Going green not easy in older, unique homes

Going green not easy in older, unique homes

by Jackie Norris

Angie's List member M. Scott Tedrick says his home and others in the cozy Worthington, Ohio, neighborhood of Rush Creek Village followed Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian design principles: homes modest in size that blend in with their surroundings and are built of locally sourced, common materials.

"It's what I call honest construction," says Tedrick, an architect and Rush Creek resident since 1999.

While a fundamental eco-friendliness inspired the late 1950s and 1960s era homes, the floor-to-ceiling windows - a unique characteristic of mid-century modern design - as well as lack of insulation in the roofs and concrete walls often pose challenges for homeowners who want to go green.

Despite the extra time and money it takes to update the homes in Rush Creek Village, Tedrick says it’s worth it. “There’s a kindred spirit among the residents,” he says. “For us, it’s fulfilling.”

"These can be some of the most inefficient homes," says Kevin Eigel, owner of highly rated Ecohouse, an energy audit provider in Galloway.

Shortly after moving in, Tedrick decided to add on and update the 700-square-foot structure. "The home was drafty, so the inefficiencies were pretty evident," he says.

He focused on improving the energy efficiency of the windows, doors and roof. That included replacing the original 1957 single-pane glass windows, which offered little protection against Ohio's extreme temperatures, he says.

Replacing windows and doors in these types of homes cost considerably more, says Kathy Snyder, co-owner of highly rated Palmer Builders in Hilliard, Ohio. "The original single-pane windows were custom made," she says. "So they have to order custom-sized windows to replace them."

Both Tedrick and his neighbor, Angie's List member Pete MacKenzie, hired highly rated Trio Insulated Glass in Columbus to replace their windows with double-pane, low-emissivity glass. "It was really a simple fix," MacKenzie says. "But it was a financial challenge."

While replacing windows with more energy efficient glass is beneficial, Eigel says it's the most expensive solution, sometimes costing $20,000 or more. He suggests that homeowners get the biggest benefit from adding insulation to the house's envelope, specifically any concrete block walls. "You're likely to see a 50 to 70 percent savings when you insulate the roof and walls," he says.

Tedrick upgraded his roofing insulation and even added a cold roof over the entire home, but it also came at a price. "The budget had to increase as we went through construction," he says. He declined to give a final price tag for the project, but says he eliminated some expense by hiring his own labor.

Besides the extra costs, both Tedrick and MacKenzie say they've had some difficulty finding qualified service providers to work on their mid-century modern homes. "The homes do scare some contractors because they're different," MacKenzie says. "As a result, we've developed our own little version of Angie's List in the neighborhood.

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We live in a 1932 'cottage' that cost me $360,000 in 2006. Since then I have invested at least $70,000 as the value of my property has decreased by the double that. Home ownership is a debt not an asset these days. I purchased as home I loved which is now a money pit; however, it is still my home and I live in a great historic neighborhood. As my mother always said, "You make your bed, you lie in it." We all have made choices; live with them or make the changes you need no matter what the cost!



While comments of an energy auditor were included in this piece, the services of an energy auditor where apparently not acquired. If one is concerned about the energy efficiency of any home it is necessary to first identify those measures that can be taken to improve energy efficiency from a diagnostic energy audit conducted by a certified auditor. In many cases, it is not the windows that are responsible. One needs to first find where the home is losing energy through the leakage of air and/or conduction. It appears the owners made assumptions about what was needed to improve energy efficiency before finding out what was actually responsible. This can lead to very expensive mistakes.

C Byrd


As a historic restoration specialty contractor and a LEED AP adapting best green building practices requires a bit of "thinking outside of the box (no pun intended)". I work in a very hot humid climate so intense UV and water intrusion are our common enemies. I have had the greatest bang for the buck come from insulating the envelope and using specialty window treatments to address the windows. I understand what the earlier post said about finding it difficult to locate a contractor who is willing to take on this type of building. It carries the highest risk from a construction perspective.

Jill Selby


I would offer my 1970's home to a LEED certified contractor to do whatever they want to fix it up and use as a demo. I am a green event consultant as well.

Roger O'Daniel


Three things I learned about old homes. 1. If you need to drill through an inside wall, you need a drill that is twice as long as you thought you needed and the drill bit surfaces on the other side about 6 inches away from where you expected. 2. If you need to replace something, they don't make it anymore. 3. Everytime you leave the house, there is a sucking sound on your wallet. You end up rebuilding most of your house more slowly than with new construction. However, the end result is usually better than new construction and you know where everything is, including the secrets.

Tony Geloso


This article is at best myopic and at least misleading.

These articles structure are specialty homes. Many to most people lived/live in the sometimes ugly, mostly inefficent tract type houses which do lend themselves to energy updating at resonable prices.

What "genius" dreamed this up. He'd be better at almost anything else than article selection.



We have lived in our 1947 William Caton-designed house in El Dorado, KS, for about a year. We have replaced toilets, roof, and patio doors to date for greater energy and water efficiency. While these houses require sensitive updating, they're a joy to live in as they get improved. The architecture is like a well-composed song that becomes familiar as you sing its verses.

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