In the spring of 2009, a real estate agent contacted Mark Fenelon, general contractor at Nashville, Tenn.’s Mossy Ridge Construction, to team up and invest with her on the remodel of a historic Nashville home that had been vacant for a year. Eager to give the Nashville house an edge in an extremely challenging market, she wanted the speculative project to incorporate environmentally responsible features.
Fenelon had previously built the real estate agent’s house to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards when LEED for Homes was still in its pilot phase. In addition, his housing experience included other green standards such as Energy Star and EarthCraft, a green building certification program across six states in the Southeast tailored to address regional impacts such as high heat, humidity and temperature swings. The spec opportunity wasn’t lost on Fenelon, but banks weren’t eager to loan money in 2009.
“I had to put everything on the line to buy the house with the real estate agent, but the house sold even before we finished it, and the green attributes were the biggest selling point,” Fenelon recalls. “When we started, nobody was doing green houses in the spec environment, but now 80 percent of the building permits here are in that arena — it’s completely boomed.”
Fenelon brought in chief manager Scott Wilson of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Scott Wilson Architect LLC to design the remodel. The two met years before at a local conference sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council and shared like-minded views on green home building.
Order from Chaos
The $490,000 project began with an unexpected turn when Fenelon discovered the walls were falling in. A 6-in. dip from the center of the ridgeline dented the roof, and walls devoid of footings perched on old stone foundations that had settled in one corner of the house.
The 1930s home was governed by the Nashville Historical Society, which mandated that as Mossy Ridge Construction made changes, it must deconstruct the interior one floor at a time. Painstakingly, the contractor put in 13 new piers with beams to support the walls and carry the weight of the house. Haphazard renovations throughout the past 80 years created an odd series of shoebox rooms on different floor levels with no relation to each other and essentially required the team to gut the interior. Historic regulations demanded the exterior parts of the home visible to the neighborhood remain the same, so Wilson retained the original faade and two side walls and increased the home’s size from 1,700 sq. ft. to 3,300 sq. ft. out the back side.
“The home wasn’t comfortable, and other than the faade there was almost no character left to it,” explains Wilson, “but the back had a nice yard with mature trees, which is unusual so close to town. I wanted to celebrate this advantage and create strong connections between the home’s interior and the outside.”
Wilson opened up the interior spaces and brought abundant daylight into the house through a two-story corner stair tower flanked by interior and exterior windows on each floor. A large doorway between the kitchen and the stairwell filters in natural light, and a breakfast area offers a view to the backyard. The stairwell also ushers light into the hallways, and the home’s new open plan creates visual connections to make the spaces brighter and more inviting. Low-emissivity glass windows grace every main-level space, even the closets.
Crafting Homeowner Savings
Distributing natural light throughout the home lowered electricity needs. Another design element that doubled as an amenity and means of energy reduction was dividing the living room and breakfast area with a fireplace. The fireplace is made of Icelandic volcanic stone which has high insulating values, radiates heat better than traditional masonry and provides heat to both spaces.