Five years ago this coming January, I was asked by the Kingston Whig Standard to write a series of columns on the growing “green home” technology marketplace. By that time, I had completed the LEED course as a Green Associate and was involved in the first “Green House Certified” Townhouse project in Ontario. I admit to being a “house geek” and, like many of those involved in home construction, I believe our environment cannot continue to sustain the continued assembly of “minimum code” homes, especially when the technology is readily available to correct this. It took another three years for the code to change and, even so, while it’s hugely better, there is much more to be done.  I firmly believe that new green homes are the route to go and, while that’s important, I’d begun to realize, too, that tens of thousands of existing homes lacked the sustainability needed to help the environment.

I   I talked to numerous contacts, professional trades and friends and almost to a person, the fear of the unknown costs and the lack of trust in the construction trades, in general, was a stumbling block. Indeed, I have been involved in some renovations where the unknown has seriously affected the budget and, even with the best planning, this does and will happen now and again. Fortunately, it’s not the norm, but, unfortunately, these are the ones that “make the headlines,” as they say.

     After looking into building an off grid home and talking about this concept last winter, in the back of my mind I began feeling that taking an older home and making it as good or better than a new home, was the way to go. As well, allowing an “open book,” so to speak, documenting for everyone to see, on how this was done, began to take over my thoughts.  In February, Donna and I saw the former United Church at Watson’s Corners, north of Perth Ontario, come up for sale. I am blessed to have a lady who has as strong or stronger commitment to the environment as I do. It was time to “walk the walk” and not just “talk and write” about how everyone can change their home’s sustainability. We bought the church, set a budget for the basic assembly and in May of this year we started renovations. Now some six months later, we are adding the finishing touches and have transformed this glorious 1894 house of worship into a modern, energy efficient home.

      To say it was a smooth path to completion would not be accurate, but along the way we learned a number of things that I will share in this and future columns. To start, any renovation project will have added, unforeseen, costs. When you put together a budget, add 25% and you will probably cover most of those. Beyond that, expect added expenses for extras you decide on, along the way. This is one figure that many don’t consider.  Using our example, we added a walk in shower along with a tub, which also raised the fixtures budget. As well, we decided on a custom wrought iron railing, instead of one made on site and, yes, it is stunning, though the budget took a major hit. Far too often I see where a client adds to the project or the contractor makes requested changes and then everyone forgets and it doesn’t get added to the budget. Change work orders are a good thing on any project; it’s a sobering reminder of the added costs and saves unfortunate surprises down the road.

    We began with a shell and, if you are serious about taking an older home to the level of “green and sustainable,” this is almost a necessity and it can be done without losing the character of the home, entirely. In our case, we left the walls alone and built a completely new interior, other than a portion of the ceiling, using 25 gauge steel studs; a home inside a home for the most part. This can be done in a lot of homes and may be cost efficient. It allowed us to wire, plumb and insulate without the interference of old walls, while adding to the strength of the home.  While we started with a very low R Value, when you factor in the new walls and ceilings, added to the original wood frame, with wood shavings for insulation, we reached R values in the walls of over R30 and ceiling values closer to R60.

    We utilized spray foam in the crawl space and, while there is some talk about how safe this material is, it comes down to the quality of the installer and we had the best crew I know of.  Jeff and his team at Kingston Spray Foam did an awesome job. You must have trades who buy into the sustainable concept and leave the past methods behind. Wiring a home with two layers of wall, planning for a loft that was not yet assembled and being clear on what we trying to accomplish, was a challenge. Steel studs also require some care in wiring. Shawn’s crew at Phase One Electric, also in Kingston, took the time to understand how important every hole in the wall meant to the overall energy values.

     Our own crew, Spartan, John and Cathy, bought into the sustainable concept and we held weekly and, sometimes, daily meetings on each step of the build. During the assembly of the walls, insulation and air barrier process, we used up nearly 30 rolls of tuck tape, 44 cans of spray foam and one “Tiger foam” canister set. I lost count of the number of tubes of acoustical and urethane seal that went into the assembly. Insulation batts are important, care in sealing up the entire envelope is almost, if not more, important.  A special thanks to Greg, Mike and the team at Atkinson’s Lumber in Kingston for understanding what we were doing and helping with the right products. Sourced from second generation forests around Killaloe, Ontario, our crew installed over 3000 sq. ft. of beautiful “V” joint pine, covering all the walls and 2/3 of the ceiling. Thanks go to Gerard and family at Ostroskie Lumber in Tranmore, Ontario.

     As promised, on Saturday, December 7th we are holding an open house from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM for anyone interested in seeing the finished project. We hope you can take the time to come and see this 1894 Revival. We will gladly pour you a hot apple cider, tea or a flavoured coffee, show you around and answer any questions.

     Next week, I will write about the challenges, a few heartaches and some of the joys we experienced, as well as Donna’s favourite part of the adventure; the recycled/reclaimed items that went into the project.  We are having the final energy audit done this week, so in next week’s column I will also face the music; did we turn this gorgeous 1894 church into a “green church?” Stay tuned.