Archive for Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Couple look to steel for retirement home

November 20, 2002

For Bill and Mary Ward, the thrill is in the making.

When the Wards, who live about five miles northwest of Tonganoxie, decided they were ready for a new house, they decided to build it -- themselves.

The fact that they had never built a house before didn't deter them.

It wasn't their first choice. The Wards, who have been married for 42 years, looked into remodeling their existing home.

"We were going to have to spend about $50,000 on the old house back there," Bill Ward said, pointing to a 1950s ranch house nearby.

They were mulling that over when they learned about steel houses made from kits. For about $35,000, they could buy the supplies for a house that they'd build themselves. They already had the spot picked out, about 20 feet in front of their existing home.

What the heck, they decided. There wasn't any hurry, and they had a house to live in while they worked on their new home.

Bill, who is retired from Quaker Oats, would have time to work on the new house. And Mary, retired from the University of Kansas Medical Center, could help.

So the Wards dialed a toll-free number they saw in a magazine advertisement and called for a catalog. After selecting the 1,500-square-foot home they wanted, they placed an order.

By July 2001, the foundation was dug and the Wards were ready to go to work.

The sheer number of the pieces of the house was daunting.

The kit came with 18,000 screws and bolts.

"It was kind of overwhelming to see all the stuff laying out there," Mary said.

Bill, who calls Mary "Mick," said the two have joked about the amount of work the house entails.

"If I had $5 for every time Mick said, 'you can't do that,' I would have enough money to pay for somebody to build the house and we'd have enough money left to go on vacation," Bill said.

The couple worked on the house during the summer and fall of 2001, then rested over the winter and took it up again in the summer of 2002. By September, the framing was nearly complete.

Currently, the garage is about half roofed.

"If we could get the roof and sides up, we could work inside during the winter," Mary said. "But I don't know if we'll get the siding on before winter sets in or not."

The Wards said they hope to move into their new home by next fall. When done, the house will include three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, living, dining and utility areas, as well as a two-car garage.

The one-story home, which will be entirely handicapped accessible, will have a red steel roof, white steel siding and red steel shutters. The only wood in the home will be the sub-flooring.

The Wards realize they're taking the long way about building a house. They say a crew of six could have built it in about 40 days.

But they enjoy the teamwork.

"It seems like we're going slow," Mary said. "But it's just mainly one person doing it. If you'd have two or three people doing it, it could really go a lot faster."

On a recent Saturday morning, Bill stood on a ladder while Mary handed him the parts he needed. Health problems alone have held back their progress.

"He's got emphysema, so we don't go as fast as we could," Mary said.

And, there's other important things to do.

Bill said he was working at the house site all the time, but added with a wink, "If I'm not in town drinking coffee."

As they looked over their directions, deciding what to do next, Bill paused, looked at his larger-than-life model kit and said, "If nothing else, it's fun."

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