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Posted at 07:01 PM ET, 04/06/2012

My home demolition: The architecture

My name is Mary. I’m an aging person with an aging house. I’m going to tell the story of transforming my house from something I don’t want into something I do...

In my family, I am never too far from architects. My sister and brother and sister-in-law are architects, and my mother was an architectural historian. But that doesn’t mean I know what to look for when I went around shopping for one. My sister lives close by but is consumed with another project. Besides, in case I start yelling at my architect, it’s better that it not be a family member.

Peter VanderPoel and Ed Gill in front of Mary’s house. (Mary McCutcheon )
I found my architect, Peter VanderPoel, through word of mouth in Arlington, where he is known to do green design. He works a lot with Ed Gill of Gill and Yost contractors, so I considered them a package deal. We all worked together on another house in Arlington in 2008 and 2009, and it turned out to be a huge success.

When we embarked on the renovation of that house, Peter and I were both interested in putting solar panels on our roofs. Peter used his neighborhood connections to assemble a cooperative of people who all went together on the project, so we saved money and shared our experiences. If you are ever interested in doing a similar project, scout around for others and cut a deal with the solar panel providers. It might work out well.

When I bought the house across the street last fall, I naturally approached Ed Gill and Peter VanderPoel again. I lured Peter into the idea by promising him that “we’d have some fun” with all kinds of new technology. I also think the green objectives I had for the house appealed to him. Once I had him on board, I told him about the other goals.

The house should not take up much more of the present footprint. In fact, if we can call it a renovation rather than a new construction, we can keep the present sub-minimal setbacks from two or three property lines. The current house was cobbled together from a 1928 core over 40 years. It is missing a sense of coherence, but I like its low and modest look. If I want to have three bedrooms, though, I am pretty much stuck putting a second story on top, and if I want to house my live-in health care aide (when the time comes), I want to have a finished basement.

The horizontal and simple look as well as the energy efficiency can both be achieved with a shallow pitched roof and eaves that extend out on the south face of the house. Here’s one of the “houses of cards” that Peter made:

(Peter VanderPoel)
So if this is going to be my aging-in-place home, and it’s going to have three levels, I’m going to need an elevator, right? Even though this decadence seems contrary to the other goal of energy efficiency, it is or will be a necessity at some point.

As I think more about this elevator, I’ll have to do some research on questions like: Does the distance between levels have to be exactly the same? Do the doors have to open in the same direction on all the levels? And what happens if I get stuck in the elevator when there’s a power outage?

Peter has sketched in the shaft area but both he and Ed advise against putting an elevator in until “the time comes.” This is probably a good idea because elevator technologies may improve, and I might as well have the best possible one when I actually need it. Besides, in the near term, the shaft can serve as storage.

Mary McCutcheon is a retired anthropology professor at George Mason University.

Read her first installment of My Demolition Saga

Read the second installment here.

Do you have your own home renovation story to tell? E-mail Olga Khazan or contact us on Twitter: @postrealestate.

By Mary McCutcheon  |  07:01 PM ET, 04/06/2012

Tags:  realestatepage; renosaga

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