Jack and Sheila Herndon’s 1910 single-story, 850-square-foot home north of downtown Seattle, Washington, is an unassuming structure, typical of its neighborhood. For the Herndons, its draw was affordability and a reasonable commuting distance to Sheila’s job.
The couple purchased the home in 1991, and immediately realized its potential for energy upgrades. “Restructuring the house to be greener was more of an evolution than a goal from the top,” says Jack. “We addressed remaking the home in convenient pieces each year, starting with structural integrity. It made managing costs affordable without the need for construction loans. Plus, we didn’t need to be displaced or disturbed for extended periods of time.”
Getting to Work
Sheila, a medical lab technician, first worked on tearing out patchy grass and low-growing juniper, developing a low-maintenance yardscape for drought resistance, eye appeal, and for shading the southern front of the home. The backyard is their “personal oasis” and organic vegetable garden.
Jack, a retired facilities and environmental research laboratory manager with the University of Washington Civil & Environmental Engineering department, put his energy into mechanical and structural upgrades. “I have been an avid believer in the benefits of renewable energy and efficiency for the greater part of my life,” says Jack. “I like to experiment at the house with new materials and processes toward that end. My passion is being a general handyman, inventor, and, to a lesser extent, an artist.”
Tightening the Envelope
Once the structure was secure with earthquake reinforcements, they increased insulation throughout. Infrared photos and a smoke gun revealed air leakage and areas that needed additional insulation. First, ceiling penetrations and the tops of wall cavities were sealed. After that, paper-backed fiberglass batt attic insulation (R-21) was cross-laid over an older 3 inches of blown cellulose. This was topped by R-5 foil-backed fiberglass batts for a total of R-50+. The cross-pattern of batts helps block air movement through the insulation.
External wall cavities were filled with blown-in cellulose funded partially by a rebate from Puget Sound Energy. An exterior overlay of faux antique brick siding with an inch of wood-fiber insulation backing provides another insulative layer. Because it is interlocked, it also serves as a moisture- and air-infiltration barrier.