Can This Home Be Greened? Getting Older, Getting Better: Remodeling a 19th-century Pennsylvania Home

A 140-year-old home in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania gets a new family and much-needed attention.

| September/October 2006

  • The Lawrences are renovating their 140-year-old house
    Gordon R. Wenzel
  • Lida, Isaac, Matthew and Josiah
    Gordon R. Wenzel
  • Peeling paint on the trim throughout the house tested positive for lead and must be removed
    Gordon R. Wenzel
  • To keep lead paint from flaking off, seal it with duct tape as a temporary fix.
    Gordon R. Wenzel
  • Much of the house’s heat is lost through the uninsulated attic.
    Gordon R. Wenzel

A year and a half ago, Matthew and Lida Lawrence were searching for a home where their two sons—Josiah, 6, and Isaac, 2—could have roots in a community with strong friendships and extended family. Matthew, a Spanish teacher, and Lida, a massage therapist, found what they were looking for in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, a small college town on the Susquehanna River where Matthew grew up. Its thriving farmer’s market, public spaces and trend toward historic preservation enticed the couple back to the area.

The Lawrences bought a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home for a low price, and they’re using the savings for extensive renovation on the 1860s-era house with a 1905 addition. “We’re growing to love this old house, even though we were attracted mainly by its large, in-town yard and location on a quiet street next to the woods,” Lida says. But the house needs work; the previous owner lived there for 80 years and made few improvements.

Motivated to reduce their sons’ chemical exposure and to be kind to the environment, the couple has chosen green renovation. “There are so many chemicals around us, but there are still some realms we can control—our home being one of them,” Matthew says. The couple recently joined other families in a petition to ban chemical pesticides in Lewisburg playgrounds.

“By making healthier choices at home and locally, we’re optimistic that the environmental trend will continue on a broader scale,” Lida says. They’ve begun an environmentally friendly yard by planting trees, getting the whole family involved in organic gardening and coaxing vines to cover an unsightly chain-link fence.

To gear up for the renovations, the Lawrences finished their garage so they would have a place to live without subjecting themselves and the youngsters to lead-containing paint, plaster dust and mold (a risk because the house has flooded twice in the last century). »

1. Eliminating the threat of asbestos and lead

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