Sara and Gareth Ross had spent a decade on the move. Postgraduate degrees and finance work had propelled them from Boston to New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. When it came time to settle down, though, they moved to Amherst, Mass., where Sara had grown up. Amherst is a vibrant college town with rural beauty and Japanese restaurants; for the Rosses, it was the perfect place to slow down, nurture roots, and raise children. The Rosses were not tied either to the idea of a new house or to a remodel. Instead, their vision centered on creating a healthful, durable, and energy-efficient home.
Location was the most important criterion
While they searched for the right plot of land or a perfect rehab opportunity, Sara and Gareth rented a three-bedroom house in town. It was within walking distance of everything: a bakery that saved the Financial Times for Gareth every morning, a school with swings for kids, and a string of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. They fell in love with the neighborhood. When they heard that the house next door was going up for sale, they eagerly made an offer, completed the sale, and became quickly and firmly committed to an extensive renovation project.
Built in the 1880s, the house had suffered years of deferred maintenance: The roof was failing, the chimney needed work, most of the exterior was covered in asbestos siding, the walls were barely insulated, and the furnace was 40 years old. In other words, it was the perfect candidate for a deep-energy retrofit.
The interior spaces were not much better. Small rooms on the main floor provided lots of privacy, but these areas were begging for openness. This is a common problem when updating an old house. For example, kitchens used to be tucked away in the…