It’s a big year for us here at This Old House. It’s our 40th-anniversary season, and to celebrate we’ll be doing a net-zero renovation of a 1920s bungalow in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Our Generation NEXT program continues with the addition of two amazing apprentices (Kevin Barker and Mary McGuire Smith) on the job site.
For this project, the goal is to create a super-efficient dwelling that produces all the energy it needs. In our season premiere, Kevin and Tommy make a pit-stop at The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, then they meet up with this season’s homeowners, the Powers family (Donald, his wife Dana, and sons Nate and Theo), in Jamestown. On the way over Tommy says, “The homeowner is an architect, so I think this is going to be the first time we’ve ever done a project where the architect is gonna live in the project when it's completed.”
When Kevin and Tommy arrive on site, they meet Donald outside, and he explains the history of the area. “Jamestown always had this dual personality. It was kind of blue-collar, serving all the mansions in Newport, but it also had some money in the South ends, and on the East side. It’s a fascinating place with a lot of different personalities, and the architecture shows it,” he said.
From the outside, Donald explains the plan for the remodel. First, he wants to extend the roof line over the deck to create a screened-in porch. He also hopes to pull out the dormer, repeating on both sides. Donald also wants to build a barn adjacent to the main house, so he can use the roof for mounting solar panels. His son, Nate, plans to use the barn for his sleepovers.
Kevin explores the interior of the Jamestown project house with Dana. Downstairs, she wants the current kitchen to become a mudroom, pantry, and a half bath. These will be next to the new-and-improved kitchen. The doorway that currently goes out to the deck will become the entrance to the new family room. The old family room will transform into a dining room that merges seamlessly with the kitchen to form the perfect space for entertaining.
On the second floor, there is a bedroom to the left and a bathroom in the center, which will be connected to form Nate’s bedroom. The existing master bedroom has an unusual L shape to it; the short part of the “L” will be walled off and become Theo’s bedroom. Then, the long part of the L will become a new bathroom and an alcove for doing laundry. The alcove will be in a new hallway that leads out to a master suite over the addition.
Later in the episode, Kevin finds Richard in the house’s “gnarly basement”. Richard explains that most of the systems in the basement will be removed (including the ductwork and oil tank) to make the house more energy-efficient. The basement will not be a living space but will be made full height and fully insulated.
In another segment, Richard shows Kevin a house he’s taking inspiration from for this project. We are introduced to the inspiration house’s homeowner, David Miller. While in his living room, he explains that he takes advantage of sunlight for heating his house, with large windows that face the sun, plus thick walls and insulated blinds to keep the heat in.
When in David’s mechanical room, Richard starts explaining more about the all-electric system, running on solar panels. For heating the house, there is an inverter heat pump and an energy recovery ventilator, which can bring in fresh air without losing heat. The water heater uses pipes and antifreeze to collect heat from the panels and run it down to a coil in the tank.
As for the electrical, David explains that his house uses two sets of solar panels. The energy collected gets sent down into the inverters, which converts the energy from DC to AC and sends it out into the grid. However, David’s house will soon have a battery, so they can store power for when it's needed.
After a segment where Kevin gets to know more about Jeff Sweenor, the home builder for the Jamestown Net Zero project, it’s time for demolition at the Powers’ house. An excavator tears up the deck, and the kids, Nate and Theo, get suited up to help.
On the next episode, Tommy says they’ll be digging a new foundation and setting the walls. Kevin will be seeing how the prefab foundation walls are made, and Richard and Jeff will be overseeing more demolition work.
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