For the third project of its eighth season, This Old House took on the renovation of a 1928 adobe-style house in Phoenix, Arizona. While Southwestern in style, the house provided little respite from the desert climate thanks to an expanse of windows along its western side and a concrete patio in the backyard, which absorbed heat and sent it back at the house. Homeowners Tom and Ellen hoped to beat the heat with a retooled rear façade and a new landscape plan. While they were at it, they expanded their master bedroom suite with a master bath and a balcony overlooking the pool.
Work began in the back yard where a large outdoor barbecue and several low stone walls blocked both the view of the pool and access to it. During demolition, the back hoe hit an irrigation stem pipe, a relic of the days when a vast system of underground pipes allowed Phoenix residents to flood their yards for irrigation. The ensuing gusher undid some of the excavation, but the desert climate helped the soil quickly dry out and with a little cleanup the project was back on track. The yard was then enclosed with a traditional adobe wall (consisting of soil, sand, water and emulsified asphalt) that helped block traffic noise. Landscaping efforts focused on native desert plants and a drip irrigation system that brought small amounts of water directly to plants and conserved more water than a traditional system. In lieu of a thirsty green lawn, the ground was covered with decomposed granite often used on pitcher’s mounds, which looked like sand and acted like mulch, keeping down weeds.
In the enclosed porch off the kitchen, where full sun in the summer could turn the heat up as high as 120 degrees, traditional casement window and sliding glass door were replaced with a more elegant arched window and a French door that echoed the house’s interior curves. The second floor balcony, which ran the full width of the house, cast much needed shade on to the patio, making the area livable no matter what the season.
Upstairs the crew expanded a cramped master suite out over the existing first-floor roof by laying a 6 x 14 glue laminated beam from the inner to the outer load-bearing wall. The resulting space—used to house the new master bath—spans the masonry walls without increasing the load on the roof below. In the bedroom, a typical Southwestern ceiling consisting of vigas, beams made of tree logs stripped of their bark, and latillas, sticks laid in between, provided added relief from the desert heat. The room’s western windows were replaced with French doors that opened on to a shaded balcony with stairs to the yard below.
Throughout the house, custom windows with heat-mirror glass reflected heat and UV rays back into the yard, keeping the house cooler. Fade-resistant acrylic awnings and aluminum shade screens, painted black, also helped to keep 80% of solar heat gain from reaching the inside of the house.
On the house’s exterior, 50 years worth of paint was chipping, peeling and flaking. So TOH called in a crew to blast it all off using a copper slag to reveal the original surface. The house was then coated with a new plaster system with a stabilizing mesh that formed a hard but flexible skin that moved with the house as it settles. The final coat of plaster tied the old and new construction together so the entire house looked as good as new.