There's been a lot of emphasis in recent years on sustainable, green living. People swap out their appliances for those with the Energy Star seal of approval, they move to homes with better insulation and more efficient heating, or they gut their old homes and renovate them until they're suitably "green" and bear almost no resemblance to the homes they once were.
Any of these options are perfectly acceptable, but when it came time for Lloyd Alter to downsize, he chose a different route. Being a proponent of living small and green design, it might come as a surprise to some people that this former architect has lived for most of his life in a 3-story, six bedroom, one bathroom house. It's an ancient monolith of a house, dating back to the early 20th century for its original building date.
Aging in place
Alter and his wife decided after their kids moved out of the house that it was too big for just the two of them to share, but instead of downsizing by moving to a smaller home, they just moved downstairs and turned their upper stories into a rental suite, thus following green principle number one: use what you have. They didn't have to buy or build a new house or emit greenhouse gases to move their furniture from one building to another. They made the decision many Americans are making these days: to age in place.
However, the second unique thing Alter did was to leave much of his home intact and original. He posted photos of brick that changes color from white to red in the middle of the room, a remnant of a sunroom he painted white 30 years ago. He liked the historical look it gave the room and chose, with appropriate environmental aplomb, to leave it painted the way it was.
In fact, the main changes he made were mostly to improve the insulation, but without changing the look of the house. "I love the character of the wood and the windows and there was no way I was going to gut the place and lose all that," Alter said. What wood he did have to remove he reused as flooring on the new stairs and landing he created during the renovation.
Improvements behind the scenes
To do this, he added a vapor barrier in some of his more drafty windows, improved the insulation, and installed new radiators, leaving the piping exposed on the ceiling of the lower floor, thus allowing the ambient heat of the pipes to heat his bedroom without the need of an extra radiator. And of course, he said, "There is not a single incandescent or fluorescent bulb in the place," since he changed everything out for LEDs, and his electricity bill is lower with six people living in the house than it was with just the two of them.