Drey Ward and Nate Gusakov
When people think of efficient design and green building, they often think of ‘right sized’ buildings that are modestly scaled, have relevant rooms that can serve multiple functions each, are economically sustainable, and based on universal design for ease of use over time. Homes that maximize efficiency typically come in smaller packages. But what if your program requires a larger space and you still want to be environmentally respectful? Does one necessarily negate the other? What if your project includes the repurposing of an existing space? In Vermont, we have a lot of existing housing stock that does not meet current efficiency expectations. What is the responsible thing to do with these buildings? Do you get green points for reusing and recycling or would demolition be a wise choice? Is it possible, in some cases, to walk the tightrope between satisfying a client’s need for space (and lots of it!) while also paying attention to sustainability?
Silver Maple Construction (SMC) had the unique opportunity to work on a Rutland Victorian of approximately 10,000 square feet, transforming it from its original rambling, leaky splendor into an efficient space that could house a new community of residents. The client wanted to respect the home, and its original aesthetic while meeting very specific programmatic requirements so that future residents will feel safe, comfortable, and motivated to live within the beautiful spaces that would be their home.
To that end, SMC worked diligently with Gregor Masefield (of Studio III Architects) and the client to first demolish and preserve and then rebuild. The new space had to meet commercial code requirements while remaining welcoming, efficient, and healthy. This necessitated demolition to the studs (and sometimes beyond, given rot conditions and pest damage) and full renovation, including: new steel beams for structure, a new foundation, wiring, a sprinkler system and plumbing, whole-house ERV ventilation system, all new windows and doors (U-0.28 or better), and a high-efficiency natural gas boiler that feeds low-temperature baseboard and other radiating features.
The owner’s project requirements called for insulation values that meet or exceed VT Building Energy Standard minimums, and the design features full-depth insulation (closed-cell spray foam or cellulose) in the existing wall cavities coupled with R-12 rigid continuous insulation outside the sheathing. With a space as large and complex as this one, creating an excellent air barrier can be a real challenge. SMC workers paid close attention to detail when installing tapes, wraps, and sealants, and their work paid off – the building measured 2.01 ACH50 (a measure of how “tight” or leaky the building is) when their work was done! VT Code simply requires less than 3 ACH50, however the project team wanted to do better,so they also brought in Zone 6 Energy to install AeroBarrier and achieve as tight an envelope as possible. Post AeroBarrier, air leakage readings fell to 0.46 ACH50 which is a further 77.1% reduction in building-envelope leakage and exceeds the Passive House standard of 0.6 ACH50.
Finish selections reflect the client’s vision that the main floor of the house be a modern interpretation that embraces the ornate details of a traditional Victorian. Custom minimalist cabinetry, provided by The Woodworks, shares space with arched openings, elaborate crown molding, herringbone flooring, window seats, and ornate tile. Two small sunrooms offer residents a sunny outside/in or inside/out space to experience a treehouse-like ambiance while protected from the elements. The second level becomes less formal while preserving some of the unique elements original to the home including restored mantles. Each staircase received a unique railing that recalls grand entrances or joyful races to the top. The third floor, nestled against the peaks and valleys of the roof line, evokes an austere aesthetic with playful angles of metal, glass, wood, and light for a feeling of surprise and delight – as if the space is at once integral to and completely apart from the whole.
Interior design finishes, achieved in collaboration with Christine Burdick Design, unify the home with texture, light, comfort, and durability since, after all, this is a commercial space. Two guest rooms and their shared bath with laundry are ADA compliant, so the building is accessible to a wide range of abilities.
So, did we do it? Were we able to meet the client’s program while maintaining green integrity? Is it possible to create a new space from an old one and to transform a lovely old rambling Victorian into a healthy, efficient community home? We believe it is, and we believe we did. While we advocate for smaller, efficient spaces in the interest of reducing building costs, materials, impact on the environment, and demand on limited resources, we also recognize that “large” does not always mean wasteful; there is value in upgrading existing housing stock, and it is possible to balance a client’s desire for plentiful space and bespoke details with sustainability and efficient choices.
Drey Ward and Nate Gusakov are multi-hatted employees of Silver Maple Construction. Nate is a talented carpenter and a skilled musician. Drey does not build or play an instrument but can do other things.
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