Can This Home Be Greened? A Nebraska Farmhouse

Kim and David Payne call in the green experts for help with a green renovation on their 90-year-old farmhouse near Utica, Nebraska.

| May/June 2004

At first glance, the large, two-story, wood-frame farmhouses that dot the American landscape hardly seem candidates for greening. Yet these houses were designed, constructed, furnished, heated, cooled, and maintained in a way that makes conversion easy. Their eco-friendly features include local lumber, many windows for natural ventilation and lighting, and steep roofs with wide overhangs that carry water away from the house and harvest snowmelt and rain. Porches protect the houses from all kinds of weather, and transom windows above doors let breezes blow through the house.

Kim and David Payne and their four kids (Davey, eight; Morgan, six; Mady, four; and Ryan, one) live in one of these farmhouses on eleven acres near Utica, Nebraska. When they moved into David’s grandparents’ farmhouse in 1996, the Paynes immediately began to think about updating the ninety-year-old structure. Kim, who suffers from seasonal allergies, sought healthy building products for the renovation, but she couldn’t find local sources and has been somewhat put off by the cost. David worries alternative building materials won’t last as long as traditional materials. Frustrated, Kim contacted Natural Home and the Lincoln Green Building Group (of which I’m a member) for help.

David’s approach to making the farmhouse more livable is to blow in more insulation, replace the carpeting only where needed, tear off the back porch and add a deck, and build a metal garage. Kim’s more health-conscious ideas focus on replacing the carpet with natural flooring and redoing wall paneling and window treatments. They agreed that replacing the old propane furnace and hot water heater with energy-efficient appliances and fixing or replacing the windows was necessary. The couple wanted a plan that would allow them to return the house to its original style while implementing more environmentally friendly appliances, systems, products, materials, and methods.

Tackling the dust problem

The Paynes have already done several things right. They’ve inserted filtering screens in several windows that allow ventilation while reducing pollutants, and they’ve dealt with the high nitrate level in the well water by installing a reverse-osmosis filter system. They’ve replaced several roof shingles to prevent leaks, and they added a return-air vent in the upstairs hall when they installed an air conditioning unit for the upper level. However, they still had several problems to consider.

Because of a four-year drought, the gravel road that leads to their home is clouded with dust as trucks pass to and from the grain elevator nearby. This dust aggravates Kim’s allergies, which her oldest son, Davey, has inherited. I suggested that they plant two or three rows of shrubs or noninvasive, winter-hardy, clumping bamboo (assuming this isn’t an allergen for Kim) along the north side of the feed yard and the east side of the property to reduce the dust and pollutants reaching the house. In addition, adding gravel to the entry drive will help minimize blowing dirt.

4/24/2014 9:15:43 AM

Farmhouses are considerably more difficult to insulate then your modern, recently constructed home. When new homes are built, they take into consideration insulation and heating, alongside energy efficiency and emissions, whereas an older farm property requires renovation and updating which can be extremely costly. I use an throughout my home, and since replacing my old central heating system with it, my heating bill has been massively reduced!

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