Season 29: Austin
The Austin House Project
This project premieres on PBS
February 8th, 2007
For the first time ever, the experts at This Old House travel to Austin, Texas, to transform an historic bungalow into an expanded, eco-friendly home with the help of a team of local green building experts. Newly married homeowners Michele Grieshaber and Michael Klug need more space to accommodate their modern lifestyle and Michael's two growing sons, Sam and David. Architect David Webber plans an architecturally sensitive and modest second floor addition, while local builder Bill Moore has some smart strategies for increasing the efficiency of the house, while preserving the old house charm. He begins with the biggest challenge of the project ? trying to level the house's pier and beam foundation that constantly shifts with the weather due to tough soil conditions. Master carpenter Norm Abram visits another green renovation that Bill recently completed in Travis Heights to see how green building can be tasteful, subtle, and truly mainstream.
Host Kevin O'Connor and master carpenter Norm Abram arrive back in Austin, Texas, with a visit to the spring fed pool at Barton Springs, a favorite local outdoor hangout since the 1920s. Back at the house, the first truckload of framing material arrives, while Bill's crew is busy "deconstructing" the house. Program manager Richard Morgan drops by to explain what they will need to accomplish to qualify for a rare 5-star rating from Austin Energy's Green Building Program. To gain access to the much-needed workspace in the attic, the inefficient old system must go, so HVAC contractor Michael Scher begins outside, by draining and recycling the refrigerant from the old A/C unit. Curious about where the waste from our jobsite ends up, Kevin follows a dumpster of construction waste from our jobsite to a recycling center, and then to an integrated landfill where dimensional lumber and wallboard are turned into mulch and organic compost. Builder Bill Moore works quickly on framing the new addition, to get the building closed in before the rainy season begins.
After a visit to the Texas State Capitol building, master carpenter Norm Abram sees the standing seam metal roof going on our green building project, while host Kevin O'Connor meets builder Bill Moore for an update ? rough plumbing and electrical are complete, wallboard is up on the first floor, and spray foam insulation is being sprayed into the rafter bays of the new second floor. West of the project in Tarrytown, Kevin meets renowned green architect Peter Pfeiffer to see the green home he designed for his family of six. The breathtaking Craftsman-style home features local limestone, cement board siding, reclaimed wood, cross ventilation, CFLs, daylighting, and xeriscaping. Back at the project house, Bill shows Norm how his crew is making custom cedar brackets to extend the Craftsman detailing to the new work on the addition. Homeowner Michael Klug shows Kevin where contractors are spraying non-toxic borates onto the new work to prevent future insect damage, and how, upstairs, the crew is installing see the custom triangular windows that are insulated and coated for energy efficiency.
Host Kevin O'Connor welcomes plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey to the "Live Music Capital of the World" with a visit to the legendary Continental Club ? home of live rockabilly, swing, and country music since 1957. The next morning, builder Bill Moore shows Kevin the progress, and how sons Sam and David are helping out with demo in the first floor bath. Up on the roof, Richard finds solar contractor Andrew McCalla and his crew beginning to mount the modules that will make up a 2.45kW solar array that will provide 40% of the power needed for the new house. To keep the old house charm, Norm visits Brad Kittel at the largest salvage yard in Texas to find interior doors and glass knobs for the addition that will match what's already on the first floor. Plumber John Podolak connects the circulator pump for the tankless hot water heater, while out front, Bill shows Norm the problem with the sagging front porch pad. Concrete lifting contractor Ken Mongold provides a fix by injecting polyurethane foam under the slab, to slowly lift it back into place.
Host Kevin O'Connor shows landscape contractor Roger Cook some local color on Austin's Town Lake, while back at the project house, green builder Bill Moore demonstrates how he's using a French drain and moisture barrier to try and lower the water table around the house to partially stabilize the foundation of the house. Inside, Kevin finds that the reclaimed flooring has arrived from Virginia, the new French doors are installed, and the kitchen cabinets, made from sustainable MDF and Lyptus, are going in. On a trip to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Roger and homeowner Michael Klug find creative ways to use native plants in residential landscaping. A new composite decking, made from 100% recycled wood and plastics, goes down on the deck off the master bedroom, while sustainable lighting designer Mark Loeffler shows Kevin how he'll use compact fluorescent and LED lighting to increase the energy efficiency of the house. In the upstairs bath, master carpenter Norm Abram finds tile contractors Robbie and Bryan Hawkins applying a "mud set" to the shower wall that will be tiled with 50% recycled-content subway tile.
Despite a crippling ice storm in Texas, work continues at the project house. Builder Bill Moore shows master carpenter Norm Abram how he's using old roof rafters to fashion the railing system and nosings for the new stair treads. In the kitchen, homeowner Michele Grieshaber has selected six different paint colors, and paint specialist Mike Branch explains why, due to low-VOCs, the new paint we're using will be less toxic to homeowners and workers. Outside, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey lends a hand moving a 1200-gallon tank into place on the property, while rainwater harvester Blake West shows how the water will be collected from the metal roof with a series of gutters and PVC pipes, stored in the tank, and used later for irrigation. Richard visits West Texas to see how Texans are creating clean, renewable energy by harvesting the wind. Tile contractors Robbie & Bryan Hawkins install handmade tile made from 50% recycled-content on the master bathroom floor. Richard gets an update on the mechanicals from HVAC contractor Matt Romero who's installed a high efficiency two-stage air conditioning system with an electronic clean air filter.
Using locally abundant natural materials is considered "green", so we're using local limestone on the front porch wall caps, the first floor vanity top, and in the landscape borders. Master carpenter Norm Abram visits Jarrell, Texas to see how the stone is quarried, while lead carpenter Tony Goss reinstalls the old wooden front porch columns on new bases that will resist rot better than the originals. Builder Bill Moore takes host Kevin O'Connor to a local home center to show him several products that are not only green, but also widely available. Countertop contractor Chris Farris arrives to install the new recycled glass and concrete countertops in the kitchen, and Kevin travels to Brooklyn, New York to see how they are manufactured. Back at the project house, homeowner Michael Klug and landscape designer Adams Kirkpatrick show Kevin what they have planned for new green landscape ? highlights include native plants, minimal use of grass, and local limestone borders.
To celebrate the last episode, the crew visits the Broken Spoke, which has been called the "last of the true Texas dancehalls." Landscape contractor Roger Cook meets up with local landscape contractor Russell Womack to see the sod, plants, and pinestraw mulch going in. Irrigation specialist Chris Lupton shows off the new drip irrigation system, while general contractor Tom Silva checks out builder Bill Moore's temporary workshop in the driveway. Master carpenter Norm Abram visits a local lighting workshop to see how they're making over a dozen custom light fixtures for our project, while sustainable lighting designer Mark Loeffler reveals the final lighting effects achieved with the low-energy use lamps. Window treatments installer Hiram Lynch finishes up hanging custom shades and shutters, and plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey reviews the green features of the plumbing in the house ? 1.28gpf high efficiency toilets, low flow aerators, water filtration in the kitchen, and Energy Star appliances. At the end of the day, and the project, Richard Morgan from Austin Energy presents Bill and the homeowners with a 5-Star Rating from the Green Building Program ? only the third renovation to receive that designation the program's history. A Texas-style barbecue follows to celebrate the eco-friendly renovation that's both easy on the eye, and the environment.