1825 Home Becomes an Energy Efficiency Role Model

Recently, Jodi and I sat down with freelance journalist, Scott Sowers, to discuss the design challenges of the Historic Molette House in Molettes Bend, Alabama. Below is the full article that will appear in the July 2014 print and digital edition of Remodeling Magazine. The article is currently on the magazine’s website. Scott Sowers is a writer, producer and executive producer of various media content covering the field architecture and design.

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1825 Home Becomes an Energy Efficiency Role Model

1825 Home Energy Efficiency Role Model - Home Owners

Jodi Laumer-Giddens with homeowners David and Eleanor Molette Cheatham

Historic preservation issues when renovating, adding on, and moving a house almost two centuries old can lead to unconventional solutions. Chris and Jodi Laumer-Giddens came up with their share when called on to install 21st century energy efficiencies into one of Alabama’s oldest homes.

The 1825 Molette Plantation house in Dallas County, Ala., already was scheduled to move to a new location and was slated for an addition when Chris and Jodi’s Atlanta-based architectural firm, LG Squared, became involved.  As they began working on the project, the designer’s role expanded. “The owners originally contacted us to design the mechanical system, but after some additional site visits we took a closer look at the building envelope by doing some energy modeling,” says Chris.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

Because the owners wanted to keep the existing section of the house as close as possible to the original design, they had already chosen single-pane windows–a less than desirable energy choice for this Deep South home. Adding to the complexity, the design team was charged with preserving the interior paneling and saving the exterior siding on the existing house while tightening the building envelope.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Window

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

Each piece of original siding was carefully removed, course-by-course, as missing boards were replaced with new ones manufactured to the same specifications. To work around the vintage-style wall construction, compensate for the heat gain from the windows, circumvent moisture issues and hold costs down, LG Squared, Inc. selected rock wool insulation for the walls (R-15 in the original house, R-23 in the addition) followed by a layer of insulated sheathing (R-3.6 throughout) covered with a ventilated rain screen. The roof got [continuous] insulation worth an R-23.6 rating.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - ZIP System R Sheathing

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

Structural Insulated Sheathing (ZIP System R-Sheathing)

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Roxul Rock Wool 1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Roxul Rock Wool

Rock Wool (a.k.a. Mineral Wool – Roxul Comfort Batt)

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Home Slicker Benjamin Obdyke 1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Home Slicker Benjamin Obdyke

Crews replacing original siding over Ventilated Rain Screen (Benjamin Obdyke – Home Slicker)

All seams in the sheathing and gaps around window openings were taped or sealed with an adhesive in an attempt to turn the house into what its designers described as a “giant beer cooler.” Insulated sheathing was also used on the roof to seal off the lid of the cooler, while liquid flashing was applied at all windows.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Huber Woods Liquid Flash 1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Huber Woods Liquid Flash

Danko Davidovic of Huber Engineered Woods reviewing installation instructions of ZIP System Liquid Flash with Steve Johnson.

The design team suggested a mini-split system for heating and cooling, but using the ductless variety on interior walls was voted down for aesthetic reasons.  “Ducted mini-splits give you almost the same efficiency as the ductless and you don’t see them,” says Chris. Instead, the project uses four air handlers hidden above the ceilings, each controlling one zone of the house. A tankless water heater and an energy recovery ventilation system are also part of the mix.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Energy Recovery Ventilator

Enthalpy (or Energy) Recovery Ventilation unit

Chris believes the result of the retrofit is a home that’s at least 25% better than the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code—and would have been up to 50% better if he had been able to use double-pane windows. As it stands, the home should score a HERS rating of 65 to 75, he figures.

The homeowners, David and Eleanor Molette Cheatham, who live in Atlanta, plan to use the house as a weekend getaway and eventually retire there. The house has been in their family for seven generations and had been moved once before. The latest move for the 80-ton building removed it from a flood plain, took six hours and covered three miles of country roads bordered by cotton fields.

Because the original section of the house didn’t have a kitchen or bathroom, those rooms are going into the addition along with a dining room and living area. The upstairs of the addition will contain a guest suite and the master bath. The old section of the house will be devoted to a family room and den on the first floor with the master bedroom and another bedroom on the second floor.

LG Squared worked with local builder Steve Johnson of Renovations Plus, based in Marbury, Ala., to come up with a plan to blend the old section of the house with the new addition. “They will look almost identical, with the new section coming off the center of the original house,” says Chris, “it will also have a back porch with a lower roof and a front porch that matches the rest of the design details.”  The project is expected to be finished this fall.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

Chris and Jodi Laumer-Giddens with Steve Johnson

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency 1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

“It’s very challenging to take a building with no insulation, and incorporating modern requirements into a house that was built without any requirements at all,” says Chris. “We were also able to come up with a floor plan that exceeded the owner’s expectations.”

with the exception of the first photo, all photos courtesy of homeowners, David and Eleanor Chetham

original article written by Scott Sowers for Remodeling Magazine.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Very interesting. I like how it shows an older home can be brought up to speed in energy savings and one doesn’t have to assume, old house = can’t do that. Great post!

  2. Thank you, Lisa! Achieving energy efficiency + historic preservation sparks a LOT (and, I mean a LOT) of debate in both industries. Here is a great summary from John D. Poole (@birminghampoint) about Deep Energy Retrofits and Historic Preservation: The Beginning of a New Dialogue – http://ht.ly/xSsxs

  3. Richard Beyer says:

    Great post Chris!

  4. Anne Knight says:

    WOW! This project is just fantastic. Have known the Molettes all my life and am watching this transformation with great interest. So proud of Eleanor and her husband David for taking on this project. Her ancestor was one of the very earliest settlers in Dallas County, AL. This house is certainly one of the oldest anywhere in Alabama. The details of your work are fascinating.

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