The thought of rebuilding seemed impossible. “It was like, where do we start?” Fred asks. “Nothing was plumb and straight and true. You’d have to start with the foundation.”
The phone call came on a Thursday afternoon in June of 2009. The day had been lovely at Frank and Brenda Baker’s home near Ann Arbor, Mich. One hundred miles away, in the village of Lakeside, Ohio, it was anything but.
“Has anyone called you about your house?” asked the voice on the other end. “Well, there’s a tree on it.”
Frank quickly jumped in the car and drove the two hours to their vacation home. By the time he arrived, the storm had ended.
“Every street in Lakeside was impassable because of trees that had fallen,” Frank says. “But there was only one tree that had actually struck a cottage. And it had hit it pretty well.”
Frank, who worked in the building industry, was able to assess the damage quickly. “Like so many of the old, historic cottages, it didn’t really have a foundation,” he says. “So it wasn’t really anchored down and was extremely out of level to begin with, which was sort of part of the charm.”
The thought of rebuilding seemed impossible. “It was like, where do we start?” Frank asks. “Nothing was plumb and straight and true. You’d have to start with the foundation.”
The Bakers made a decision: “It would make more sense to start over,” Frank says. But they loved their old cottage, which was the second home they had owned in Lakeside.
Brenda had first noticed a “for sale” sign in front of it on the July Fourth weekend of 2005. By then, their two boys were in high school. “Our kids were getting to the age where we asked if it was really worth it,” Frank says. They had been seriously considering selling their Lakeside home and saving the money for college tuitions.
Life in Lakeside, they figured, wouldn’t be the same without their boys. They had made their first trip to the gated resort when their youngest son was 3 months old. For the next seven years, they rented a home each summer, finally making the move to buy their own place in 1995.
“The boys did it all,” Frank says. “They got into sailing there. They loved miniature golf and shuffleboard and tennis. They took all the art classes you can take.”
Once Brenda saw the cottage, though, love beat out logic.
She rode her bike back to their first cottage and told Frank. They made an offer on the house that night and it was accepted. “It sort of felt like it was meant to be,” Brenda says.
The house, located on Vine Street, which dead-ends at the water, had two bedrooms, two baths and even a view of the lake. “It was really charming,” Brenda says. “It had that old character of the Lakeside cottages and was a really open house.”
For all those reasons, it was perfect.
So, after the storm, Frank and Brenda considered all of their options and quickly agreed. “We wanted to basically reproduce the cottage,” Frank says. The footprint and roof pitch of the cottage would be the same. The layout would be virtually identical. The windows would be in the same place.
But there is one thing the Bakers did want to change. Whereas you could hear the wind whistle through the walls of their old cottage, they would build the new one to be as energy-efficient as possible. Frank is semi-retired now after selling the company he started — Riverbend Timber Framing. But his whole career “has always been devoted to green energy efficiency.”
Salvaging everything they could from the old cottage was not only the eco-friendly thing to do, it also helped retain its charm. Frank was able to re-use all of the floorboards, which were made of old-growth, dense yellow pine. “It’s very rare today,” he says. He removed the boards, planed each one and “pulled nails till I was sick of pulling nails.” The project took all winter.
Other salvaged items included all of the doors, plumbing fixtures, sinks, the bathtub and all of the door and window trim.
“Certainly you’re never glad that a historic building got destroyed, but the end result is very pleasing,” Frank says. “And to build a highly efficient and green house, that was all very satisfying and rewarding.”
As they expected, their life in Lakeside did change once their sons were grown. “The last couple of years have been really different,” Brenda says, “which has been nice. We’ve gotten to know a lot more people. We’re just a lot more involved with things going on in Lakeside as opposed to just coming in with our kids and our friends.”
While the Bakers strived to rebuild the cottage exactly as it was, they’re not completely opposed to change. After all, when their oldest son comes to visit, he and his wife will add something new — the Bakers’ first grandchild.
Top 10 Ways to Make Your Home More Energy-Efficient
Frank Baker shares his advice for building green or making changes to an existing home.
1. Engage a designer who is certified in green building.
2. Once you have a good design, find a contractor who is also certified as a green builder. Too many good designs are poorly executed.
3. Seriously consider investing in green building certification. This can provide a significant degree of assurance that the design and construction will result in a building that performs well. Certification can also add value at resale and, in some areas, can reduce mortgage and insurance costs.
4. If you choose not to pursue certification, do your homework so you know what are legitimate green-design details and products versus “greenwashed” products.
5. Focus first on energy efficiency versus trendy green attributes.
6. When designing for energy efficiency, the No. 1 priority should be a highly insulated, extremely tight building envelope. For guidance in this area look to the 2012 Model Energy Code and even standards beyond those, such as the 2030 Challenge by the American Institute of Architects (architecture2030.org). The home will be occupied for a long time and almost everyone expects energy costs to increase exponentially.
7. Make sure the heating, cooling and ventilation systems are sized to match the performance of the energy-efficient building envelope. An oversize HVAC system is costly, inefficient, short lived, unhealthy and uncomfortable. Don’t rely solely on an HVAC contractor’s word on what is proper for a highly energy-efficient building. Get an independent analysis of the heating/cooling load of the building.
8. Be very careful to ensure the building is well ventilated, but not over ventilated. Proper, well-designed ventilation in a tight, well-insulated house is essential to creating a healthy atmosphere and a durable structure.
9. Select interior finish products carefully for their durability, health effects and environmental impacts. This is not an easy task with the bewildering number of products and claims that go with these products.
10. Have fun! The task of building to minimize energy use is an exciting and worthwhile adventure. It also makes you a well-informed, confident consumer. And, in the end, you’re creating something you can be proud of.