I rode the boat from the Vineyard to Woods Hole a few days back to see the energy efficiency work we’re doing to Katharine and George Woodwell’s house. George is the founder of the Woods Hole Research Center, where we are currently in the middle of construction of a major Deep Energy Retrofit of a large 1905 carriage house recently acquired by the center (the completed building will become office and meeting space for their expanding staff; they’re in the climate change business, so theirs is booming!).
It was the first time I had been to George and Katherine’s house. I got off the boat, walked up the road, and turned right on Church Street. As I walked I gawked at the sprawling old-world summer mansions on the right side (the water side) of Church. Woodwell’s is on the left, and is smaller and more subdued, except for the giveaway large solar thermal system on an outbuilding to the left. Built by George 26 years ago, it has provided half the home’s heat and hot water ever since. But the house is a big old leaky rambler needing many fixes. We’re doing some of them now, as partial steps toward George and Katherine’s eventual goal: eliminating the use of fossil fuels altogether.
Several of our carpenters were working there. Just as I turned into the driveway our project lead, Pete D’Angelo, was ripping a 2×4 on a table saw and the grain was running all ragged so it bound up and kicked back on him. He turned to one of the carpenters, Curtis, who was right next to him, and said, “What else could possibly happen to screw me up today?”
At that moment he turned and saw me walking up the driveway, threw his hands skyward, and said, “Oh no – not him!”
I checked out the job. Tough work. Tearing stuff apart, re-working, insulating, and airsealing in a messy old attic with cast iron pipes and BX cable running everywhere.
As we looked at the work Peter (who is also one of my co-owners) revealed to me that I was the least of his problems on this particular day, unlike on so many other days.
I was glad to hear that but troubled to see how hard this important work is.
Unlike the Carriage House, the Woodwell project does not qualify as a true Deep Energy Retrofit as we’re only doing a part of what needs to be done – picking the low hanging fruit. Hopefully, over time, we’ll be able to do the rest.
On the Vineyard we have another complete Deep Energy Retrofit in progress, for Bill Lake and Morgan Hodgson in Aquinnah. Bill and Morgan bought a typical patched-together summer camp from the 50’s on a beautiful site overlooking Lobsterville. The realtors were selling it as a tear-down (obviously nobody would want that worn out hunk of junk) but Bill and Morgan were interested in saving it and fixing it. It had charm, character, and some good parts – why cart it all away to the dump?
We helped them figure out how to make sense of it. This is a gut re-hab, which makes it easier. When it’s done, it will still be a charming old camp but with more light and space and new aesthetics. And it will perform, in terms of energy use, comfort, and durability, nearly as well as the high-performance new buildings we are making these days. In my last post I said “On the Vineyard we have approximately 18,000 existing buildings. Each will – at some point – need to be brought into the 21st century, or just thrown away.”
One down, 17,999 to go.
The Lake/Hodgson House and the Woods Hole Research Center Carriage House will be, when completed, the first true Deep Energy Retrofits our company has produced. Sometime in the future, when we have monitored and measured, I will quantify what this means, discuss the components, tell of the successes and failures, and try to explain what it takes to do these (aside from committed clients, which is the most essential requirement).
Meanwhile, on March 6th we are hosting an open house at Lake/Hodgson’s, mid-construction, with bones exposed, so people can see what goes into such a project and how it’s done. We will examine the troubles and the triumphs midstream. If you’re around, join us.
I’ll be there – if the carpenters don’t kick me out first!