Slideshow

Molette House Slideshow

The historic 1825 Molette Plantation house in Alabama was moved several miles, renovated, and converted into a model of 21st century energy efficiency.

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Historic preservation issues when renovating, adding on, and moving a house almost two centuries old can lead to unconventional solutions. Chris and Jodi Laumer-Giddens came up with their share when called on to install 21st century energy efficiencies into one of Alabama's oldest homes.

The 1825 Molette Plantation house house in Dallas County, Ala., already was scheduled to move to a new location and was slated for an addition when Chris and Jodi's Atlanta-based architectural firm, LG Squared, became involved.  As they began working on the project, the designer’s role expanded. “The owners originally contacted us to design the mechanical system, but after some additional site visits we took a closer look at the building envelope by doing some energy modeling,” says Chris.

Because the owners wanted to keep the existing section of the house as close as possible to the original design, they had already chosen single-pane windows--a less than desirable energy choice for this Deep South home. Adding to the complexity, the design team was charged with preserving the interior paneling and saving the exterior siding on the existing house while  tightening the building envelope.

Each piece of original siding was carefully removed, course-by-course, as missing boards were replaced with new ones manufactured to the same specifications. To work around the vintage-style wall construction, compensate for the heat gain from the windows, circumvent moisture issues and hold costs down, LG selected rock wool insulation for the walls (R-15 in the original house, R-23 in the addition) followed by a layer of insulated sheathing (R-3.6 throughout) covered with a ventilated rain screen. The roof got insulation worth an R-23.6 rating.

All seams in the sheathing and gaps around window openings were taped or sealed with an adhesive in an attempt to turn the house into what its designers described as a “giant beer cooler.” Insulated sheathing was also used on the roof to seal off the lid of the cooler, while liquid flashing was applied at all windows.

The design team suggested a mini-split system for heating and cooling, but using the ductless variety on interior walls was voted down for aesthetic reasons.  “Ducted mini-splits give you almost the same efficiency as the ductless and you don’t see them,” says Chris. Instead, the project uses four air handlers hidden above the ceilings, each controlling one zone of the house. A tankless water heater and an energy recovery ventilation system are also part of the mix.

Chris believes the result of the retrofit is a home that’s at least 25% better than the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code—and would have been up to 50% better if he had been able to use double-pane windows. As it stands, the home should score a HERS rating of 65 to 75, he figures.

The homeowners, David and Eleanor Molette Cheatham, who live in Atlanta, plan to use the house as a weekend getaway and eventually retire there. The house has been in their family for seven generations and had been moved once before. The latest move for the 80-ton building removed it from a flood plain, took six hours and covered three miles of country roads bordered by cotton fields.  

Because the original section of the house didn’t have a kitchen or bathroom, those rooms are going into the addition along with a dining room and living area. The upstairs of the addition will contain a guest suite and the master bath. The old section of the house will be devoted to a family room and den on the first floor with the master bedroom and another bedroom on the second floor.

LG Squared worked with local builder Steve Johnson of Renovations Plus, based in Marbury, Ala., to come up with a plan to blend the old section of the house with the new addition. “They will look almost identical, with the new section coming off the center of the original house,” says Chris, “it will also have a back porch with a lower roof and a front porch that matches the rest of the design details.”  The project is expected to be finished this fall.

“It’s very challenging to take a building with no insulation, and incorporating modern requirements into a house that was built without any requirements at all,” says Chris. “We were also able to come up with a floor plan that exceeded the owner’s expectations.”