Thursday, September 29, 2016

Out of Sight, Out of Pocket: Frank Lloyd Wright's Folly

When you spend a pile of money on something, like a beautiful deck, a dazzling piece of custom jewelry or a sleek, new Mercedes convertible,
you feel good about it. Sure, it sets you back a little, maybe a lot. But you can take great pleasure and pride in it, a sense of satisfaction. An added bonus might be when neighbors or friends say, “Looks great,” or “Way to go.” It’s always gratifying to be admired for your good taste. Bottom line, though, is how good that purchase makes you feel.
We had our driveway sealed last year. No big deal, just a lot of thick, black stuff spread around. But every morning for a couple of weeks I’d look out from our kitchen window and think, “Wow, my driveway really looks great.”  Then tire tracks, dead leaves, and bird droppings took their toll and I stopped looking.
Not all major expenses, however, bring a similar sense of satisfaction. Not even close. The best they seem to offer is to lower your stress level. I’m talking about a furnace and a roof. These are both rather large expenses. “Investments” they’re called, partially to make you feel wise. We had a new furnace installed about four years ago. The original furnace was almost 25 years old. It rattled, strained, made strange noises in the dead of winter. As January temperatures dropped below 30 degrees, my fear factor would rise. “Maybe it’ll quit working in the middle of the night and I’ll freeze to death.” Not a comforting thought as you try to fall asleep.
Our new furnace is quietly efficient. I don’t know how that translates into B.T.U.’s, but I no longer worry about dire forecasts of “morning lows near zero.” We even bought a new thermostat to assure that efficiency. At least that’s what the furnace guy told me. However, when I have friends over, I don’t feel the need to take them down to the basement to see my new Trane. After all, you can expect only so much enthusiasm from friends.

My new roof is a more recent “investment.” Our house is a one-story, mid-century contemporary home with a flat roof. It was designed by an architect who studied at Frank Lloyd Wright’s institute in Scottsdale. Unfortunately he incorporated one of Wright’s trademarks: the flat roof. Not a great concept for the thunderstorm belt. (A word to the wise: Don’t buy a flat-roof house unless it’s in Death Valley.)

I had reached the point where I dreaded a forecast of heavy rain. When I was a kid, I’d like to sit by the window in my room and read Batman and Captain Marvel comics while listening to the rain. That was then. Now I looked at dark clouds in the west with foreboding. During a storm, I’d walk around the house, stare at the ceiling for damp spots, drips and stains. I’d listen to the rain pound the skylights and wonder where the water was going. With all the storms we had in August, I lived in a constant state of anxiety. 
The fear was well founded. Two years ago we developed a leak in our bathroom ceiling. Sometimes the dripping wouldn’t show up until two days after the rain. We had roofers put on a patch, seal the skylights, clean the drains. Nothing worked. I began to think the house was cursed. Our roof looked like a crazy quilt.

Now we have a new roof. But I can’t see it. Unless I climb a ladder or fly over in a helicopter. It is, for most purposes, invisible. And expensive. For the price of the roof, Mary Lee and I could have spent 2 weeks in Italy, plus I could be driving a new convertible (not a Mercedes, though). I’m convinced Wright had a sweetheart deal with roofing contractors. But at least now I can relax when the forecast calls for thunderstorms. I can watch dark clouds roll this way without feeling doomed. But I may never break the habit of looking at the ceiling.


  1. Gerry--Just last month we got a new roof, on a house built in the 1960s, designed by a follower of Frank Llyoyd NotWright... The new roof is taking care of a leak we've had for a long time.

    May we celebrate--together--the end of drips and the need for pails...

  2. Flat roofs are a headache, We had one at school, and it leaked all
    the time. Glad yours is repaired. Now pull out a comic book, sit by the window and read when it rains.