Going Retro: 1950s Ranch Gets An Energy Efficiency Makeover

Going Retro: 1950s Ranch Gets An Energy Efficiency Makeover

Eyebrows raise when Hank DeGroat refers to his 1950s-style Ranch house as a "sweet Porsche." Ranches may be icons of Americana, and they certainly have their fans, but a Porsche? We spoke with first-time homeowners Hank and Emily DeGroat, and Byggmeister Energy Specialist Kerry Koskinen to find out what has them so revved up about their Framingham house after completing a Byggmeister energy retrofit.

What attracted you to this house in particular?

Emily: Before buying, we rented a big house in Newton that was huge and drafty. It cost us $600 a month to heat and it still wasn't warm. We decided we wanted a small, basic house we could heat inexpensively. We liked the [Framingham] neighborhood, the price and that this house was big enough for our parents to stay over but not so big it added stress to our lives.

Wasn't undertaking a renovation project stressful? Did you know what you were getting into?

Emily: We knew we had to replace windows and siding, that there was some termite damage. And, before we bought it, we brought Paul [Eldrenkamp] over and he was so excited about the possibilities. He told us we could do a total energy retrofit and because the house is south facing, we could even add solar panels in the future to really reduce the energy we took from the grid. Hank thought it would be great to show that we could actually cut down on our energy usage in a basic little house with nothing fancy.

How did the energy retrofit figure into your renovation budget?

Hank: We told Paul that we had a fixed budget and we meant it. There was no more money. Then he told us about NSTAR energy efficiency grants. He knew exactly what they would fund, what they'd be looking for us to do to make the house efficient. The retrofit made a huge amount of sense and we needed to do this stuff anyway, but with the NSTAR grant we were able to take it to the next level because it paid for one third of the project. We could go from a nice house to a sweet house!

Emily: We kind of jumped in with both feet and joked 'In Paul we trust.'

Hank: Once the Byggmeister crew got going it all fell into place. It wasn't months and extra tens of thousands of dollars. We didn't' have any worry that it would cost more than Paul said it would. We felt we were buying piece of mind and professionalism on top of energy efficiency.

What did the energy retrofit entail?

Kerry: The gist of the project was to make the house as air tight as possible. We removed the siding and windows and before replacing them we applied four-inch board insulation underneath. We blew cellulous insulation into the walls and the attic to really seal that up. The basement needed to be insulated for the NSTAR piece as well, and the DeGroats were able to do that themselves. We also tore out the oil-fired heating system because it wasn't working properly. They are all electric now which will work with a solar power system when they do that phase.

The family, including two small children lived in the house during all this. How did that go?

Kerry: It involved a lot of plastic and vacuuming.

Hank: Kerry set the bar for professionalism so high. The crew would move things and put up barriers to control the dust. Kerry would even take pictures of what the room looked like and put everything back exactly. If you didn't know they had been there, you couldn't tell.

Emily: We called them 'carpentry Ninjas!'

What do you think made the biggest impact?

Hank: You can feel the quality of our living space. We don't have drafts anywhere. We have fresh air being pumped into every room with a heat-exchange ventilation system and you can sit by any window in the dead of winter and not feel any cold. Lots of people want crown molding and granite counter tops, but who knew the real value is in insulation? I love telling people it cost me $400 to heat my four-bedroom house this year.

Do you ever wish you had bought a new home instead?

Hank: Never. We would have paid more and not really known what we were getting. We know everything about this house and that the work has been done right. We still have some esthetics to take care of, but this house will do right by us for 20, 30 years or more. I refer to it as a 'sweet Porsche.' The seats are a little ripped up and it needs a paint job, but open it up and it's all quality.