Driven by her desire to set an example for others and create a healthy environment for her son, Candace Gossen tackled a rehab of her 1924 two-bedroom bungalow in a historic neighborhood in southeast Portland.
“When I bought the house, it had bars on the windows and a chain-link fence around it. It was a very closed-off place,” says the 45-year-old mother of one. “I wanted to bring life back to it and make it a healthy home.”
Candace updated the home over the course of 12 years—one project at a time as her budget allowed. She had an edge when it came to the DIY improvements—a bachelor’s degree in architecture, a master’s degree in building science, and a decade of hands-on practice with sustainable principles. Shortly after purchasing the home, she set up a studio devoted to teaching ecological design. Even with her resources and know-how, she chose to keep the projects simple, doable, and affordable. Her approach followed the life mantra of Buckminster Fuller: You see what needs to be done and you just do it. Do more with less.
Candace initially improved the home’s energy efficiency through simple upgrades and common-sense measures. She removed the bars and grates from the large south-facing window in the living room to capitalize on some passive solar gain. In lieu of curtains or blinds, deciduous trees outside the south-facing window provide shading during the warmer months and allow some passive solar gain through in the winter. Energy-efficient lighting and new Energy Star appliances—including a super-efficient 10-cubic-foot refrigerator—rounded out her energy strategy. Lastly, the much-anticipated demise of the home’s 40-year-old oil furnace gave Candace the chance to reduce the home’s dependency on fossil fuel (see below).
“I wanted the home to show options to homeowners and put the technology in the open—outside—so people passing by could see what we did,” she says. “Most people—me included—cannot afford to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on home improvements for the sake of sustainability and efficiency.”
Instead, Candace focused on low-cost, do-it-yourself solutions that “make sense for the average homeowner.” To support her sustainable lifestyle and make the community available to others, she eventually converted the finished basement and the garage into two rental apartments.
The house proved to be the perfect demonstration piece for her design studio as well as an ideal classroom for the workshops she teaches through the local community college and university. “It’s really important that I give back more than I take,” she says. “Using this house to show what can be done and teaching through the various projects seemed like a natural way to be a steward for change.”
She used many of the projects to provide her students with hands-on instruction and often invited people in the community to participate. Her home is a favorite on several home tours in the area—including last year’s Build it Green! Tour of Homes, where a record number of people turned out to admire their work. Here are a few of the applications that had the crowds stretching on their tiptoes for a second look.