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CarMic House: Improving Indoor Air Quality

To renovate an old house that was occupied by dog owners, Step One is removing the smelly carpeting

Posted on Jul 11 2016 by Carri Beer and Michael Hindle

Editor's note: Carri Beer and Michael Hindle are renovating a 1954 house in Catonsville, Maryland. Hindle is a Certified Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. Consultant and owner of Passive to Positive. Beer is a registered architect who has been practicing sustainable architecture for 18 years. She is an associate principal with Brennan+Company Architects. For a list of the couple's posts, see the sidebar below.


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CarMic House: No, We Are Not Crazy

A Maryland couple defends their decision to renovate rather than tear down a 1954 house

Posted on May 10 2016 by Carri Beer and Michael Hindle

Editor's note: Carri Beer and Michael Hindle are renovating this 1954 house in Catonsville, Maryland. Hindle is a Certified Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. Consultant and owner of Passive to Positive. Beer is a registered architect who has been practicing sustainable architecture for 18 years. She is an associate principal with Brennan+Company Architects. The couple's first post about the project, Rebuilding a Mid-Century Dinosaur, was published on March 2.


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  1. Carri Beer and Michael Hindle

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Rebuilding a Mid-Century Dinosaur

An architect and Passive House consultant dive into a whole-house renovation

Posted on Mar 2 2016 by Carri Beer and Michael Hindle

Editor's note: Carri Beer and Michael Hindle are renovating this 1954 house in Catonsville, Maryland. Hindle is a Certified Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. Consultant and owner of Passive to Positive. Beer is a registered architect who has been practicing sustainable architecture for 18 years. She is an associate principal with Brennan+Company Architects. This is the couple's first in a series of blogs about the project.


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  1. Michael Hindle and Carri Beer

Making an Old Tract House Sunnier and More Efficient

Middle River, MD

Dec 14 2015 By Rick Miller | 22 comments

General Specs and Team

Location: Middle River, MD
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2
Living Space : 1438 sqf

Design and construction by the owner

Construction

Foundation: Concrete slab on grade with frost walls on footers.

Foundation insulation: R-20 vertical XPSExtruded polystyrene. Highly insulating, water-resistant rigid foam insulation that is widely used above and below grade, such as on exterior walls and underneath concrete floor slabs. In North America, XPS is made with ozone-depleting HCFC-142b. XPS has higher density and R-value and lower vapor permeability than EPS rigid insulation. at exterior of frost walls; horizontal XPS (about R-15) over some of the slabs.

Wall insulation: Two layers of staggered and taped 2-inch polyisoPolyisocyanurate foam is usually sold with aluminum foil facings. With an R-value of 6 to 6.5 per inch, it is the best insulator and most expensive of the three types of rigid foam. Foil-faced polyisocyanurate is almost impermeable to water vapor; a 1-in.-thick foil-faced board has a permeance of 0.05 perm. While polyisocyanurate was formerly manufactured using HCFCs as blowing agents, U.S. manufacturers have now switched to pentane. Pentane does not damage the earth’s ozone layer, although it may contribute to smog. over 1 inch of EPSExpanded polystyrene. Type of rigid foam insulation that, unlike extruded polystyrene (XPS), does not contain ozone-depleting HCFCs. EPS frequently has a high recycled content. Its vapor permeability is higher and its R-value lower than XPS insulation. EPS insulation is classified by type: Type I is lowest in density and strength and Type X is highest. over 2x4 wall insulated with fiberglass batts; wall assembly totals about R-34.

Attic insulation: Two to three layers of R-19 fiberglass insulation over 12 inches of blown-in fiberglass; total R-valueMeasure of resistance to heat flow; the higher the R-value, the lower the heat loss. The inverse of U-factor. is about R-70.

Windows: Fiberglass-framed Accurate Dorwin windows are a mixture of fixed windows and casements. North-facing windows are triple-glazed and argonInert (chemically stable) gas, which, because of its low thermal conductivity, is often used as gas fill between the panes of energy-efficient windows. -filled (average U-factorMeasure of the heat conducted through a given product or material—the number of British thermal units (Btus) of heat that move through a square foot of the material in one hour for every 1 degree Fahrenheit difference in temperature across the material (Btu/ft2°F hr). U-factor is the inverse of R-value. = 0.16). South-facing windows are double-glazed and argon-filled (average U-factor = 0.30; average SHGCSolar heat gain coefficient. The fraction of solar gain admitted through a window, expressed as a number between 0 and 1. = 0.57). South windows are shaded by overhangs to limit summer solar heat gainIncrease in the amount of heat in a space, including heat transferred from outside (in the form of solar radiation) and heat generated within by people, lights, mechanical systems, and other sources. See heat loss., and include interior ComforTrack thermal shades.

Space heating and cooling: Two ductless minisplit air-source heat pumps (a Fujitsu 12 RLS2 on the first floor and a Fujitsu 9 RLS2 on the second floor)

Domestic hot water: GE Geospring heat-pump water heaterAn appliance that uses an air-source heat pump to heat domestic hot water. Most heat-pump water heaters include an insulated tank equipped with an electric resistance element to provide backup heat whenever hot water demand exceeds the capacity of the heat pump. Since heat-pump water heaters extract heat from the air, they lower the temperature and humidity of the room in which they are installed.

Energy

Electricity use before improvements: 14,764 kWh/yr

Electricity use after improvements: 6,772 kWh/yr

House designed according to passive solar principles (extra south-facing glazingWhen referring to windows or doors, the transparent or translucent layer that transmits light. High-performance glazing may include multiple layers of glass or plastic, low-e coatings, and low-conductivity gas fill., minimal glazing on other orientations, extra interior thermal massHeavy, high-heat-capacity material that can absorb and store a significant amount of heat; used in passive solar heating to keep the house warm at night. , and careful design of roof overhangs on south side).

Blower-door testTest used to determine a home’s airtightness: a powerful fan is mounted in an exterior door opening and used to pressurize or depressurize the house. By measuring the force needed to maintain a certain pressure difference, a measure of the home’s airtightness can be determined. Operating the blower door also exaggerates air leakage and permits a weatherization contractor to find and seal those leakage areas.: 4.09 ach50; 0.23 natural ach (calculated).

How to get a Two-Smiley-Face letter from your electric utility

In 1983, the Heron was one of five cookie-cutter models offered in Bay Country, a tract housing development in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. Perhaps a little ahead of its time, the design featured walls with 1-inch-thick expanded polystyrene (EPSExpanded polystyrene. Type of rigid foam insulation that, unlike extruded polystyrene (XPS), does not contain ozone-depleting HCFCs. EPS frequently has a high recycled content. Its vapor permeability is higher and its R-value lower than XPS insulation. EPS insulation is classified by type: Type I is lowest in density and strength and Type X is highest.) insulation over the standard 2x4 walls filled with fiberglass batts.

Lessons Learned

• With more experience, I probably would have installed a layer of blown-in cellulose instead of fiberglass batts above the existing attic insulation. The cellulose would pack tighter, lessening the chance for air circulation and associated heat loss.

• Everyone (including me) talks about how nice and efficient minisplits are. However, I haven't heard anyone talk about how extremely difficult it is to to internally clean the heads. After about a year and a half, there was so much dust caked on the cylindrical fan that it bogged down and it had to be cleaned. The entire tightly packed unit has to be totally disassembled while it and its components hang on the wall, without benefit of a workbench, to remove the fan for proper cleaning. It takes several hours of painful work. I would gladly accept a larger head design, perhaps even one that is less attractive, if that design allowed the fan to be readily removed for cleaning.

• I wish I could have found reasonably priced windows with clear glazing — glazing with no low-e films and a higher SHGC — for the south side of the house. As I recall, those simple windows can be found, but at a higher price than windows with low-e films.


Rick Miller

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  1. Rick Miller

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One Man’s Quest for Energy Independence — Part 1

A Wisconsin homeowner embarks on an 18-year journey to turn a basic ranch into a showcase of energy efficiency completely free of fossil fuels

Posted on Nov 19 2015 by Paul Kuenn

In 1987, my wife and I purchased a one-story, 1,200-square-foot ranch with a basement in Appleton, Wisconsin. It had been built in 1960. Its 2x4 walls were filled with 3 inches of fiberglass batting; the house had single-pane windows. The basement slab had been poured directly onto clay without a gravel drainage base. There was sectional tile drain around the exterior perimeter and one sump. The house had a large patio door facing west and a bay window facing east, and only two windows on the south side.


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  1. All photos courtesy of the author

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Diagnostic Tools for Energy-Minded Remodelers

Applying building science in the field can help to deliver safer, healthier, and more energy-efficient projects

Posted on Apr 9 2015 by Don Jackson
prime

The past several years have seen a flurry of activity on the home-energy front. Federal tax incentives and dozens of rebate programs have focused attention on cutting residential energy consumption. Energy audits are now common in many areas of the country, and building codes have stepped up insulation and air-sealing requirements, and are even beginning to require blower-door testing and duct-testing on new construction. Homeowners are more aware than ever of these trends, with more and more wishing to tighten their houses so that they can save money on their utility bills.


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  1. Don Jackson

Mission Zero House: A Net-Zero Retrofit

Ann Arbor, MI

Dec 14 2011 By Peter Yost | 0 comments

General Specs and Team

Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2
Living Space : 1300 sqf

2,600 sq. ft. of conditioned space

General Contractor: Matt Grocoff, Greenovation.tv
Whole-House Performance Contractor: Meadowlark Energy

Construction

Attic: From uninsulated and vented to cathedralized and unvented
Above-Grade Walls: From uninsulated rough-cut 2x4s to dense-packed cellulose insulation (no vapor retarder)
Below-Grade Walls: From uninsulated to spray foam at the rim joist
Windows: From original single-pane windows to rebuilt/repaired original sashes plus low-e storms

Energy

Attic insulation/air sealing: R-30 Demilec Sealection 500
Wall insulation: R-13 Farmers dense-packed cellulose insulation
Windows: Trapp low-e storms
Air tightness: 4.75 ach50

Alternative Energy: SunPower 8.1 kW photovoltaic system

Heating/cooling: 3-ton Water Furnace Envision
Window restoration: Wood Window Repair Company
Lighting Controls: Wattstopper motion sensor light switches
Power strips: Smart Strip power strips
Window treatments: EcoSmart Insulated cellular shades

Water Efficiency

Toilets: Caroma Dual-Flush
Showerheads: Caroma 1.28 gpm (HET)
Faucets: Bricor aerators
Irrigation: Rain barrels (salvaged from St Jullian's Winery)

Indoor Air Quality

Whole-house ventilation: Ultimate Air ERV
Paints: Zero VOC - Benjamin Moore Aura, AFM Safecoat, Sherwin Williams Harmony
Floor finish: Bioshield Hard oil #9
Molding finish: Hock natural shellac
Bedding: NaturePedic mattress

Green Materials and Resource Efficiency

Salvaged doors: HFH ReStore
Picture frames: Urban Ashes
Salvaged wood stock: Urban Wood
Outbuilding: Chicken coop salvaged from neighbor's playhouse
Carpet: Wool stair runners from G & K Flooring

Certification

- HERS 37
- USA Today's Best Green Homes of 2010

A rehab project in Ann Arbor turns a house in a historic district into America’s oldest net-zero residence

There really is nothing more challenging that I can think of than taking a home in a historic district and taking it to net zero energy. But it sure helps to start with the right home.

Good bones
When I asked Matt Grocoff, “Why this house?,” the first words out of his mouth were, “Good bones!” Despite the home’s age, the foundation and structure were sound.

Lessons Learned

“We have a ‘wish list’ for our Mission Zero home," says Matt, "but it turns out that just about every single wish item is related to meeting the Living Building Challenge”:

  • Rain barrels to cistern: “Our rain barrels are really not anywhere close to the capacity we need to keep what we need on site. So we need to figure out a cistern system for our home and land.
  • Induction cooktop: “We need to eliminate the gas combustion and double the efficiency of the stove from 45% to 90% to keep our electrical loads down.”
  • Dual plumbing system and composting toilets: This will be a big part of controlling the size of our cistern; just need to find attractive, convenient composting toilets!”
  • LED lighting in every fixture: “Phillips and The Home Depot have really helped out here; you can buy a full range of LED bulbs now with some under $20!”
  • Green roof for front porch: “This will look great from the second floor, won’t be visible from the street and will keep the summer heat off the porch and front rooms.”

by Peter Yost

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  1. Matt Grocoff
  2. Ryan Stanton
  3. Bill Stevenson

A Santa Fe Adobe Gets a Modern Addition

Santa Fe, NM

Nov 20 2011 By Michael Grant | 0 comments

General Specs and Team

Location: Santa Fe, NM
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 3
Living Space : 2400 sqf
Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $250/sqf

Completed August 2010

- Excellence in Green Remodeling from Hacienda's Parade Of Homes (2010)
- Best Design from Hacienda's Parade Of Homes (2010)
- Exemplary Site Utilization from the New Mexico Green Building Council (2010)

Architect/Designer/Builder: Michael Percy Grant,
Percy Home Design, LLC
Structural Engineer: David Grabiel, QPEC

Construction

Roof Type 1: R-49 (torch-down roof over 7" polyiso rigid, unvented)
Roof Type 2: R-56 (standing-seam metal over 2" polyiso over 12" TJI w/ cellulose, unvented)
Walls Existing: R-10 to R-15 (plaster/stucco over 2-3" polyurethane spray foam over 14" earth adobe)
Walls New: R-29 (James Hardie clapboard siding over 2" XPS over 2x6 @ 24 o.c. w/ cellulose)
Floors, existing: 8" inaccessible & uninsulated dirt crawl space, old vents sealed up, exhausted by HRV
Floors, new: R-10 (Concrete slab over 2" XPS throughout, isolated from stem walls for thermal break)
Windows: Serious 725 series windows w/ suspended film glazing (U-0.16) and Pozzi wood-clad windows (U-0.28)

Energy

Passive solar: 250-sf sunroom oriented 16º east of south
5" black slab fully isolated from soil and stem wall by 3" rigid XPS
12" cellulose ceiling plus 1.5" polyiso for R-52 roof

Boiler: Laars Endurance unit for DHW and space heat combined
Heaters: Myson hot water radiant wall heaters
AC: None needed

Water Efficiency

Laundry hoist: Rack that hoists to the ceiling on pulleys to dry clothes; also humidifies our room in our dry climate (see photo)
Rainwater cistern: 1,750-gallon buried tank collecting from 1,500 sf of roof, distributed by a Grundfos pump to drip irrigation
Graywater: Two graywater lines from half of kitchen sink and from master tub, with 3-way diverter valves to feed either landscaping or city sewer in winter

Indoor Air Quality

Whole-house mechanical ventilation: Ultimate Air RecoupAerator HRV runs full time (HRV both provides fresh air and exhausts radon from dirt crawl space)

This addition has a tight envelope, thick insulation, a heat-recovery ventilator, and a roof that harvests rainwater

Michael Grant has been building, renovating, and designing high performance homes in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for almost two decades.

My wife Julia and I stumbled upon this dumpy little adobe home in Santa Fe, NM, which was for rent back in 2003. I thought the place had hidden charm; she was skeptical. After all, it still had double-hung single pane windows that dust could blow through, a smelly gas wall heater, and no insulation to speak of.

Lessons Learned

Like many designers and builders, I have suffered my own slow growth curve and mistakes around building balanced homes: homes that optimize energy performance, spacial function, and artistic form.

My most recent passion is Germany’s PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. approach, for which I should become a certified designer by next month. My current favorite wall system is a thermal-bridge-free, airtight, high-performance wall consisting of a two-by wood-framed structural inner wall that bears on a raft slab, sheathed to be airtight, and including TJI studs resembling Larsen trusses. The entire wall assembly is then insulated from both sides.

Our home doesn’t have this gorgeous wall system, because I didn’t know about it when we remodeled, which leaves my home, much like me, with room for improvement. But I guess this is also pretty much where I am happy to be.


Michael Percy Grant

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  1. Michael Grant

Building the Best Baltimore Rowhomes — and Neighborhoods

Baltimore, MD

Oct 14 2011 By Peter Yost | 0 comments

General Specs and Team

Location: Baltimore, MD
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 1
Living Space : 900 sqf
Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $88/sqf

This cost includes the preferential pricing and product donations to which Habitat for Humanity projects have access. On this particular project (135 N. Decker), the volunteer labor associated with most HFH projects was not possible.

Architect: TerraLogos: ecoarchitecture
Builder: The Michael Group
Building Partner: Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake

Construction

Foundation: Brick with concrete floor
Above-grade walls: Masonry with furred out 2x4s
Roof: Wood-framed low-slope with parapet

Energy

Windows: Trimline Liberty Series wood windows with low-e argon (U = 0.29)
Insulation: Blown-in cellulose
Air sealing: Closed-cell spray foam
Appliances: Whirlpool Energy Star kitchen appliances

Water Efficiency

Toilet: American Standard Cadet 3 FloWise
Kitchen & Lav Faucets: Delta Innovations WaterSense faucet

Working with Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, green architectural firm TerraLogos develops a streamlined design and permit set process for 50 Baltimore rowhomes

At just around 1,000 square feet, existing rowhomes in Baltimore represent a true design challenge. Of course, any redesign or retrofit should be green and affordable.

Streamlining assessment, design, and permitting

Lessons Learned

TerraLogos works continuously with both HFHC’s construction management and family services staff to better meet the needs of the structure and the occupants. Kim adds, “We need to provide better documentation on basement air sealing for the construction team and the families are pushing for 3+ bedroom designs.”

Another learning experience arose from efforts to address basement ceiling height. The basements in most of these homes are almost always really shy on the height side. HFHC started, as many developers of these rowhomes do, digging out the basements by hand to create more head room or a living space in the basement. "This has proved really expensive, and so now we pretty much leave the basements at their existing height. We do add a concrete slab and seal and insulate the rim joists to complete the high performance envelope. The basement space is used for just mechanicals and often laundry," relates Kim Schaefer.

TerraLogos staff has also learned a lot by participating in the Women’s Build Project at 2412 Fairmount Ave., putting into practice the very designs and specifications they developed. This home will be completed and occupied by this Christmas.


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  1. TerraLogos

Mid-Century Gem Revived in Austin

Austin, TX

Aug 30 2011 By Peter Yost | 0 comments

General Specs and Team

Location: Austin, TX
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3
Living Space : 2612 sqf
Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $101/sqf

Total square footage involved in the project was about 3,105 sq. ft., so depending on how you run the numbers, you get $101 per sq. ft. for total square footage involved or about $130 per sq. ft. of living space.

Architect: Stuart Sampley
Builder: Jason Miars, Miars Construction
Rater: Austin Energy Green Building

Construction

Foundation: slab-on-grade
Above-Grade walls: wood framed
Roof: wood, rafter framed

Energy

- Cavity insulation: Demilec Sealection 500 open-cell spray foam
- Windows: Marvin Integrity
- Water Heating: Rinnai sealed-combustion tankless water heater (exterior mount)
- Air conditioning: Carrier Infinity system (including programmable thermostat)
- Lighting: Cooper Halo CFL lighting

Water Efficiency

- Toilets: Kohler Eco Cimmaron
- Showerheads & Faucets: Hans Grohe Water Sense
- Clotheswasher: Whirlpool
- Landscaping: City of Austin Grow Green drought-tolerant plants
- Irrigation: Texas Green Water rain barrels

Indoor Air Quality

- Garage: detached
- Exhaust fans: Broan Energy Star 80 cfm
- Ventilation: central-fan-integrated supply ventilation system with AprilAire 8126 control

Certification

Austin Energy Green Building program 5-Star project

A leading Austin architect touches a modern classic design as little as possible while undertaking an affordable green remodel

Just after World War II, Austin architect A.D. Stenger began designing and building what would amount to about 100 custom homes in the Austin area. These Eichler-esque single-story homes had low-slung roofs, exposed roof beams (extending right through to extensive overhangs), characteristic clerestory windows, and really big wood-burning fireplaces.

Lessons Learned

Sampley credits his perspective on his renovation work to an undergraduate degree in history and the start to his building career: taking apart — deconstructing — dozens of homes. “My favorite part of any project is when the ‘bones’ of the project are revealed,” relates Sampley. “Seeing how a structure is put together reveals all of the possibilities.”

And Sampley does not dabble in green. “Since opening the doors 5 years ago, green design has been a linchpin of my work. I let my past projects drive my new work, using the internet (a website and strong Facebook presence) to speak for our green and business sensibilities.”

And Sampley keeps active in the Austin Green Building program, teaching courses for the program and maintaining his relationships with staff. “We build on each other’s strengths and opportunities.”

Stuart had one final short story to relate as he thought back on this project and his work on it. "One afternoon, an elderly gentleman walking slowly with a cane came by the project (a man, as it turns out, who had his own home in the neighborhood designed by AD Stenger). He stopped and asked me, 'You Stuart?' I said yes, and he replied, 'If he were alive today, AD would be proud of what you are doing with this home.'"


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Image Credits:

  1. Patrick Wong
  2. Stuart Sampley

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