Smart House Renovation for the Next Hundred Years

This project embraces both long-lived materials and “smart house” features.

During two decades occupying old houses, Steve Snider felt disappointed with the renovations he encountered. Changes had been made without regard to the history or quality of the houses. Modernization had done nothing to improve efficiency and comfort. He was living in Newton, Massachusetts, when the 1914 Craftsman-style house next door went up for sale. Steve, a recently retired investment banker, decided to buy it and manage a top-to-bottom renovation—to upgrade the house thoughtfully, as if he himself were the intended buyer, and then to flip it.

He still lives here. “I moved in, temporarily, and really liked it,” he says. Spacious and comfortable, the house is a nice mix of period style with contemporary ease. It’s also efficient and ready for the 21st century.

The family room is comfortably furnished with reissued pieces by Stickley.

The family room is comfortably furnished with reissued pieces by Stickley.

Though structurally sound, the house did need work. Rooms inside were dark and had odd sizes. A 1960s renovation left the kitchen small; a front-to-back living room incorporating an old screened porch was seldom used; four tiny bedrooms divided in the ’60s shared a bathroom. At the curb, a detached one-car garage from the 1930s was crumbling.

Of the several architects he interviewed, Steve found that Treff LaFleche was the most sympathetic to his views. “In fact, it was Treff who introduced me to LEED certification and all that entailed,” Steve says.

The designer reduced the size of the awkward living room, using one-third of the space toward a new family room (near the kitchen) that occupies a 4' extension on the back of the house. Upstairs, the extension allowed an extra bedroom and bath. The four tiny bedrooms became a landing and two bedrooms with a Jack-and-Jill bath. The master suite is opposite the landing.

Stained-glass windows salvaged from a church allow light to pass from dining room to kitchen.

Stained-glass windows salvaged from a church allow light to pass from dining room to kitchen.

Old and new are well integrated. “I don’t like seeing modern shine in an old-house kitchen,” Steve says. He wanted quarter-sawn oak. LaFleche countered by suggesting they use oak only for the built-in pantry wall, complementing that with classic painted cabinets to keep the room light. The built-in pantry is made of rift-sawn oak with period details, and the new breakfast room has a beadboard ceiling, referencing secondary rooms in houses of the early 20th century. The master bathroom has a walk-in shower, but another kept its clawfoot tub. “I reused—refinished—as many of the existing light fixtures as I could,” Steve says. “In some cases I augmented them with similar reproductions from Rejuvenation.”

What was removed for upgrades did not go to a landfill. The radiators went to salvage, and other elements, including the 1965 kitchen, found new homes through “Doors and lumber went to build a school in Kenya,” Steve reports, “and parts of the kitchen were sold to a family who wanted them for their mid-century house.” Replacing the windows, Steve admits, invites controversy. “I understand the preservation issues,” he says. “But it was a requirement for LEED certification, and I had other good reasons. I’m not a fan of exterior storms, for example.” The standard windows in this house were easy enough to reproduce using Pella Architect-series units. “Fenestration is the same—same size, same style. If the old windows were eight-over-one, that’s what the new ones are,” he says.

The decision to use substitute shingles began with the necessity of removing the old ones. For one thing, they’d have needed stripping to hold new paint, and “the cost of lead abatement was prohibitive,” Steve says. Also, LEED certification required insulation, which meant house-wrap beneath the shingles. Using recently improved PVC shingles “was a risk I decided to take, an experiment,” Steve says. “I’m aware that they won’t weather like cedar. But I did my research at trade shows and by visiting a couple of the houses in eastern Massachusetts where these shingles were used. Both my builder and my architect recommend the product.” Individual textural shingles are installed just like wood shingles. The finish color, chosen by the owner, is factory-applied, baked on, and has a UV-protective coating. The shingles should not fade or need paint for many years, though they are paintable.

A sunny addition on the back of the house opens on the new terrace.

A sunny addition on the back of the house opens on the new terrace.

The new smart-house system introduced 21st-century expectations. It allows occupants to control room temperature, lighting, music, television and video, garage doors, the ADT alarm system—all from multiple touchpads, from the big TV, and from anywhere using an iPhone. “Just by pushing a button on the touchpad,” Steve says, “I can light the house for ‘entertaining’ or ‘arrival’. I can set pre-programmed controls for ‘home,’ ‘away,’ or ‘vacation.’”

The system can handle more. “I could put energy-monitoring software in the Control4 system,” he says. “I can add security cameras, and a sensor to let me know if there’s a water leak in the basement when I’m away.”

Steve Snider believes that the builders a hundred years ago did a good job. When the house was ready for its centennial upgrade, Steve wanted to do his best to ready the building for the next hundred years. “I did not question my approach here,” Steve explains. “This was a renovation, not a restoration.”

The gas fireplace is new, but the mantelshelf is original. Contemporary sconces nod to period style.

The gas fireplace is new, but the mantelshelf is original.

Steve Snider feels strongly that energy and technology upgrades are important components of renovation. He wanted systems in the house to be judged by new-house standards. That meant high-efficiency heating and cooling, state-of-the-art ventilation, and smart-house controls on everything from lighting and security to music.

Now, a hydro-air system with a single high-efficiency boiler provides domestic hot water and hot water for two air handlers, in basement and attic. Heating and air conditioning sharing ductwork are controlled by an automated system from Control4, with the application designed and installed by Simple Home in Westborough.

This project received the building industry’s LEED Gold rating: Foundation, walls, and roof were insulated with closed-cell spray foam. Rainwater collected in an 11,000-gallon cistern on the roof supplies the irrigation system. All new wood was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. With the exception of a few art lamps, lighting is LED or CFL.


Architects: Treff LaFleche, AIA, LEED AP (principal) and Andrew Hinterman, AIA, LEED AP, LDa Architecture & Interiors, Cambridge, MA: (617) 621-1455,
Builder: Jeff Birnbaum, Pioneer Construction, Wellesley, MA:
Kitchen design: Mariette Barsoum, Divine Kitchens, Wellesley, MA:
Landscape design: Dan Wallace, Sudbury Design Group:
Paint-color consultant: Rob Schweitzer, Historic House Colors:
Exterior paint body: ‘Roycroft Bronze Green’ 2846; trim ‘Colonnade Gray’ 7641; window sash ‘Rookwood Dark Red’ 2801; accents ‘Pavestone Gray’ 7642; shutters ‘Tricorn Black’ 6258, all from Sherwin-Williams:
Exterior shingles: prefinished architectural siding by NuCedar Mills, Chicopee, MA: (413) 593-8883,
Garage doors from Everite Door Co.:
Windows by Pella Windows & Doors:
Exterior lanterns ‘Newport’ line by Arroyo Craftsman:
Art lamps ‘Benicia’ (LR) and ‘Journey’ (sitting room) by William Morris Studio:
Kitchen tile ‘Tranquil Mood’ 1x2 mosaic glass tile from Tile Showcase:
Furniture: Bow Arm Morris chairs [91- 406] with footstools [91-495] and round Tabouret table [91-603], all in cherry, reissued by L. and J.G. Stickley:

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