Rethinking Our Existing Homes


There is no easier way to save energy than to build new, and build right - from the ground up. However, most of us stay in our existing homes for a very good reason: they are home. They are where we have lived for the most important part of our lives, they are in our neighborhood and our community, they are the place where we express ourselves fully, where we let our hair down, where we are most comfortable. Furthermore, the more we are able to stay in our existing homes on our existing streets, the more we avoid contributing to the outward building boom - to creating new pavement, new development, new sprawl. Perhaps the greenest home of all is the one that doesn't get built.

An older home may have a charm and grace to it that is much loved, but that can be enhanced or improved. We at New Leaf Design have a deep respect and sensibility for what is beautiful and elegant in a home and for the often subtle and intangible qualities that make it unique. We know how to leave what should be left, but we also can make it more functional, more efficient, and even more elegant. We can subtly enhance what is already there; or we can make it over entirely into something extraordinary that could not have been fully imagined until the building began.

Existing homes will continue to make up the bulk of our housing stock for decades to come. We are not going succeed in reducing our carbon output without sharply reducing the gross and extravagant heat-loss that is typical in 80 percent of our existing housing stock. Again, the first step is to imagine efficiency improvements not just of five percent or ten percent, but sixty percent or eighty percent. Even in older houses, these kinds of gains can often be achieved. Even when efficiency improvements are expensive, the returns they provide are on-going. Understood as an investment - rather than an expense - they provide a return and a value in savings and comfort - that is earned year after year - for as long as you live in your home, and that can be realized again in value added to your home when it is sold.

Energy Retrofitting

Insulating and weatherizing technologies have evolved tremendously since the 1970s when we first began to understand that our energy resources were not only finite, but in fact quite limited. More important than the technologies, has been the evolution in our understanding of Building Science, the study of how air and moisture behave, and can be managed for comfort, in a building. With the technologies at our disposal, and access to some of the best information on structures and systems and how they interact in a home, we can now substantially improve a home's efficiency and reduce its use of heating fuel, while keeping the air quality fresh, safe, and comfortable.

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