405 South First Street, Geneva IL 60134

Authentic Historic Renovation with High Energy Efficiency

As on the day visited by Old House Journal (2/4/11)

Miscella's First Brochure

My hard disk disintegrated with most of the earliest pictures.  These frontal views, though, show the vines growing upon over the room and a number of dead trees all around and up close to the house.

The house dates from 1929 and is in the historic district of Geneva - walking distance to the train, the river, bike paths, shopping and restaurants.  It's considered Tudor style.

This is the rear view showing the garage with overgrown driveway. The driveway swept down and around to enter a tandem two-car slot in the basement.

The south wall was coming separate from the house, was very unstable and had allow windows on this wall to rot away.

Vines here cover a double 8' divided light window.


Powder room off the entry.

Dining room with built-ins.

The living room has a vaulted ceiling that's really hard to photograph.

And a funny juliet balcony with an interesting light fixture.

Living room from the balcony.

The house was so abused that the estate sellers tore out all appliances.

Master bedroom.

Second bedroom (only two) with rot from water entering form the south wall.

Master bath.

The living room had carpet with no hardwood floors.  The dining room, upper hallway and master bedroom had ~2" hardwood floors, but they were warped and stained.  The kitchen had linoleum.

Cobwebs and body stains were everywhere.

The first tasks were to take out dead trees and cut the ivy.

Next was to take down and rebuild the south wall.

Steve Patzer a local fine mason took the wall down brick by brick, cleaning them and laying them aside on the scaffolding as he went.  Several rotted windows and some siding had already been replaced.

The method of bricklaying is called "skintled" or more commonly as "weeping mortor"

Here's Steve demonstrating his technique.

Actually, we had several community presentations.  This is Liz Safanda, Executive Director of Preservations of the Fox Valley (www.PPFV.org).

Most distinct features of the historic building must be preserved and rebuilt.  The front door.

The dormer will need new shingles.

Most of the light fixtures and railings will be preserved and adapted as required.

Here's the very first community event.  The unique story to this renovation is that we set out to to a highly energy efficient and still historically authentic renovation.  This is the architect, Tom Bassett-Dilley (www.DrawingOnPlace.com), explaining the basic features.  At that point, we thought do really push the envelope and do a Passive House level renovation.  Marko Spiegel, below, is founder of OneWatt Construction (www.onewatthouse.com), local design-builders of passive houses.

Marko presented the concepts of super energy efficient houses - airtight envelope, air exchange systems, Walls and roofs with 1' of insulation, etc.  What you don't see in this picture but later is that all the historic windows would have to be replaced with triple pane window from Canada or Germany.  Also, you'll see from the floor plans sketched below, it would have been difficult to move around in the house, since the 1' insulation would have to be put in the inside!  Buildings in the historic district may not have their principal facades altered.

But, the concept wasn't out of the question because we were planning to remove the existing inner walls.  Also, for this sort of project the Geneva City Council might have approved exceptional use of special new windows.  The costs were what did in the idea in the end.  We asked Tom Bassett-Dilley to do a compromise renovation.  He thought we could achieve a nearly airtight house by furring out the basement walls, filling all walls with blown-in cellulose fiber and using special horizontal strips on walls and ceilings to bridge the thermal transfers through 2x4 walls and 2x6 rafters.  Ceilings that were in contact with the outside would be filled with open foam, also blown-in.


Next step, then, was to take out the inner walls.  By then, though, we were in contact with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.  They had participated in the community meetings and were willing to work with us so long as we didn't destroy the old windows and preserved or replaced distinctive features.  We figured we could duplicate the lathe and plaster look after installing the insulation and special strips to break thermal bridges.  (That's Tad Hemming, Hemming Construction, and General Contractor.)

The addition of almost 2000 s.f. is the easy part.  2x6 walls with extra foam board and plastic on the outside would provide substantial thickness for cellulose and open foam insulation.


This is the vaulted ceiling in the living room, looking up toward the balcony.  The ceilings have 2x2 horizontal strips across the rafters and are then filled with open foam where they contact the outdoors.  Walls, to the right, have 1x2 horizontal strips and are filled with cellulose.


The idea is not to allow warm and cool air to mix and form condensation.

Having pulled the inner walls and trim, we were able to insulate the window casings.  This together with well made and sealed storm windows really makes a difference.  Existing storm windows were  installed with low-E glass and reglazed.

Weights were preserved and ropes replaced.  Then as new storms arrived, window sashes were sent out to be reglazed and stained/varnished.