Aging D.C. townhouse gets an upgrade in aesthetics and efficiency

Landis Construction's award-winning façade facelift revitalizes home

February 14, 2012

After watching the revitalization of Southwestern Washington, D.C., in recent years, the owners of this 1960s District townhouse decided it was time to revitalize their home as well.

They had owned the home for nearly a decade and while they had remodeled its interior several years earlier, the failing exterior was in need of a facelift to upgrade its dated aluminum siding and wood batten trim.

“The exterior was falling apart,” says project designer Emily Pierson of D.C.-based Landis Construction. “The trim was actually coming away from the wall.”

Water infiltration behind the siding had also lead to some damage to the concrete deck above the garage. And with little insulation and old, drafty single-pane windows, there was an opportunity to make a big improvement in energy efficiency as well.

Modern upgrade

The existing façade was very of its vintage, with a dated look that screamed 1960s. The homeowners wanted a new look that enhanced the neighborhood, and challenged Landis to give them a modern look while working within the constraints of a six-unit row of townhomes.

The homes had always been something of an anomaly in the neighborhood, Pierson says, having been constructed by the builder of the surrounding high-rise condos with leftover materials from that project.

Each unit also had its own exterior look, so the challenge was to match the neighborhood but also complement and contrast the other five units. On top of that, the clients didn’t want to redo the largest façade — the brick sidewall of their end unit. The designers looked to nearby buildings, including the famous Arena Stage theater, for inspiration.

“It’s a very contemporary building and we wanted a flavor similar to that,” Pierson says. “We wanted pieces of that kind of aesthetic that are moving into the neighborhood and making it a much more vibrant part of the city.”

The Landis team settled on James Hardie fiber cement for the new exterior because of its durability and the ability to get it pre-painted so the homeowners wouldn’t have to worry about painting it in the future.

“We were able to work the color scheme to something we really wanted,” Pierson says. “The other five row houses are all sort of a muted pastel or light shades, so we wanted to stay with that palette, but have something that would be durable in the long run.”

The siding was attached with aluminum Fry Reglet channels to minimize fasteners and mimic the mullion pattern of the floor-to-ceiling glass of the window and door units. Horizontal bands of James Hardie trim helped to break up the vertical aesthetic of the siding and windows.

Efficient solution

Located along the Potomac River, the home offered a beautiful waterfront view. Unfortunately, it also offered winds whipping off the water which the homeowners could feel and hear every winter.

Before installing the new siding, the construction team added Icynene open-cell foam insulation throughout the house including the exterior walls, the cantilevered floor spaces and the third-floor ceiling cavity. A new rainscreen provides additional air space for insulation as well as protecting against further water infiltration.

Finally, replacing the windows and glass doors on both the front and rear facades improved both the home’s appearance and its efficiency.

The front of the home featured, on both the second and third floors, a set of “doors to nowhere” — sliding glass doors that opened up only to metal railings with no balcony. Two dated jalousie awnings also topped them. Removing the awnings gave the home more light and the existing large openings were preserved by installing three-panel, floor-to-ceiling Pella Architect Series windows.

On the rear of the home, two sets of sliding doors led from the second floor to the deck overlooking the Potomac. Landis removed both sets, installing one new set of sliding doors and replacing the other with a fixed picture window to offer an unobstructed view of the water. New windows were also installed on the third floor, as well as in the brick sidewall. A new insulated garage door and front door, along with a new glass block window on the rear of the garage, completed the exterior facelift.

And although Landis only remodeled the exterior, the project made a drastic improvement on the interior of the home as well. Besides the obvious increased comfort and lower energy bills, the new windows provide more light and warmth.

“The windows dramatically changed the feel of the interior,” Pierson says. “That space feels much more open and allows so much more light. The interior of the house is pretty dramatically changed because of the exterior work we did.”


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