Can This Home Be Greened? Mountain Metamorphosis: Saving a Colorado A-Frame Home

Can this home be saved? A Colorado A-frame needs a major structural overhaul.

| May/June 2010

  • The 1967 A-frame offers outdoor living space and great views—but it needs a lot of work.
    Photo By David Johnston
  • Homeowner Kathy Ellis and her son stand at the entrance of the home.
    Photo By David Johnston
  • The home's wall cantilevers over the foundation by at least 6 inches.
    Photo By David Johnston
  • What little insulation the attic has is worn out.
    Photo By David Johnston
  • Single-pane glass creates year-round discomfort.
    Photo By David Johnston
  • The new addition will provide a foundation.
    Photo Illustration By Andy Johnson
  • Superefficient Serious Windows are manufactured near Kathy's home.
    Photo Courtesy Serious Windows

"Can we increase our space and efficiency while also enhancing the connection to our scenic backyard and friendly neighborhood?" 
—Kathy Ellis

Finding an affordable house in Boulder, Colorado, where a small 1940s bungalow can sell for more than $500,000, requires a lot of legwork and even more imagination. The Ellis family felt fortunate to find a house on a half-acre of land in a great part of town with beautiful views. The down side? The 1967 modified A-frame needed an upgrade on every level—starting with the foundation. “We knew we were buying a dream, not a dream home!” Kathy Ellis says. “We had toyed with the idea of doing a tear-down, but that’s just not green.” The question became not so much if this home could be greened, but if it could be saved.

1. The house is barely standing.

Problem: Two of the structure’s load-bearing walls do not connect to the ground. (As strange as that seems, it shows how long a building can last without a solid foundation.) A grade beam is under the house, but one wall cantilevers over the foundation by at least 6 inches, and the opposite “wall” is really the A-frame’s steep roof. The bolts that attach the roof to the floor are actually holding it up.

Solution: The solution to this major problem will become the basis for a redesign. Architect Andy Johnson designed an addition that runs perpendicular to the home’s current east-west axis. The new addition’s foundation can pick up the existing building’s load. The remodel will reverse the existing layout: The current living room will become the garage; the future living area will be part of the new addition. A new foundation under the garage will provide structure for that end of the house.

Cost: Approximately $200,000

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