Ranch Transformed, Efficiency Achieved
An architect rebuilds a midcentury wreck into a stylish, energy-smart home for $90 per sq. ft.
Synopsis: When architect Jesse Thompson found the home of his dreams, it was a diamond in the rough: small, inexpensive, homely, energy inefficient, and illegally wired. Still, the house was walking distance to his children’s school and biking distance to his office in downtown Portland, Maine. Thompson and his family were able to take their time on the renovation and spent their first year in the house planning the remodel, which began by addressing a drainage problem that caused the basement to flood, along with insulating the basement. They then commenced on a remodel that moved the house up instead of out, adding a second-floor bedroom area for the children. Throughout the renovation, Thompson and the builders paid attention to air-sealing and energy efficiency. Thompson reconfigured the exterior-envelope details based on the REMOTE (Residential Exterior Membrane Outside-insulation Technique) system developed by the CCHRC (Cold Climate Housing Research Center). The wall insulation package includes polyiso foam and dense-pack cellulose.
My wife, Betsy, and I searched for two years before we found the dump of our dreams: a tiny, dirt-cheap, and homely 1960s ranch that was within walking distance of our children’s school and was close enough to downtown Portland so that we could ride our bikes to work. Our hope was that we could renovate it into an affordable, stylish, and comfortable home. Our creative vision was strong enough to sense the glimmer of a diamond deep inside that forgotten home on Madeline Street.
The house was heavily distressed, its wiring was illegal and dangerous, and it was considered a menace by the neighbors. It leaked air to beat the band (15 ACH50/4000 cfm50), and the basement flooded every time it rained. The ceilings were a claustrophobic 7 ft. 6 in. high.
Why take this on? Residential architects usually want to build…