Owner of CornerStone Building & Restoration/Homes, Landry had passed the property many times as it sat on the market, priced at a bargain $155,000. This house, he knew, was located in what had become one of the city’s up and coming neighborhoods, within walking distance of fine restaurants, a performing arts theater and a waterfront park.
In early 2010, Landry decided to take a calculated risk. He soon discovered why the house had languished.
The interior needed gutting to the shell. The first-level flooring system had to be torn out and replaced. Much of the framing had to be sistered, because the house was a confusion of mismatched timbers and even rough-hewn logs, added during multiple renovations. And there was another surprise: The house wasn’t built in 1930, as first thought. It was one of the oldest homes in the neighborhood, circa 1860.
“The building was in shambles,” he said. “It was so far gone, a lot of people were intimidated by it.”
None of this is evident today.
Landry and his crew turned a builder’s nightmare into a four-bedroom, 2,300 square foot urban gem that sold last year after being listed at $695,000.
Along the way, Landry learned some lessons about how to incorporate green building design with the upscale amenities that are essential at this price point.
The success of this home is how well it balances these often-competing goals, while retaining some of the historic references of classic, New England housing stock.
The first floor features an open-concept living room, dining room and kitchen. On a clear day, sun streams through south-facing Marvin Integrity composite windows.
Efficiency took a back seat to history, however, when workers ripped off old siding and found the home’s original textured glass sidelight. Landry had the home’s panel door, with its oval, beveled glass window restored, as well as the sidelight. This formal entry, although seldom used, gives the house a signature look from the street.
Landry realized a European kitchen would be an expectation for this home and he worked to integrate sustainability with the gourmet gear.
The caramelized, vertical grain bamboo flooring that covers the first floor complements the kitchen’s custom bamboo cabinetry. The Fisher & Paykel appliances are Energy Star rated. LED lights illuminate the island.
Maine’s largest city has a strong buy-local movement. Landry capitalized on that sensibility when choosing products and building materials, and played up the local connection when marketing the home through his real estate agency, Benchmark Residential and Investment Real Estate.
“These kitchen counter tops are made one-eight of a mile away,” he said, referencing a nearby concrete artisan. “We tried to support local businesses.”
When practical, local lumber was chosen. Eastern white pine, grown, milled and SFI certified by Maine-based Hancock Lumber, was used for the yard fence and for rear exterior siding.
At any price point, home heating is a prime concern in Maine. Buyers want a house that’s easy on fuel, but Landry stopped short of going to extremes. Solar panels and alternative heating systems were not considered for this job.
“The old housing stock in this area is completely defective,” Landry said. “So you don’t have to go zero carbon footprint to stand out from the competition.”
With the house gutted, insulating was a straight-ahead job. Closed-cell foam was sprayed from cellar to ceiling to achieve the highest R-values permitted by the framing.
In the basement, the foam encapsulates the cold, leaky stone and brick foundation that’s typical of the area’s 19th century construction. A new, poured concrete floor makes the space dry and usable. Elevated radon gas levels, tied to the region’s granite geology, required the addition of an air-to-air heat exchanger.
For heat and hot water, Landry chose a Laars Endurance multi-zone boiler, fueled by natural gas. It’s a cleaner, less-costly choice in a state where fuel oil remains the dominant source of heat energy. The boiler feeds wall-mounted Biasi radiator panels, which add a contemporary, European flourish to the home’s basic, New England roots.
In the den, there’s a novel heating choice: An EcoSmart vent-free fireplace. Fueled by smokeless, emissions-free bioethanol, the modern, stainless steel fireplace warms the room like a giant alcohol burner.
The second floor is accessed by a graceful, winding staircase. Along with the front door, it’s one of the few original elements that hadn’t been removed or trashed over time. Upstairs, a hallway with curved corners, a window-lit landing above the stairway and the steep-pitch ceilings that are typical of a Cape-style roofline add to the home’s visual interest.
Here and there, Landry has integrated features that add to the home’s sustainability, but don’t scream “green.” All paint is low or no VOC. Dual-flush, Koehler toilets reduce water consumption. Outside, a Japanese-inspired garden blooms with native blueberry bushes and ornamental trees, offering a no-grass, low-water oasis in the city.
Choosing these and other green and sustainable options added 25-to-30 percent to the overall cost, Landry figures. It allowed him to market the house as efficient and highlight its low carbon footprint. But green design was part of a package, not the prime selling point. Considering his budget, Landry said he couldn’t go above that 30 percent premium and still recover the additional expense in the asking price.
If he had it to do over again, Landry said he would have spent a bit more time investigating the property. This house was built by frugal people during tough times, and the changes that took place over the years were likely done by friends and handymen. Code and structural violations were covered over by the next renovation.
“Until you open the walls, it’s hard to know what someone did 70 years ago,” he said. “And that adds to the cost significantly.”
But it also became clear, Landry said, that the renovationS he did had to include a high level of amenities and efficiencies, and offer a low level of maintenance. That was the formula to attract the urban professionals who would pay more to live in a special home, in a special area.
A case in point is the locally-made, concrete counter tops used throughout the home. They cost 15-20 percent more than granite. During open houses, guests would examine the kitchen. Eight out of 10 commented on the kitchen counters, but didn’t know what they were made of. The others knew instantly.
“There’s a market, a small market, of people who get this,” Landry said. “But you can’t fake it.”
To see this article as presented in our May 2011 issue, with sidebars and additional photos, please visit our Magazine Archives.