21st-Century Makeover

A 1-2-3 punch of Old World design, energy-efficient construction and 'wired' everything transforms a 1950s 'smart' home.

August 31, 2003


The low lines of this Southwest ranch home already have given way to a steep roof that allows for higher ceilings, more windows and European flair.
The home's main hallway now has a 10-foot-high, barrel-vaulted ceiling.
New insulation along the roof line will improve the home's energy efficiency.

"The House on the Hill," located on a highly visible hilltop close to downtown Farmington, N.M., was built in 1957 and 1958 as a model home for Southern Union Gas. Gaslights illuminated the front porch. Sconce lights inside used gas as well. In addition to the latest appliances, even the air conditioner ran on gas.

With three full baths, an in-ground sprinkler system and a low-voltage wiring system with two control panels for whole-house lighting, the 2,817-square-foot ranch house was the height of technology and style in its day. But it needed serious help by the time Lonny Rutherford, CGR, and wife Marilyn Mobley purchased it in May 2001, planning to turn it into their dream home.

Owner of Legacy Construction and a remodeler with 30 years of experience, Rutherford wanted his company to do the work. A full-service remodeling firm, Legacy does kitchens, baths, additions and whole-house remodels, as well as some commercial work, and specializes in complex space reconfigurations. Rutherford occasionally does design for his clients, and he pushes energy-efficient products whenever possible.

Thanks to its perfect setting, this project showcases all of Legacy's capabilities to the entire town. Professional Remodeler chose the project as our 2003 Model reMODEL to showcase how cutting-edge building practices and products have revolutionized the definition of a high-tech, high-performance home.

Ugly duckling becomes a swan

Appearance as well as functionality had much to do with the scope of work Rutherford outlined. He collaborated with Mobley on both the interior and exterior design. "We couldn't find anybody who had an imagination," he explains. Inspired by a recent trip to Europe, they wanted to completely redo the exterior by trading in the tar and gravel roof and brick and vinyl cladding for a steep tile roof and manufactured stone. The new roof line allowed all the ceilings to be raised to 10 feet, and the new entry tower and door give the entrance of the L-shaped home much-needed visibility.

The garage roof line was changed to match, giving the couple space for a second-floor exercise room. Landscaping and an outdoor living area (see sidebar) completed their exterior plans.

Inside, they focused on the master suite and kitchen as well as all-new flooring and finishes. The new master bath will have a separate tub and a walk-in steam shower with multiple jets. The galley kitchen will become more of a U-shape with an island, allowing two people to work at the same time and providing better sightlines to the family and dining rooms. Mobley selected bamboo flooring to provide more give for her knees.

When completed, the hand-troweled drywall finishes, built-in bookcases and hardwood and stone floors will give the interior a traditional yet brand-new look.

Building Southwest America

Rating the Building Shell

and Mechanical Systems
Existing home
HERS rating
Square footage
Wall insulation
Ceiling/attic insulation
Vaulted ceiling insulation
Slab foundation insulation
Single-pane, wood-frame

U = 0.90, SHGC = 0.65
Air conditioner
Duct system
398 CFM @ 25 pascals
Water heater
0.56 EF gas water heater

Because the design required taking the house down to the studs, Legacy Construction easily could make maximum changes for increased energy efficiency. In the arid climate found in the Four Corners area, where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet, keeping cool in the daytime and warm at night with minimum expense can be challenging. Rutherford follows energy-efficient building practices whenever his clients are willing to pay for them, and he insisted on them for his home. Originally he strove to bring the home up to Energy Star standards, including an 86 Home Energy Rating System score, but now he's going for Building America status, which requires a HERS score of 88.

Appreciated Energy, a certified HERS provider in Los Lunas, N.M., conducted HERS testing on the existing home and rated it a 70.9, not bad for a home built nearly 50 years ago. Still, the walls and roof line were poorly insulated; the duct system was sealed with tape, not mastic; and the 5-ton air conditioner "did a terrible job because of the air leakage and the single-pane windows and the size of the windows," Mobley says.


Normalized, modified end-use loads (MMBtu/year)
Existing home
Energy Star home
Water heating

In addition to halving the size of the air conditioner, Legacy is replacing the water heater; installing all-new ducts; replacing the gas furnace, which was fairly new but not energy-efficient; and framing the new walls for the front entry with 2x6-inch studs spaced at 24 inches on-center, which improves R-value by allowing for more insulation and less thermal bridging. An insulation crew applied foam insulation to the roof line and all walls. The single-pane windows are being replaced with double-pane, low-E windows.

After the project's completion, Legacy will track monthly utility costs to compare against pre-remodel utility costs.

It's a wired, wired world

Composite cabling throughout the house provides fiber-optic and cat-5 lines for multiple technologies. Structured wiring solutions allow all these technologies to run through one hub.

These days, home automation helps homeowners manage many more household systems than just lighting. Rutherford and Mobley aren't high-tech fanatics, but they do own basic home entertainment equipment and a computer. They also needed a sprinkler system for Mobley's gardens and a security system for their travels. And with the new exercise room over the garage as well as a pool and deck, they wanted the entertainment possibilities to extend beyond the confines of the house.

In this case, the extensive nature of the remodeling project made the wiring job easier than in most remodels. Southwest Structured Wiring designed a system with composite cable in every room of the house except the laundry room. The composite cable bundles together two fiber-optic lines and two cat-5 lines. Underground conduits lead to the garage to provide connectivity for the bonus room as well as for power tools in the workshop.

A programmable Omni control system will allow the homeowners to control television, lighting, heating, security, sound (outdoor speakers as well as indoor) and sprinklers from one panel.


The new floor plan calls for extending the master bedroom by 4 feet to make room for a sitting area and walk-in-closet, remodeling the master bath and installing French doors to the outside. Legacy Construction bumped out the galley kitchen by 57 inches and will install a nearly 11-foot-long center island with a vegetable sink.

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