Not every house grows up green. Not every domicile emerges eco-friendly from the drawing board. Many earth-friendly dwellings are made, not born. Whether your house is a contemporary clapboard, a high-rise haven, or a suburban split level, you can retrofit it to be earth-smart and eco-wise.
That’s what the Roethes did. During the 1950s, their 1902 Craftsman-style bungalow in West Linn, Oregon led the way in cutting-edge energy innovation. Tempest Buckles, wife of the original homeowner, a prominent West Linn resident, was even featured in a series of regional print ads for the Portland General Electric Company touting the expanding—and inexpensive—uses of electricity in this revolutionary “all-electric home.”
Like many vintage homes in this charming Victorian neighborhood, however, the house fell into disrepair. “It was a condemned wreck,” says David Roethe, a marketing professional at AT&T. Through the years, the frame structure had passed from owner to owner, each taking spottier care, until David and Susan Roethe purchased it in 1997. Both envisioned the cottage of their dreams in this ramshackle pile of plaster. “We knew renovating the house would be a challenge,” says Susan of the home that was once known as “the crown jewel of the neighborhood,” “but we really liked its potential and we loved the neighborhood. We wanted to bring the house back to its original glory.”
Renovate, Retrofit, Recycle
The couple began renovating their home from the ground up, literally. The floors were sagging, the foundation needed replacing, and the roof and windows leaked both air and water. Even the plumbing and, ironically, the electrical wiring, were dated and dangerous.
Remembering the PGE ads, David contacted a representative of the company and asked for help in transforming the once-famous, all-electric house into one more in tune with the times. The company agreed, and the facelift came with a decidedly 1990s twist. While the 1950s goal had been to maximize electrical usage, on this go-round PGE urged the Roethes to remodel with minimum energy consumption and environmental impact. For direction, the Roethes turned to the company’s own “Earth Smart” program standards, guidelines originally developed for new construction that worked equally well on their retrofit.
Once the energy-conscious redo was complete, the Roethes moved into their remodeled bungalow and drew a deep breath of relief for a job finally finished—the project had taken fifty-three weekends, using mostly their own labor. As they took that breath, they noticed something wonderful: Their retrofit, freshly painted and newly carpeted home didn’t have that “new home smell.” “That was one of the nicest things about using environmentally-sensitive materials,” says Susan. “We didn’t have to contend with obnoxious—or noxious—odors.”
Outside, the couple breathed even freer. One of the oldest trees in the Portland area, a London plane tree, spreads over the backyard above the new deck. Planted at the turn of the century, it is part of Portland’s Heritage Tree program.
Surrounding naturescaping includes rescued plants, native hardy plants, and meadow grasses that reduce water use. So while the Roethes tiptoe through their lush green lawn, sprouted from a seed mix native to the area, or loll under their London plane tree, they can breathe easier knowing they have turned a turn-of-the-century home into a modern-day eco-success. All with earth-friendly materials—for their own health, and that of the planet.
Earth Smart Is Just Plain Smart
• Building materials, flooring, and paint: Environmental Building Supplies, 1331 N.W. Kearney St., Portland, OR 97209, (503) 222-3881
• Heat pump: The Trane Company, 6200 Troup Highway, Tyler, TX 75707, (903) 581-3200, www.trane.com
• Kitchen cabinets: Diamond brand, available from Parr Lumber, 5630 NW Five Oaks Dr., Hillsboro, OR 97123, (503) 614-2500, www.parr.com
• Natural interior products: Planetary Solutions, 2030 17th St., Boulder, CO 80302, (303) 442-6228
• Water heater: Vaughn Manufacturing Corp., 26 Old Elm St., P.O. Box 5431, Salisbury, MA 01952, (800) 2-vaughn, www.vaughncorp.com
• Windows: Marvin Windows & Doors, P.O. Box 100, Warroad, MN 56763, (888) 537-8268, www.marvin.com
Patrick Soran is a licensed architect and writer/photographer whose work has appeared in Condé Nast Bride’s, Diversion, Endless Vacation, TravelAmerica and Mature Outlook magazines.