Net Better Bungalow

Principal Tom Hartman, AIA and his family live in a 1913 Sears kit bungalow in the Pioneer Valley. This house has seen some history, including a residency by poet Robert Frost (you can still see his ink stains on the hardwood floors), and while it was in great shape for vintage New England housing stock, it was lacking in thermal comfort and efficiency. As a building professional who thinks a lot about building science, Tom knew there were steps that could be taken to improve these deficiencies. The difficult part was navigating how to make significant improvements to building performance within the constraints of the family finances, and while the home remained occupied.

After a few harsh winters, and a growing list of deferred maintenance, it was time to take action. The lessons learned throughout this project (which isn’t quite over yet!) have added more tools to the toolbox of skills that C&H employs when helping our clients meet their own efficiency goals within a variety of tricky circumstances.

Watch a video produced by Marvin Windows:

Project Details

  • A crucial part of the success of this project has been phasing. Because the house was occupied throughout the renovations, it was not possible to turn the entire building into a work site. Also, systems had to be kept operational  as consistently as possible. Breaking out tasks also allowed for careful adherence to budget. While in a traditional project, this can sometimes mean a premium on cost, as the repeated mobilization of work and design teams incurs multiple fees, this project drew heavily on the human capital of the Architect and his network, allowing for greater flexibility with scheduling.
  • Many years of experience helped Tom determine the most effective order of operations for reaching his goals. The relatively low hanging fruit like replacing his ancient, inefficient boiler and electric hot water heater were undertaken first.
  • Next came roof replacement and air sealing/thermal barrier of the band joists with spray foam.
  • Five years after the boiler replacement, the electrical system was upgraded, including the hard-wiring of smoke detectors. This was followed two years later by the installation of a 2.2kw rooftop photovoltaic array and related monitoring equipment.
  • Eight years after the commencement of work, the biggest bang-for-your-buck portions of the thermal barrier were tackled (what Tom likes to call the Hat & Boots approach). Old fiberglass batt was removed from the vented attic space, and a high R-value layer of loose fill cellulose replaced it. The interior of basement, where the HVAC is located, was lined with rigid Thermax insulation, and the exterior wall over the unconditioned porch was insulated with cellulose.
  • At the one decade mark, strategic window replacement began, beginning with new triple glazed fiberglass units at the second floor dormers. This was quickly followed by a new primary heat pump hot water heater, new low flow fixtures, and replacement of all house light bulbs with LEDs, .2 additional kWs of capacity was also added to the pv array.
  • Now came the time for some major choices. The 100 year old cedar shingle siding was in need of maintenance, and the questions was: do we spend the time and money to repair as needed, or roll those costs into a larger scope and upgrade the entire envelope? After some inter-family negotiating, the Hartmans opted for the latter, and the largest phase of the project was undertaken. Siding was removed (some salvaged, some scrapped), and the entire exterior was wrapped in a double layer of rigid foam insulation, encapsulated in a continuous air barrier, and topped with Homeslicker, a rainscreen drainage plane product, before being re-sided in shingles to match the original. More window replacement was undertaken as well, fitting high performance units into the existing openings without disturbing the existing interior casework.