For years, lovers of old houses have been forced to endure certain hardships in order to indulge their attraction to the charm and history of an older home.
The cliché about "drafty old houses" is based in reality. Old homes are usually anything but energy efficient because people didn't know how to build airtight homes years ago and also because, over time, certain elements of the home -- like windows -- degrade and lose much of their ability to keep out the cold in winter and the heat in summer.
But old house aficionados made the sacrifice. They loved the nooks and crannies, charming trim and antique feel of their homes more than they disliked their high energy bills.
Ernie Mahaffey and his wife, Sheila Penrose, of Geneva fell into that category, too, until Mahaffey retired a few years ago and got more interested in energy issues. Before long he started thinking about how he could reconcile his two interests -- the environment and the old homes he so enjoys.
So when a badly dilapidated circa 1929 Tudor Revival home in Geneva's historic district came on the market, the couple purchased it with the idea of making it as energy efficient as possible without sacrificing its historic integrity, and then reselling it.
"Old houses are the fabric of our community in Geneva. I live in one myself. But I am intrigued by the idea of making them more energy efficient. We needed someone to start a conversation about what we are going to do with all of these drafty old houses," Mahaffey said.
"I think that this is a great discussion and I like a challenge. I see this as an opportunity for the Geneva area to get out in front on some really big issues because, as far as we know, no one else in the state of Illinois is even exploring this issue," Mahaffey said.
The Tudor home Mahaffey and Penrose purchased had deteriorated over the years and badly needed rehabilitation just to be livable.
"We knew the house was in terrible shape and we were going to have to tear up the walls anyway, so wouldn't this be the perfect place to explore issues like additional insulation and other sustainability improvements?" Mahaffey said.
So they brought in a team of experts to attack the problem from all sides and proposed a solution.
Since the home is located within the Geneva historic district, however, the changes they could make to the home's exterior were tightly regulated by a historic commission. Members of that commission vetoed a major component of what was proposed by the environmental and realty team that Mahaffey assembled -- replacement of the old windows.
Karla Kaulfuss, preservation planner for the city of Geneva, argued at the time that a home's original windows provide texture to a building that isn't present in a building's other elements and she also questioned whether it was truly green to throw the old windows in a landfill so you could replace them with new windows.
"Preservationists are green at their heart because we are all about the repair of existing products instead of throwing them away and replacing them," Kaulfuss asserted.
So after spending $220,000 to purchase the home and $100,000 plus on the architectural plans for the addition and the energy retrofit, Mahaffey went to Plan B. The team insulated around and within the original window casings in the historic part of the home using Styrofoam boxes and added new tightfitting wood storm windows and low-E glass, as well as special caulking.
They also increased air tightness from basement to roofline in the historic portion of the house through increased insulation (cellulose in the walls and open foam in the ceilings), caulking and weatherstripping. In the new addition to the home added to the rear, state-of-the-art windows and insulation were installed from the beginning.
And when it came to heating and air conditioning, they installed new high-efficiency equipment based on heat load calculations. Units were placed in both the basement and attic for zone control. They also installed an energy recovery ventilator for constant fresh air while exchanging heating/cooling with the exhaust.
The roof of the addition was also wired for possible future installation of solar panels, if the new owner chooses to go that route.
Of course, there were also myriad structural repairs and cosmetic changes done to the historic home, along with the addition of a roomy, modern kitchen with morning room, first-floor master suite, a third bedroom upstairs and a two-car garage to make the home attractive to a modern buyer.
The end result is an adorable, vintage home in the historic district of Geneva that has all of the space and energy efficiency that a modern family or couple wants, along with the charm of a 1929 Tudor home.
"It is now an extremely quiet and comfortable house within walking distance of downtown Geneva with its restaurants, shopping and commuter train station," Mahaffey said. "And the home qualifies for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency-approved tax assessment freeze on the historic portion."
From an environmental standpoint, Mahaffey and his team took a house that initially had a Home Energy Rating Scoring System (HERS) score of 261 and improved it by almost 200 points to 62.
"As a comparison to homes of similar size built to code minimums, the house is performing at a substantially better level," said Tony Botkin of Intelligent Energy Solutions LLC, which performed the blower door tests that assessed the home's HERS rating.
Mahaffey home's score of 62 favorably compares to the 85 that is required to become an Energy Star-rated home and the 100 that constitutes today's minimum International Energy Conservation Code for new construction.
By the way, it was estimated when the project began that a standard renovation of this home would have only improved its HERS score from 261 to 164.
Botkin was also impressed by the fact that estimated heating costs for the original older, smaller home were well over $1,000 annually. Now, with twice as many square feet, the newly-improved and enlarged home's estimated annual heating costs have dropped to $600.
"What we achieved with the community is also meaningful," Mahaffey said. "There was an entirely constructive debate about the challenges of achieving authentic historic restoration and energy efficiency. There are lots of these houses in Geneva and every one of them leaks like a sieve. So this is an important issue to examine."
The rehabbed 1929 Tudor Revival home is located at 405 S. First St. in Geneva and is currently listed for $990,500. For more information, contact Jamie Daniels of Miscella Real Estate at (630) 232-1570.