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Rockingham Renovation Restores Historic Home to Former Glory

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Photo credit: Theresa Spear

Source: Katie Emerson, VECAN

Theresa Spear had been planning to rent for a while, but then this historic bungalow became available. It was in the neighborhood where she was temporarily living and had a good price. The home definitely was a ‘fixer upper’ but the structure was sound and the design was ideal. The roof’s long axis runs east to west (good for solar placement) and the most used rooms are on the south side of the house. The house is also small and within walking distance of the village.

Spear had been working in the weatherization and green building industry and is a firm believer in making a house as tight and as environmentally friendly as possible. She said that all homes typically need some type of energy upgrade. These sorts of upgrades are harder to do when a homeowner does not want to damage the walls or if the roof does not need to be replaced. The bungalow was perfect for her since it needed a gut renovation. She could strip it down to the bare bones and rebuild from there. 

The renovation was challenging. When seeking a construction loan, Spear found that only basic upgrades were included, not “extras” like additional insulation. Spear was able to take advantage of some rebates, such as the $2,000 rebate from Efficiency Vermont for insulation, Vermont state rebates for the heat pump and refrigerator and a federal rebate for the door. However, she still had to dip into her savings to complete the updates she really wanted. 

During demolition, care was taken to reuse or recycle any salvageable material. The shell (outside of the house) was air sealed and insulated. The old oil furnace was replaced with a cold climate heat pump. The house has no back up heating system. Spear commented that the installer was nervous about the lack of a backup because he was not familiar with heat pump technology. Now, cold climate heat pumps are much more common and Spear hasn’t had any problems keeping warm during the winter. She upgraded all of the appliances to Energy Star and added an automatically timed bath fan for ventilation. The house is all electric and ready to become net zero with a 5 kW array on the south facing roof as soon as her budget allows. All of the paint and finishes used were low or no VOC; locally sourced materials were used whenever possible and all the plumbing fixtures are low flow, WaterSense certified

The renovation took eight to nine months at which point Spear moved in and slowly completed additional projects over the next two years. While the upgrades certainty added value to the home, Spear said its market value reflects updated features rather than the energy efficiency aspects. The Sustainable Energy and Outreach Network (SEON) in Brattleboro has been working with real estate appraisers and assessors to more accurately value homes that have taken these extra energy efficiency steps. They are also working to educate realtors about the added value and curb appeal of an environmentally friendly and low energy consuming home. Spear’s home has been featured in a Green Home Tour organized by SEON and was also awarded Rockingham’s Old House Award in 2015.

When asked if she had any advice for people looking to undertake similar renovations, Spear said to make sure you have a good contractor, one who knows what they are doing. Even if they cost more it will be worth it. She suggests looking for someone who has experience with high performance homes or someone who is a part of the Excellence in Efficiency Network (EEN). EEN is Efficiency Vermont’s network of contractors with advanced training in energy efficiency services. For those living in southern Vermont, she also recommend looking for builders who are active in SEON.