Double Savings: Energy and Character

An Atlanta house recalls its historical heritage and goes green

October 13, 2010

Designers paraded through Brian and Susan Ruediger’s Atlanta house, quick to offer ideas on how to enlarge the 1920 house and make it look modern. Just as quickly they departed, having missed the point that the Ruedigers wanted to fix their house’s shortcomings, but that its vintage,Arts and Crafts character was not one of them.
When Rick Hatch arrived, talking about his recent trip to England where he visited the quaint, brick houses designed by turn-of-the-20th century architect Edwin Lutyens, the Ruedigers knew they had found their man. Lutyens’s style had inspired the original design of the Ruedigers’ house. Hatch, a residential designer with Harrison Design Associates, Atlanta, knew exactly how to add space while respecting that heritage, even undoing the design damage inflicted by an old side addition so that the house would look as balanced as it should have all along.
Another parade came through when the Ruedigers interviewed remodelers. In addition to historical integrity, environmental responsibility was “incredibly important to us,” says Susan. That catapulted Robert Soens, owner of Pinnacle Custom Builders, into the winning position as contractor. Not only is he well respected for the quality and integrity of his work throughout greater Atlanta, but he’s also specialized in “green” since 2000. “We run a certified carbon neutral business operation,” he says, routinely incorporating recycling, energy efficient solutions, and environmentally friendly materials into projects.
“When you run your business that way, it doesn’t add cost” to build green, says Soens.
“I always tell clients that the only thing I try to sell them on is me. Other than that, I give them a lot of feedback to help them stay on budget, and advise them on how to invest their dollars.” Soens built an 826 square-foot second-floor addition over the old side extension of the 2,621-square-foot house, encompassing two bedrooms—one of which enables the Ruediger’s young daughter to be upstairs near her parents—a bath, and a laundry room. He also enlarged and upgraded the kitchen and made other improvements to livability and energy efficiency. His $370,000 estimate included installing Icynene foam insulation; using low VOC paints and sealants; specifying cabinet woods untreated with formaldehyde; encapsulating the crawlspace and liberally caulking and sealing to tighten the building envelope.
Soens recycled where possible, donating bath vanities, plumbing fixtures, cabinets, windows and can lights to local nonprofits for reuse. (The Ruedigers received a donation receipt.) He removed nails so old plywood could be reused, and cut up the old boiler for scrap metal recycling.
He encouraged the Ruedigers to install a high efficiency geothermal heating and air conditioning system despite its additional $30,000 price tag. With state and federal tax credits, the system ended up costing little more than a conventional system, and it delivers substantial savings: “We average a 25-30 percent savings in energy costs monthly,” says Brian.
Soens recommended that the Ruedigers upgrade from standard roofing to a synthetic slate Ecostar roof. The recycled rubber roofing is low-maintenance, long lasting, costs about a third less than slate, and helps insulate the house, further cutting energy bills. It looks so much like the real thing, says Brian, that a slate roof contractor left a note offering to repair it if the need arose. The Ruedigers ended up re-roofing the entire house, replacing deteriorated slate and covering the addition, using Ecostar wherever slate would be.
On the other hand, Soens told the Ruedigers not to go with a tankless water heater. Instead, he pointed them toward a less expensive electric tank heater that works with the geothermal system. He advised them to skip the standing seam copper roofing planned for an out-of-view area, saving money by using a thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) single-ply roofing membrane. He said that new, insulated windows, while a good idea, would not deliver “the biggest bang for the buck.” The Ruedigers chose to install them anyway, for aesthetics and incremental energy savings.
The Ruedigers’ kitchen tripled in size, becoming a gourmet cooking space, eating area, and entertainment center featuring custom cabinets and a large island. Soens’s trade contractors took down the old pine ceiling boards, planed them, and reinstalled them, painstakingly feathering them in with matching boards for the expanded space. They feathered old and new pine floorboards too.
Some of the old kitchen cabinets found a new home in the upstairs laundry room. Others are in storage for possible future use.
Although a huge, beautiful 115-year-old red oak tree in the backyard was rotting and had to come down, it did not leave the property. The Ruedigers had the tree cut into ¾-inch thick wide plank boards; Soens selected a contractor to lay the boards down as the flooring in the addition. (A 5-foot sapling from the old tree is growing where its “parent” used to be.)
Hatch’s second-floor addition called for Lutyens-esque shed dormers, gables, and brickwork. Soens reused old bricks from another home renovation. They matched the Ruediger bricks, except that the Ruediger house had been painted and sandblasted over the years, leaving flecks of paint. To perfect the blend, Soens hired an artist to paint identical “residue” on the added bricks.
Inside the house, one side of a two-sided brick fireplace had been bricked up years earlier. Soens removed the old fireplace, installed a zero-clearance, two-sided unit in a brick surround, and had the artist paint the new chimney bricks to clone the old. “People thought it was the old chimney,” says Brian.
The old house was short on natural light. At Susan’s request, Soens removed bricks to recapture a kitchen window. Hatch brought sunlight—and moonlight—into the center of the house with a skylight shaft over the stairwell. A translucent, leaded glass 5x5-foot panel across the ceiling admits light while reinforcing the Arts and Craft motif. The skylight shaft is not visible from the street. Nor is the flat roof behind the gables; “we didn’t need more pitched roofing there,” says Brian, so Hatch devised a way to hide this flat section.
Originally, arched openings connected the living and dining rooms to the front hall. Soens added a third archway leading to the old first-floor bedroom, which has become a study. The trio of archways makes the entry area “very warm and inviting,” says Brian. Indeed, the whole house now has the warmth and charm of a Lutyens house. “Rick made the house look like what it should have looked like years ago,” says Soens. And Soens made it as green as can be.

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