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Hill Home Gets Green Makeover

Remodel Has Energy Efficiency in Mind

Stephen Young’s 140-year-old home in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood is getting a facelift.

But it is not just a fresh coat of paint or some flowers on the front lawn. In a matter of weeks, the home will feature thermoplastic polyolefin membrane roofing, a five-inch layer of polyisocyanurate insulation and recycled-content titles.

Basically, Young’s house is going to be environmentally friendly.

“One of my highest priorities is to reduce my impact on the globe, and the best way to do that is to reduce the amount of resources you consume,” Young said. “The house was never a nice house, even when it was built, it was sort of a functional house. The priorities were to make it a nicer house while also making it have a lower impact on the world.”

The remodeling project is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America retrofit program, which develops partnerships with public and private companies in an attempt to create more energy-efficient homes.

“There’s a need to focus on buildings and making [them] more efficient, because our resources are not limitless,” said Bambi Tran, project manager for Steven Winter Associates, a firm working on the project. “There is technology nowadays that can help us better our practices.”

The house is serving as a demonstration to show that homes can be renovated in an “energy efficient and environmentally responsible” fashion, Tran said.

Construction is expected to be completed by July.

The Consortium for Advanced Residential Buildings, a team of designers, home builders and product manufacturers who want to create more energy efficient homes, is also taking part in the project. Part of the construction on the house is being completed by volunteers for GreenHOME, a nonprofit group that seeks to demonstrate the benefits of urban “green” housing.

Young, a GreenHOME volunteer, got in touch with Tran and Steven Winter Associates through his contacts with the group, he said. From there, the project began.

“They are trying to demonstrate that this can be done,” Young said. “This is what I would have done on my own. I am just fortunate enough to be working with Bambi and her firm.”

The budget for the project is about $80,000, Tran said, although she added not all the renovations are being made specifically for “green” concerns. (Young is making one of his bathrooms bigger, for example.)

Nonetheless, the changes are expected to save Young about $230 a month in his electric and gas bills.

Several modifications are being made to the house. The team is adding a layer of insulation to the home, which will allow heat to be absorbed and transfer it to the house, Tran said.

Radiant floor heating is also being added. Here, pipes are installed in the floor, embedded in an aluminum reflecting sheet and covered by the flooring surface. As hot water travels through the pipes, the heat radiates up into the room, heating surfaces, not the air.

“It’s a more comfortable heat,” Tran said.

Young is also planning on facing the humid Washington summer without air conditioning. In its place, the team has installed a skylight that will bring in natural ventilation, cut the use of electrical lighting and allow hot air to be released from the house in the summertime.

Despite all the new commodities, many of the house’s original components are being used in the renovation. This has made the process more complicated, because many of the construction workers involved naturally want to use new products, Young said.

Another concern is the home’s location on Independence Avenue in the Capitol Hill historic district. Builders had to make sure the renovations complied with city guidelines for the preservation of historic buildings, which state that the parts of the building visible from the street must maintain the home’s original character.

The building team has made sure the renovation kept that character and followed guidelines. For example, while the house is getting new windows, the windows will keep to the same basic design and use suitable materials.

“You can do a good energy-efficient and environmentally responsible remodel job in a historic house,” Tran said.

Officials at the city’s Historic Preservation Office work hard with homeowners like Young to ensure their wishes are met, said Emily Paulus, an architectural historian for the office.

“We’re pretty flexible with what you can and cannot do,” she said. “Our office and our board has approved some really modern, contemporary additions.”

Nancy Metzger, the chairwoman of the historic preservation committee for the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, said the group welcomes Young’s efforts.

“Anything that you can do, those kinds of things that will adapt it for his use, but also help with energy efficiency … it’s great,” she said. “That’s a win-win situation.”

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