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Case Study

Historic Texas Bungalow Gets a Green Renovation

Location: Austin, TX

A project that balances preservation and sustainability earns Austin's highest green rating

This green restoration of a 1928 bungalow in downtown Austin was the first historic project to be rated by Austin Energy Green Building. While the aspects of green building are not new to our design and build team, meeting the historic requirements with green technology was.

We acquired this project as it entered the historic designation process and immediately began preparations to maintain the historic integrity of the house and neighborhood while creating an energy-efficient, comfortable, and healthy home. We believe that one of the greenest things a homeowner can do is take an existing home and update it to meet modern needs while reducing its carbon footprint.

Use what you already have

The house is tucked away in a trendy, close-knit community within walking distance of local shops, restaurants, parks, and Lady Bird Lake. The lot includes beautiful old oak trees that provide ample shading and protection from the weather. The original exterior design matched the area’s characteristics but was in desperate need of some TLC. We carefully scraped the original wood lap siding and added a fresh coat of low-VOC paint from a historic color palette approved by the City of Austin Historic Preservation Office. The city permitted a small master suite addition and an additional front porch providing more outdoor living space and connection to the neighborhood.

Matching new to old

The original home had no insulation and the windows acted like energy sieves, with single glazing and gaps in the frames. In an effort to preserve the windows, we consulted our Austin Energy Green Building inspector and a local window repair company. Unfortunately the original windows were in such bad shape that the home would not have passed any standard energy efficiency tests or green inspections. As an alternative, we installed replicas of the original windows that also met Energy Star requirements. Our carpenters then built custom screens to match and replace the broken and weathered originals.

The interior of the house was in poor shape as well. We refinished the original hardwood flooring and matched the new wood for the master suite addition with it. We selected red rosin paper, made from 100% recycled materials, for the flooring underlayment.

The tile designs in the master bathroom, second bathroom, and kitchen floor provide 1920s appeal. We installed Fiberock backerboard, made from 95% recycled materials, under the tile for moisture absorption and mold prevention.

The paint for the vintage-looking cabinetry in the kitchen and master bath was also chosen from the historic color palette and is urea-formaldehyde free to prevent off-gassing. In the second bathroom, the carpenters added a unique vanity piece characteristic of the time period. The granite countertops, selected for their durability and low maintenance requirements, were cut from the supplier’s remnant pieces.

Energy, health, and comfort

For more than 80 years, the house stood with no insulation and no proper wall sheathing. To add optimal insulation, we installed open–cell spray foam insulation made from 25% renewable resources in the exterior walls and attic rafters. We also foamed the undersides of the floors because the house sits above a rebuilt pier-and-beam foundation. The spray foam helped us achieve a sealed envelope with 40% energy savings while essentially "gluing" the old house together, improving the structure as a whole.

With the use of spray-foam insulation and very tight construction, we needed to install a fresh air intake in the mechanical ventilation system to promote healthy indoor air quality. The 15.75 SEER HVAC system, with a 13.10 EER rating, was properly sized for the home per Manual J calculations, maximizing both comfort and energy efficiency.

Reducing material toxins is a big priority for us in promoting green living within our homes. In order to provide a healthy indoor environment, we used low-VOC caulks and adhesives and no-VOC paint, which also incorporated colors from the city’s suggested historic palette.

We installed appliances, a tankless gas water heater, lighting, and ceiling fans that were all Energy Star rated, to reduce energy usage by 40 to 60%. We also incorporated a specialized lighting and dimming system, Lutron's AuroRa wireless lighting control system, which reduces energy use by 40% with the use of the dimmers while creating ambiance.

Water savings in and out

In an effort to conserve water throughout the house, we chose 1.28-gpf toilets and WaterSense fixtures. In addition, the Energy Star refrigerator and dishwasher are rated to reduce water use by 20% to 40% and save on utility bills. The carefully considered landscaping includes plants from the City of Austin Grow Green list—native or adaptive plants that can withstand the Central Texas heat and limited rainfall. The new drip irrigation system will ensure that water penetrates the root systems directly, limiting runoff, and a rain sensor will further reduce unnecessary irrigation. Rain barrels placed below the gutter system supply additional water for plants.

We feel this project is a great example of how we can salvage old houses from landfills. More important, the East Monroe Street bungalow demonstrates how structural and cosmetic remodels should incorporate green building principals and technologies to reduce carbon footprints, improve health, and promote a building’s longevity.

Lessons Learned

We evaluate each building project based on site selection and design, energy efficiency, water conservation, use of renewable resources, healthy indoor air quality, and sustainable landscaping. With an existing historic home, several of these characteristics were not as easy to control.

One of our first concerns was the fact that the home was sitting on rough cedar posts of questionable integrity. Fortunately we were able to work under the existing structure to install new concrete-filled Sonotubes with limited disturbance to the rest of the site.

Finding common ground

Our biggest challenge was installing replica wooden windows that met Energy Star guidelines. Jeld-Wen Windows had a design that best met the era, but the challenge was getting the city's approval from the historic preservation office to replace the old windows with energy-efficient ones and to meet Austin Energy Green Building requirements. We worked closely with both city programs to get this upgrade approved.

The biggest surprise was how the open-cell foam insulation created not only tight construction that virtually eliminated convective heat transfer but also glued the old structure together to create a more stable and level building.

Reaching out

In an effort to spread the word about green building, we worked with The Home Depot Eco Options to create an educational DVD documenting the restoration of the home. The DVD was presented at the 2009 International Builders’ Show.

General Specs & Team

Location: Austin, TX

  • General Specs & Team
  • Bedrooms: 3
  • Bathrooms: 2.5
  • Living Space: 1855 sqf
  • Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $223/sqf
  • Completed: June 2008
  • Builder/contractor: Doug Selby Meadowlark Builders
  • Architect: Michael Klement, AIA Architectural Resource
  • General
  • Bedrooms: 2
  • Bathrooms: 2
  • Living Space: 1116 sqf
  • Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $230/sqf
  • Completed: March 2009
  • Builder: Ultraverte
  • Architect/Designer: Cudd Studios
  • Engineer: BD & E, Inc.
  • Construction
  • Foundation: Pier-and-beam; open-cell spray-foam insulation
  • Walls: 2x4 studs at 16 in. o.c.; open-cell foam insulation (R-13, SWD Urethane)
  • Roof: 2x8 rafters at 16 in. o.c.; 30-year shingles; unvented; open-cell foam insulation (R-22, SWD Urethane)
  • Windows: low-E wood-clad (SHGC, 0.24; U-factor, 0.38)
  • Garage: detached
  • Energy
  • Heating/cooling: 2-ton, 25,800-BTU air-source heat pump (15.75 SEER, 13.10 EER, American Standard)
  • Water heating: tankless gas water heater (Rinnai)
  • Natural daylighting
  • Cross ventilation
  • Shade from 80-year-old oak trees
  • Open-cell spray-foam insulation
  • Energy Star appliances, lighting, and ceiling fans
  • Aurora wireless lighting control system
  • Water Efficiency
  • High-efficiency toilets (1.28 gpf)
  • WaterSense faucets
  • Tankless water heater installed directly below master bath and kitchen
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Spray foam insulation (formaldehyde & VOC free)
  • Fresh air ventilation system
  • Low-VOC caulks & adhesives
  • No- & low-VOC paints
  • Formaldehyde-free cabinetry
  • Green Materials and Resource Efficiency
  • Spray foam insulation – 25% renewable content
  • Restored original hardwood floors and siding
  • Retained most of original framing
  • 73% of construction waste recycled
  • Finger-jointed studs
  • Certification
  • Austin Energy Green Building: 5 stars, 139 points (125 points and all mandatory prerequisites needed for 5-star rating)
  • Image Credits: Lindsay Yeakley

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