes I think we ask the wrong questions.

      When I was a kid the retired folks I knew had modest paid off homes with their original vintage kitchens and “renovating the bath” meant buying new towels and shower curtains. Institutions were solvent then and expectations were lower.

      The entire population in today’s exclusive developments are more vulnerable than they think. Their investment portfolios and pension checks are less secure than they imagine. And tax law and creative accounting encourage leverage even at an advanced age. Reverse mortgages are a big thing right now. HOA rules will likely intensify as the fear of declining neighborhoods creates a panic environment.

      But in the end a lot of people are going to find themselves on the wrong side of a big pile of debt with unpleasant consequences.

  5. The housing market seems kind of like global warming. The planet will be fine, even if we cripple our ability to live on it. It may take a long time to get anything built now and add all sorts of costs, but after the market crash and debt and regulations bring it all down, we’ll be left with a whole lot of units for those around to pick up the pieces, kind of like how rust belt cities are so affordable partially because they were built to house a population that was multiple times larger than it is today.

  6. I live in a full sized house and cook all my meals but only use a portable benchtop hotplate and oven by choice.
    Full sized ovens are a waste of space and energy for one person especially.

  7. The next step is to take these workarounds in progressive cities to full thermonuclear cultural warfare.

    Build the commonly illegal duplex unit (fully compliant with building codes, but in violation of zoning) and rent it to a (pick your intersectional group of utmost oppression).

    Now, don’t hide that you are renting the unit and wait for a neighbor to complain and report you to code enforcement.

    When the city claims “we got a complaint from a neighbor”. You counter sue on discrimination grounds. You know we fought a civil war for “equal protection”.

      1. I loved the video so much that I shared it with Incdev friends when i saw it a few weeks ago.

        I’m a huge believer in your model of doing everything at the home scale. Single family housing is the Trojan Horse for sane development.

        I’m working on planning for the first house at my development: http://www.silverlandnevada.com

        The first house will have 1 kitchen but 4 separate 1 bedroom “suites” with a hell of a wet bar” and exterior entrances to each suite. The kitchen will be designed as a micro bakery which can operate under our “cottage foods” law in Nevada. Also the house will allow for a “home preschool” in an accessory 1 room school house. I’m setting up the infrastructure for a market farm that will produce vegetables for sale at market and to residents.

        Basically what I am trying to do is use the local development code as an all you can eat buffet. Everywhere in the chart that shows a “p” for permitted, I’m trying to implement that in my project to create a real mixed use rural village.

        1. I’m looking into purchasing a scratch and dent McMansion (so long as there’s no HOA) in the next market correction. Same Idea, but I don’t want to build anything new ever again.

          1. Yes. I don’t blame you on not wanting to build. I’m going to build this first house as a pilot to test the concept. I should be able to entitle up to 7 more houses. I may have an opportunity to build during the next recession when construction costs decrease dramatically. I’m a specialty trade contractor myself so I am making hay while the sun shines right now. Call it an anti fragile strategy.

            Regarding the McMansion…I like the idea of buying large houses or clusters of houses right next to elementary schools. I would break them into under the radar duplexes and triplexes and rent them to young families, especially if I could buy near a “good school” and offer the rentals as a back door way to promote school choice. A safe walk to school is a killer app for families. I would also try to overlay some additional services under the theme of childcare, shared meals, and free-play.

            I would love to hear more about your ideas on “thematic plays” on small development. You know, how many more brew pubs do we need?

            1. I’m pretty sure we’ve already reached Peak Brew Pub. The whole Live/Work/Play thing is reaching its crescendo right about now. The future is going to be about circling the wagons and solving pragmatic problems like keeping warm and dry and putting food on the table with reduced circumstances. Community is coming back while individualism is receding.

              Tell me about the water situation in Silverland.

              1. Water is idiosyncratic depending on the basin that you are in.

                This is next to Washoe Lake and the water table is already very high.

                Land came with a well that produces very good volume and quality is good.

                To create new parcels you must buy 2 acre feet per parcel of ground water rights from the same basin and then relinquish it to the state so that it can’t be stripped and sold off again. Cost per acre foot is $10k.

      2. Great video featuring a great (and sane) way to live. Brings to mind my early years back in the late ’30’s and through the ’40’s.

  8. Way out here in the hinterlands, we call it “combing a yak.” You start to untangle a hair, but in order to do that, you have to untangle another one first and in order to do that… 😀

  9. I’m a small scale developer engaging in my first project with this exact thesis. Our ability to continue with the project of western civilization hinges on fucking ovens.

    Mosey over to your local development code and check our the “definitions” section. The exciting words to look for are:


    “Family” is fun. You might find that they define it as “by blood, marriage, etc.” However ask the planning department how they actually enforce it and you may find that they have already been legally bitch slapped by defining family this way and will say “actually, any x number of unrelated adults is fine”.

    “Person” may be great too. If you remember all the hubbub about “corporate personhood” it may actually work to your advantage. Person is not necessarily a natural person, but may include “firms and organizations”. Hit any per person limits and I would suggest bundling folks as a single corporate person.

    “Kitchen” – well I defer to John Anderson’s “hell of a wet bar”. If they push back, I guarantee your local jurisdiction has approved some fancy housing on the “right side of the tracks” that has just such a wet bar in the billiards room, man cave, or pool house.

    1. I love John Anderson. In fact I’ll be in Atlanta in a couple of days and I’ll be exploring his new neighhood with the usual suspects.

      Legal personhood and occupancy parameters are tricky. My mom lives in an age restricted retirement community. A few of the older gentleman took on younger girlfriends and wives (often of the international mail order variety) and there was a dust up at the HOA. Do the authorities have the right to make you move or throw out your lady friend? Evidently yes. That’s the whole point of a retirement village. You agreed to the rules when you move in.

      1. That can be worked around. Put the kitchen next to an outside door. The 220V plug is for a welder, and the space where the stove sits is storage for your welder. Label the break “welder”. You can pick up a 220v welder that plugs into the same outlet as a stove for pretty cheap off craigslist, it wouldn’t hurt to have one sitting around just in case.

        Once the inspections pass your craft room can be used for crafts that need a welder or put a stove there.

        1. Yes and no. If an inspector ever stops by after you’ve switched from a welder to a stove the stove is a straight up violation. If there’s ever a fire or (God forbid) injuries or death) the violation voids your insurance and puts you in a position of extreme legal liability. Which takes me back to the toaster over, microwave, rice cooker, crockpot, portable induction cook top…

  10. How about plugging in a portable “toaster oven/broiler” in addition to the portable cooktop and microwave to make a complete kitchen, would that be verboten?

    1. Portable plug-in appliances are almost always legal. The cut off tends to be reached with things that are permanent like a gas connection or a thing that is recognizably an electric stove with a 220 plug.

  11. Where men once were craftsmen, they are now obliged to be crafty. Zoning compliance is our new craftwork. Future generations will savor the detailing the way we gaze upon classic wood inlays and tile work today.

    1. I could compare these creative work-arounds to any number of examples. SUVs were a response to stricter fuel efficiency standards from the oil shocks of the 1970s. Passenger cars were limited, but work vehicles for construction workers were not. So auto manufacturers created giant trucks with luxury features.

  12. I imagine there are quite a few ‘Craft Rooms’ happening in Portland these days – ‘quiet’ garage and attic conversions as well. I don’t live there anymore, but such were not uncommon back in the days when I did.
    Couldn’t help but notice the slight overhangs on the bldg. in the fourth pic following the opening text – with what appears to be a masonry facade yet – and in shakesville no less!!! WTF

    1. Engineers will claim that such precarious accidents-waiting-to-happen are safe because the masonry is a veneer that’s all part of a flexible panelized system – essentially a curtain wall mesh. And what are the alternatives? Plate glass? That’s not going to hurt when it falls from the sky. Stucco and chicken wire? A chunk of just about anything falling from five or six stories is basically a missile. Whatta ya donna do?

    2. Portland is legalizing mother-in-law apartments and accessory dwelling units so a lot different from what appears to be the case in SF. The bigger issue for some has been seeing big tax increases after building accessory dwellings.

      1. Why else do you think granny flats are being legalized? It’s part meeting the market demand for more housing and part revenue enhancement.

        I had the option of creating a legal ADU and decided not to. One primary concern is that I might spend a lot of money conforming to endless building codes and then discover that new rent control laws will make the investment less productive than expected. In other words, I might be servicing bank debt and tax collection more than earning rental income. And of course I would need to charge a really high rent rather than anything truly affordable.

  13. The current institutional systems and endemic culture of obstructionism can’t be reformed. They’ll eventually fail and be replaced by new institutions. That’s a long slow process. It’s possible that today’s rules and procedures will remain on the books for another century, but become increasingly irrelevant as the economy and population migrate to the next hot spot elsewhere.

    Go back to the 1970s and San Francisco – like New York and a lot of other legacy cities – was a cheap run down place that everyone had written off as a lost cause. The pendulum swings… and it will swing back again. Shrug.

    1. Yeah, that was Portland in the ’50’s and early-to-mid-’60’s – right around the time folks started noticing San Francisco.

  14. You’ll just have to wait for the next “big” earthquake to see it coming apart very fast. What no RE agent is EVER mentioning is the San Andreas Fault. Combine this with a severe drought and a couple of fires. It’s an artificial paradise bubble build upon quicksand.

    1. I’ve written about this underlying physical reality before. It’s actually the Hayward Fault that’s most likely to snap, although the San Andreas is better known by more people.

      You could say the same for Houston, or Vancouver, Atlanta, New York, London, Dubai, Singapore… All the great concentrations of wealth have built-in structural vulnerabilities. But then so do all the impoverished places. Fun!

      1. Yes, earthquake, sea level rise or overbearing heat. Pick your poison.

        I’m amazed it takes ten years for a permit, I thought we were bad in the UK but that is horrendous. Perhaps you need to graduate a few less lawyers and a few more architects.

        1. Oh dear. Not more architects. I’ll take extra lawyers over extra architects.

          It isn’t like America is lacking for knowledge of how to build good housing. There are plans galore for single family houses, fourplexes, cottages, shotgun houses, all adapted to their specific environmental context through centuries of experimentation. Adding architects will just tempt them to new experiments that will make things worse.

        2. Overbearing heat seems an obvious option, considering it takes about a quarter the energy to cool a house in Phoenix than to heat one in Chicago.

          1. But then you have the problem of water scarcity… Another poison. Large storage tanks in the back yard (I have 10,000 gallons myself) filled during the Phoenix monsoon season could help ride out temporary supply disruptions. But who actually really does this in Phoenix?

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