Preparing a Historic Home for the Next 100 Years

September 2014
by Paul Eldrenkamp

We're passionate about fixing older homes. Most if not all of our projects could be summed up as follows: we adapted a dated, inefficient, and dysfunctional, but otherwise solidly-built home to meet the needs of its 21st century occupants.

But what does it mean to prepare a house for the 21st century? And how do we do it? Occasionally a project comes along that offers a unique opportunity to address these questions in detail—by reflecting on how we came up with the plans, how we executed those plans, and the challenges we faced along the way in balancing the imperatives of preservation and adaptation.

Over the next several months we will share the story of one such project: a tired and worn century-old colonial that will become a net-zero energy home. Once we’re done, the house will have all new windows, siding, roofing, bathrooms, kitchen, heating, cooling, and ventilation. It will also have 4”of added insulation on the exterior walls and 6” of added insulation on the roof—plus 35 PV panels on the roof to generate all the energy the home needs, averaged over the course of a year. And it will have all this with the blessing of the town's historic commission.

Our clients are committed to this home for the long-term. They want to upgrade it so that they won’t really have to think about it again—and will be able to spend the next few decades there virtually maintenance-free, with extremely low operating costs, and in comfortable, pleasant, easy-to-live-in spaces. Part of that comfort comes from knowing that the house will have a very small carbon footprint—about as small as you can get in a house in suburban Boston.

It’s been quite a process to get this project ready to build, but it’s now underway and the work is expected to be completed late this coming winter. In blog posts to come, we’ll take you through the planning and construction process, giving you a behind-the-scenes sense of what it takes to turn an early 20th century environmental liability into a 21st century asset.

This is the 1st in a series of posts about this project. The other posts are Planning for Net Zero Energy, and Operating at Net Zero Energy.