Mid-mod mashup goes for net zero energy

| by Melissa Baldridge
Mid-mod mashup goes for net zero energy

In a recent blog, I blasted mid-century modern architecture as the “worst and the least of everything” for its energy (in-)efficiency.  But one renovation in a historic Mid-Mod neighborhood near Denver intends to set that right.

Located in the time-capsule Arapahoe Acres neighborhood of Englewood, the house at 3030 S. Cornell Circle is getting a green-home overhaul, grandly reaching for net-zero energy – all its power needs generated on-site. Not only will the makeover raise the roof on the home’s energy efficiency, it’s modernizing the character of this mid-century area, to say nothing of lifting property values.

Existing home before remodel, photo via Arapahoe County tax assessor

Architect Mark Bowers and his team from Architectural Workshop purchased the home (built in 1954) this summer in the middle of Denver's frenzied real estate market. To stand out from the crowded field of buyers, he wrote a love letter to the sellers, telling them of his plan to bring their home into the 21st century. The sellers chose him, and he closed on the 10,000 square-foot lot and home in July for $320,000.

Arapahoe Acres is a National Register of Historic Places neighborhood, and area homeowners are highly protective of it. So Bowers has to balance both style and efficiency upgrades while keeping his upgrades aligned with neighborhood character.

Bowers calls this prototype reno a “SPARC” home – “S” is for smart home, “P” is for personality because he wants the home to have loads of it, “A” is for artistic, “R” is for renewable, and “C” is for contemporary.

REAL ESTATE IMPACTOne awesome way to tell a story about a project is to use before- and after-HERS ratings.  “Before, the house had a HERS of ___________.  And AFTER ….”  It’s a super way to quantify your improvements and demonstrate the value you added.  And be sure to use the HERS in your marketing.  Let the visual do the talking.

”We’ve seen a lot of green homes, and they’re not pretty,” Bowers says.  To get all the SPARC characteristics into one project was tough, even though Bowers is both an architect and engineer. “It was a bigger challenge than we thought,” he said. His contractors were leery of the project, too, and he had to work everyone to get buy in.

Even with high-performance homes and buildings, the fundamentals of real estate still apply.  School districts?  ‘Gotta’ be right.  Interior layout?  Check.  Finishes?  ‘Gotta be there, too.  If a builder takes heroic measures to wipe out energy bills, it’s a value-add – at least for now.

REAL ESTATE IMPACT:  Never assume your buyer knows (or even cares) what you’ve added to make a home net-zero.  TELL THEM.  You don’t have to geek people out with pages of details, but succinctly list the features you’ve added to get the house to zero.  And make sure you give that to the appraiser, too.  Just because a net-zero house may sell at a premium doesn’t mean it will appraise for more.

They’ll literally raise the roof of the home to 12 feet from the original eight. They’ll add a fireplace and open up the living areas into three main ones:  a family room, a 2nd den, and an oversized kitchen meant to be a combo eating/gathering space.

Rendering of the back of house via Architectural Workshop.

Zero doesn’t come cheap, at least not on this project. Bowers will really stretch on some of the energy-efficiency features, too, including a ground-source heat pump – with three 300-foot bores that will use the earth’s heat to heat and cool the house. He also plans to install tankless hot water, a heat transfer system from the geothermal to pre-heat that water, spray-foam insulation, and a big solar electric system.

The team will try to keep as many original elements of the home as possible.

All in, Bowers is hoping he’ll spend $280,000 or less on the significant remodel. He plans to sell the house in the $700s, for approximately $360 per square foot – in keeping with the rest of the area.

Over the course of the renovation, I’ll follow this Mid-Mod overhaul to see how it’s going. If you have questions about this renovation, or any other net-zero overhaul, reach out. 

Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Remodeling, Solar Power

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