Can This Home Be Greened? Renovating a Vermont Log Cabin

A Vermont couple lives the life they have imagined, but need to green their home.

| September/October 2007

  • The Vermont log cabin is picturesque but poorly insulated.
  • The Priests grow much of their own food-and brew their own beer-on BYB Farm.
  • The rustic plank ceilings are charming, but they make rooms dark.
  • Previous efforts to chink cracks in the cabin still don't stop drafts.

Sue and Dave Priest live a green lifestyle in a log house on 50 beautiful acres in North Chittenden, Vermont. Most of their food—including vegetables, eggs, maple syrup, bread, wine and beer—is produced at home. They even chop their own wood for heating. The couple’s vehicles run on bio-diesel sourced from local restaurants, and they also minimize car use by reducing commuting distance and days worked.

The couple balances full-time jobs with their farm work—Sue is an ophthalmic technician; Dave is an electrician. In their “spare time,” they care for horses, chickens, cats, dogs and organic gardens on the farm, known as BYB Acres, which stands for “Break Your Back” or “Brew Your Beer,” depending on their mood.

Although the Priests love the aesthetic of their 1987 log house, it falls short of their dreams for a sustainable home. Drafts of cold air stream in between missing chinks in the log walls, and the roof leaks. The rooms lack natural light, and the home’s two-story layout isn’t ideal (Sue’s knee problems make climbing the stairs to the bedroom a challenge). Sue and Dave wonder which would leave a smaller ecological footprint: working with the existing structure or leveling the cabin and building a straw bale home.

1. Get Ready for Winter

Problems: The building envelope is nowhere near weather-tight. Chinks have opened up between logs, so the air blows through, and previous chinking attempts have failed. Although the log walls are 8 inches thick, they provide a very low insulation value, about R-8 (R-19 is the standard; R-40 is very efficient). The roof insulation is minimal and damaged by rodents; there’s no basement insulation. The windows, though double glazed, leak and lack the low-E coating that keeps heat in.

Solutions: Most important, the Priests should upgrade the insulation. To preserve the interior log-wall aesthetic, exterior insulation is best. The couple’s idea is to wrap the home in straw bales, but this would require extending the foundation to support the bales.

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