Can This Home Be Greened? A Pennsylvania Pick-Me-Up

A 1920s Dutch Colonial goes in for the basics: remove toxins, improve efficiency and ensure durability.

| November 2009

  • AFM Safecoat's floor finish is nontoxic.
    Photo By Liam Goble
  • The outdated boiler is inefficient, letting heat escape up the chimney.
    Photo By Liam Goble
  • Like many older homes, Joe's Prohibition-era house needs major energy-efficiency upgrades.
    Photo By Liam Goble
  • Homeowner Joe Keleher stands in front of his home.
    Photo By Liam Goble
  • Joe's attic has virtually no insulation.
    Photo By Liam Goble
  • Water has cracked the foundation of Joe's home, causing it to crumble.
    Photo By Liam Goble

Recent Arizona transplant Joe Keleher bought a 1920s-era Dutch Colonial home in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, three years ago but had been renting it out while he lived out of state. He’s now moving back into the house and wants to renovate. Joe’s goals include removing or reducing the toxic materials used during the original construction, increasing energy efficiency and lowering the home’s maintenance costs—while spending as little as possible.

As a Pennsylvania Home Energy service provider, my first step was to conduct a home energy audit, which includes a full home inspection; a blower door test, which uses air pressure to find air leaks; thermal (infrared) scans that measure heat and show air leaks and infiltration; and health and safety testing, including heating system diagnostics. In addition, Shaun Pardi, my colleague at Envinity (a green design firm), suggested building materials and techniques that would reduce or eliminate toxins within the home, one of Joe’s main concerns.

Before beginning the home analysis, we interviewed Joe and learned that the basement has a history of flooding. Joe also mentioned that he was concerned about toxins, especially in the home’s outdated carpet. In addition, the home energy audit revealed a general lack of insulation as well as significant air infiltration.

Our final report included a cost-benefit analysis of different energy-efficiency improvements Joe could install in the home; a heat-load calculation for heating system replacement; and a do-it-yourself checklist for Joe to complete.

1. Remove potential toxins

Joe’s chief concern was the toxicity of the home’s materials. Our investigation revealed that the carpets were the major potential source of pollutants.

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