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April 24, 2019
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General News: 100-Year-Old Home Goes Green

This stately home in Cornwall-on-Hudson is one of the most energy efficient homes in the area.
This stately home in Cornwall-on-Hudson is one of the most energy efficient homes in the area.
July 07, 2009

When Karen and Wales Shao move into their 100-year-old Dutch Colonial home in the Cliffside Park neighborhood of Cornwall-on-Hudson this month they will be living in one of the most technologically advanced ‘green” houses in New York State.   The gut re-hab of the house was a pilot project of the U.S. Green Building Council that used sustainable materials along with energy saving appliances and heating and cooling systems with a low-impact on the environment. It is also being evaluated for a LEED designation, with the likelihood of being the first “gut” rehab project in New York State to be awarded  “Gold Certification.”

When the Shaos purchased their grey-shingled home overlooking the Hudson River in 2004, they never intended to undertake a gut rehab.   Karen says that the project grew as the couple encountered unexpected problems, from termites and carpenter ants to asbestos and radon.  She had to get rid of these problems and at each step she researched the most environmentally sensitive method and the best contractors.

“Some people advised us to tear down the house,” Karen said about their decision to go through a lengthy rehab project. “It’s a tough call but when you love something like this house, its not an inanimate object. You want to respect it.”

Karen says her biggest challenge was finding the right team to advise her. She worked with Aryeh Siegel Architect, of Beacon, New York (www.ajsarch.com) and construction manager Noah Matalon of Radiant Consulting, of Garrison, New York (radiantconsult@optonline.net). Dirk Sabin of Marbledale, Connecticut (www.dirksabindesign.com) designed the low-impact landscape with three cisterns to prevent runoff onto Grandview Avenue and gardens planted with drought- and deer-resistant plants.

To be certified as a “green” house, one that reduces its footprint on the environment,  the Shaos recycled materials, including windows and lumber, that they took out of the house.  They installed a furnace that is modulated with sensors from the exterior of the home and it doesn’t keep the water heated at a uniform temp but bases it on what is going on outside.  Karen says that in hindsight she would have installed a geothermal heating unit but that she didn’t know enough about the system when she started the process four years ago.  She’s also like to use solar energy in the house but says the best solar collectors are made in Germany and are not yet available in the United States.

Another hidden problem the Shaos encountered was an extremely high level of radon that was only detected by a highly-sensitive test.  Once found, they had to dig below the foundation and put in a tube with a fan attached that sucks out the radon beneath the house.

As she prepares to take up residence in their 1870-square foot home, Karen is philosophical about the effort she has put into it.  “It was an important experience for people who own an old home,” she said  “It was a learning experience, not a mistake.”

She also wants to share the information she has gathered during the project to help other homeowners make their houses “green” and to do that she is creating a website filled with resources and tips for people living in the Hudson Valley, www.taleoftwocenturies.com.  More information on LEED for Homes is available at www.USGBC.org.




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