If You Buy A House in Vermont (PART 2 of 2)

There’s a popular children’s book called “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” The premise is: if you give a mouse a cookie, chances are he’s going to want a glass of milk to go with it…and before long, offering that mouse one simple cookie has resulted in some sort of complicated scenario. Our girls happen to love this book (and all the other books in the series, which follow the same premise), and it’s always struck me as offering a fairly realistic view of life. We make one “simple” choice which touches off a series of events, and life is changed forever. So here, with apologies to “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” is what I’ve learned after 6 months regarding…


If you buy a house in Vermont, chances are you’re going to want a house that offers an “authentic” Vermont experience. What passes as “authentic” may differ slightly from person to person, but generally follows the words spoken by a local realtor to some friends of ours: “You don’t move to Vermont to live in a suburban subdivision.”

You will look at 11 houses during a 3-day period in March (having taken the red-eye from San Francisco accompanied by your 5-week-old daughter), and will select a beautiful house in the woods. A house surrounded by trees, with views of the Green Mountains, but from which you can still see neighbors’ houses when the leaves are off the trees. Compared to almost every other house you’ve seen, this house is definitively not a “fixer-upper.” You can picture your children running freely through its rooms and climbing on the rocks that line the yard. You will never, ever need more house than this. You may even, in your sleep-deprived state, refer to this house as your “dream house.”

If you buy a house in the woods in Vermont, chances are that on your first or second night you will hear bumps in the night. Bumps and scratching the pitter-patter of little feet that don’t happen to belong to your daughters. You will find mice droppings everywhere, and wonder why you’re surprised since you do, in fact, live in the woods. (The real woods, not a suburban subdivision that happens to feature trees). Nonetheless, you will deem it prudent to call a pest-control expert.

Bumps in the night not provided by this child...
...or this child...
...or this child. (NOTE: These past 3 pictures were unnecessary but were put here to appease the grandparents, since there will not be many photos of the girls in this post. Also, they're a lot cuter than the actual mice).

The pest-control expert will mention your roof, which is quaintly covered by aging cedar shingles. Mossy, 22-year-old cedar shingles that were given the okay by the inspector but which you did expect to replace… in 5 years or so. Apparently, rodents fail to see any distinction between your roof and a tree.

If you buy a house with cedar shingles in the woods in Vermont, chances are you will also begin to notice signs of past leaks. Signs that you’d failed to notice when you fell in love with your “dream house,” like the water stains on the ceiling. You deem it prudent to call in some roofers for their opinion. Over the course of several months, 6 different roofers will tell you that your roof needs to be replaced immediately, before winter sets in.

The old roof, in process.

The contractor you ultimately hire to replace your roof will find 4 mice nests, one red squirrel nest, and a family of bats living over the garage. Which does explain the bumps in the night.

He will also point out that your house needs a complete exterior paint job in the spring.

The new roof! With a little view of the failing exterior paint.

If you buy a house in the woods in Vermont, chances are you will not be close enough to town to have access to municipal water or sewer. This means that you will have a septic tank under your yard, the functionality of which will keep your husband awake nights. You will get your water from a well dug 150 feet beneath your yard, operated by an electric pump. You will lose electricity for 12 hours during the first summer thunderstorm, and quickly realize that no electricity means no water. No water, with 5 people in the house, 3 of whom are young children, is not a good thing. You hear stories from the neighbors of losing electricity for over a week. During the winter, with subzero temperatures and possibly hazardous road conditions, this could be dangerous. You also hear the hum of your neighbors’ generators. You wonder why the previous owners never got a generator.

You deem it prudent to buy a generator.

The new generator.

If you buy a house in Vermont, chances are it will soon enough begin to get cold outside. You will want to heat your house. Because you are in rural/small town Vermont, natural gas is not an option; they don’t run the pipes through here. Your heat is called “forced hot water,” which runs off of fuel oil. Once a month, a big fuel truck pulls into your driveway and runs a pump to fill up the fuel tank in your basement. It costs $1,000 to fill the entire tank; to keep the inside temperature at 61 degrees requires half a tank per month. You do the math.

After a couple months of nauseating fuel bills, you begin to notice the smoke from your neighbors’ wood stoves. You and your husband talk to the friends and colleagues who heat their homes with wood stoves, which turns out to be just about everyone you know. When questioned, these people get a maniacal gleam in their eyes and speak about their wood stoves with the type of love usually reserved for spouses or children. Emotion aside, they all mention how wood stoves allow them to completely turn off or at least significantly reduce their dependence on fuel.

You wonder why the previous owners never got a wood stove.

You deem it prudent to buy a wood stove.

The new wood stove.

Admittedly, the wood stove is a great addition to the family. Your daughters love the wood stove instantly, name it “Woody,” and spend many hours doing things like this:

You husband feels very manly now that his duties have expanded to include the daily lighting of fires and the hauling and stacking of wood. BUT…

If you buy a wood stove for your house in Vermont, chances are you’re going to need some wood to go with it. About 3-4 cords worth…. (The total wood pictured below is 1 cord’s worth).

Wood waiting to be stacked.
Some wood successfully stacked.
Some more stacked wood.

And that, my friends, is how your “dream house” in Vermont can become:

In case this post seems overly negative, I  want to clarify that we DO love our house and are grateful for it every single day. It’s kind of like a kid; you don’t ever love changing stinky diapers, but you don’t love your kids less because you have to change their diapers — and some might argue that you love them more. Well, that’s how it is with the house, too. Or perhaps more basically, we’ve put a lot of stinkin’ work into this place, so there’s no way we’re leaving anytime soon!

5 thoughts on “If You Buy A House in Vermont (PART 2 of 2)

  1. Hee Won

    Ahh, “The Money Pit” … what a great movie. This was a quite an entertaining read (perhaps slightly less entertaining to have lived through it). We miss you guys!

  2. amy rakowski

    Faith – Love your post especially about the expense of filling the oil tank. We should talk. We’re considering a pellet stove next year … The stacking of wood and subsequent tarps have been a ‘discussion’ in our household. I’m learning to wear more layers. Look forward to seeing you soon! – Amy

  3. Pingback: Trapped! « THE PICKLE PATCH

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