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100-Year-Old Home Enters 21st Century Better Than New

An unusual mix of green building underpinnings and old-fashioned charm, a graceful, 100-year-old home on a leafy street in downtown Durham, N.C., by designer and builder Randy Lanou will be one of the stops on this year’s Green Home and Technology Tour during the NAHB National Green Building Conference in Raleigh May 16-18.

Studio B Architecture and BuildSense were hired by the home’s owner, who purchased it in a “down-in-the-mouth” state. “It was quite a lovely house, nicely proportioned, with nice-size rooms, but it had been butchered into three apartments with unsympathetic additions in the back,” Lanou said.

It was initially planned to turn the home into two apartments, but the additions were in poor shape, and even if they could have been repaired and rebuilt, it was decided that they detracted too much from the home’s character.

Instead, the owner decided to return the home to its original 1910 footprint — with energy-efficient and sustainable updates and additions to bring it into the 21st century.

“One of the reasons she chose our firm is how we operate,” said Lanou. “We build certified, sustainable houses. We present options and talk about the cost and value of each choice, and the owner ultimately makes the call.”

The project required the original building to be pretty much gutted. “A good portion of it was reframed for strength or for structural repair,” he said. “We also lifted it up 8 inches and installed a new foundation. It’s about as far as you can go with a renovation and not build a new house.”

In the redesign, Lanou also opened up the kitchen to the dining room to make the dining space more generous and contemporary. Upstairs, space was borrowed from one of three large bedrooms to create a master suite with a bath and walk-in closet.

Along the way, the builders carefully saved the original flooring, interior doors and trim to eventually be reused in the renovated home. Even the bricks from the old foundation were removed and cleaned before they were used to build the new one. “It was more expensive than buying new bricks, but it feels right, and the owner was okay with doing that,” he said.

Salvageable siding and framing lumber from the original home and the later additions were also used again. Leftovers were recycled or taken to the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

The builders also invested a great deal of effort in providing the home with the latest green features.

“The original home had never been insulated,” said Lanou. “We used spray foam insulation and did the roof deck too, so the attic is closed and insulated. We also closed and insulated the crawlspace, which makes a huge difference for health, environmental quality and efficiency. All the mechanical systems are inside the conditioned space, so if you get a little leakage, it’s leaking inside the thermal envelope,” he said.

The home features low-emissivity, Argon-filled windows, an Energy Star sealing package, high-efficiency light fixtures,  WaterSense-labeled low-flow plumbing fixtures, and a parallel pipe manifold plumbing system that dispenses hot water quickly — reducing waste. “You repeat that small savings five or 10 times a day, and that’s a big deal,” Lanou said.

None of the paints or sealants contains organic electric compounds and the home has a new high-tech ventilation system to improve its indoor air quality. “I have this sense that a lot of folks might understand green building to be about helping the environment and reducing green house gases, but the piece that is missing is: why are they more comfortable? Why are they spending 200 bucks less a month on their energy and water bills? You can use the money you save to build a better house,” he said.

“Some of the easiest things to do, people don’t immediately understand the benefits to them, and that’s what these green tours are about — understanding the immediate value of making these choices,” Lanou said. “My less-than-scientific survey is that people want to benefit their families immediately,” and that’s why energy savings and a potentially healthier environment are great selling points for green.

One of the first things that builders will notice about the extensive rehab project, he said, “is that it’s a classic old house and it feels like one except it doesn’t have a four-inch dip in the floor anymore” or other problems that were apparent in the run-down original, he said.

“It’s straight and true, and it has character and history and the feel of the house when it was originally made. When you walk in, you don’t feel all the technical stuff that went into making the attic and crawlspace and the other improvements, and that’s what it ‘s supposed to be,” Lanou said. “We took it back to a classic house but it’s one with a 21st-century thermal envelope and mechanical system.”

For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.

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