Blog : Local Builders Make Century-old Home Sustainable

By Sam | Oct 13, 2014 | in

How do you renovate and rebuild a century-old home for sustainability, but keep its historic properties intact? It takes a lot of planning. In an effort to preserve the city’s rich heritage, Portsmouth has strict standards about renovation in the historic district. Those standards established the framework for how one family is renovating their early 1900s, South End house into a high-performance home that marries energy efficiency and sustainable building materials with a dedication to preserve the historic integrity of the house and the neighborhood.

“This project showcases how houses that have existed for centuries can be updated to make them more comfortable and energy efficient without losing their historic character,” says EcoSound Builders' Ethan Korpi.

Homeowners Patrik and Carin Frisk, natives of Sweden, moved to seacoast New Hampshire for work. Because they wanted to live in Portsmouth’s historic district, but wanted to do so with the least environmental impact possible, they recruited architect Anne Whitney, EcoSound Builders, The Green Cocoon, and Minutemen Painters.

EcoSound Builders, as their name might suggest, specialize in environmentally sustainable home building and renovation. Together with Whitney, they spent months planning every detail of the Frisks’ home. The Pickering Street house is located in one of Portsmouth’s historic waterfront neighborhoods, near Strawbery Banke.

Korpi praised the Frisks’ commitment to sustainability and historical value. “Patrik and Carin have been wonderful to work with,” he said. “They really understand what they want in their home, and we’ve been happy to help make that happen.”

Combining the renovation of an existing structure and construction of a new addition into one high-performance unit involved numerous technical processes that are not part of a typical building process. This included a preliminary energy audit as well as a comprehensive review of a cutting-edge HVAC system designed for use in high-performance homes. “Ventilation is a key component of the design of any high-performance home,” said Korpi. “It is critical to get that right.” Also critical was ensuring that thermal ‘envelope’ wrapping the structure was built in a way that will increase the longevity of the siding and the exterior paint, vital for a home built near the water.

Foam insulator The Green Cocoon provided their unique spray foam, made with 25% renewable and recycled content, for the house's exterior insulation. They also added environmentally-friendly materials to the interior for sound proofing. “The Frisks decided to install mineral wool for sound insulation on all the interior walls, and all the interior ceilings have dense packed cellulose” said Green Cocoon’s Candace Lord. “They want it to be very quiet and very comfortable.”

And comfortable it is. On a hot, sticky day in August, the top floor of the house was dry and cool, even without open windows or air conditioners. It’s expected to be equally as warm in the winter.

“With the addition of a 13.5 KW 44 panel solar PV array, we expect this home to achieve net­zero energy use on annual basis,” Korpi said. Environmental construction can only predict the efficiency of a home, but several tests of the insulation before the siding was installed indicated that net-zero status is highly likely.

Portsmouth painting company Minute Men Painters were contracted to paint the interior and exterior of the home. Minute Men works with Strawbery Banke, as well as many other historic properties in New England, and its eco­friendly painting services made them the perfect candidate for the Frisk’s project. Minute Men’s Chris Tufts noted that the entire house is painted with low or no VOC paint, inside and out. “Due to new technology, there are now so many durable, eco-friendly paints available,” says Tufts.

The Green Alliance is a local union of sustainable businesses, through whom many business partnerships have been fostered, including this one. EcoSound Builders, The Green Cocoon and Minute Men Painters all began working together because of their partnership with the Green Alliance.

“We met EcoSound at the NESEA trade show while we were sharing a table with the Green Alliance,” said Green Cocoon’s Lord. “We both found out we were Green Alliance members, and that’s how we started working together.”

The home is expected to be completed by the end of December.

Interested in a home renovation? Here's what you get as a Green Alliance member:

EcoSound Builders: Receive a FULL rebate (up to $500) for a comprehensive energy audit when you commit to doing a retrofit. Also receive 2 FREE hours of green consultation for your upcoming project!
The Green Cocoon: Save $100 on all foam and denim insulation jobs between $3,000 and $5,000! Or save $200 on all foam and denim insulation jobs of $5,000 or more! Additionally, save $50 on any cellulose insulation job of $2,000 or more!
Minute Men Painters: Save 5% on all exterior and interior paint services!