A House Retrofit to Last 200 Years

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August 29, 2010. Designer-builder Jim Bristow says he wants his 1920s home retrofit to last 500 years. He’s making it energy efficient and spaciously livable without its costing an arm and a leg. Rather than build an addition (first plan), he kept the original house footprint, and converted hallways and small rooms into fewer spacious ones. Empty attic areas enlarged other rooms, like daughter Mia’s pink bedroom complete with playroom tucked under the eaves, to which she graciously gave us a tour.

Jim is thinking reduced energy usage for the long term, too. He added super insulation outside the house. He’s using concrete siding “though concrete is one of the most energy-intensive processes” because it won’t need repainting and is extremely durable. Solar electric and solar thermal are installed. He’s always got an eye out for materials that can be salvaged and re-used, from old growth beams to gently-used kitchen cabinets picked up at ReStore (a used-building materials store). Photos above show the kitchen before remodeling, and after with the used cabinetry and matching refrigerator front, energy-efficient LED lights, and granite counters.

Outside he’s planning to install below-ground rainwater cisterns to irrigate the parking-strip edible garden. Not stopping with improving his house, he led an effort at a nearby school to replace asphalt with living plants. He hopes to persuade Seattle to install a intersection traffic-calming circle that doubles as a rainwater catchment dry well.

Of course the project’s affordability is helped by Jim’s being a builder. But he reminded us that anyone remodeling can save on costs: Think for the long term. Use creatively what you already have. Re-use what you can. Employ classic design, not styles that’ll have to be updated in a few years.

Sound wisdom not just for buildings, but also for cultures. Look forward to an engaging talk and tour.

Watch This Old House – Rethink, Reuse, Remodel (episode 195).


  1. […] has ‘greened’ his own home. His creative use of redesigned space was featured last summer on Peak Moment TV. Rather than expanding his footprint, he repurposed interior space, converting smaller spaces like […]

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