Church Turned Condos in Toronto

Large churches struggle to find alternative uses once they no longer serve as houses of worship. Whether located in a small town or a large city, too many churches sit empty and abandoned. Once in a while you’ll come across a success story. This church in Toronto has been converted into condos. Take a look at the photos and let me know what you think.

The Victoria Presbyterian Church converted to condos.

The Victoria Presbyterian Church converted to condos.

Only being able to see these from the outside you can see that floors have been added. The balconies are clear glass. The original windows have been removed, but the fenestration remains.

Only being able to see these from the outside you can see that floors have been added. The balconies are clear glass. The original windows have been removed, but the fenestration remains.

Another view of the church, now condos.

Another view of the church, now condos.

A bit about the Victoria Lofts:

Converted from a turn-of-the-century church into 38 gorgeous units, this building is beautiful, rooted in history, and ideally located.  Boasting soaring ceilings and gorgeous architecture including a dramatic sloping roof, a copper-trimmed steeple, romanesque arches and curved brick columns, suites range from 600 to 1800 square feet over one or two storeys.  Originally the West Toronto Presbyterian Church, this stunning building has been a vital part of the Junction neighbourhood since 1885, when it first opened its doors.  Renamed the Victoria Presbyterian Church to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, this structure is one of several historic buildings in the area.  Located near the West Toronto Rail Path, a multi-use 4km path that links several Toronto neighbourhoods, the Junction is well-connected and a haven for any one seeking to reduce their carbon-footprint.  Spend an afternoon checking out the Junction Arts Festival, a neighbourhood display of music, dance and visual art, or take a fifteen-minute stroll south to High Park.

Apparently, converting churches into lofts is a thing in Toronto. Check out this post and this post. Do you want to live in a church? What do you think? A good idea? I’d like to see the inside. But, from the outside it looks pretty good. The windows would be better intact, but perhaps that wouldn’t work for the residences. In that case, the structure remains as a landmark in the neighborhood and it is legible.

Do you have a church in your town that could serve as a residence?

Philly Forum 2014


This week Philadelphia welcomes Forum 2014: A Keystone Connection, the Statewide Conference on Heritage / Byways to the Past. The 2014 conference is a partnership between the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions, Preservation Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Transportation, historic preservation, history, technology – this conference looks like it’s going to be great. Tickets sold out! Will you be there? I’ll be presenting on Thursday July 17 as part of the session, Crossing into History: Compatible Bridge Design in Historic Districts. Here’s the panel summary and speakers:

Bridges are not always mere conduits for transportation, but can play important roles in shaping, or affecting, the identity of a place.  While some bridges are small and unnoticeable, others are visual representations of a particular period in time and important elements of historic settings.  What happens when a bridge in an historic setting cannot be rehabilitated?   How do you design a new bridge that is compatible with the setting but does not end up looking historicized?  Is it better to design a bridge that is modern and does not attempt to imitate history or is it possible to develop compatible new designs that reflect their setting.  This session will explore these issues and offer insight into appropriate context sensitive design.


  • Monica Harrower, Cultural Resources Professional, PennDOT District 6-0


  • Michael Cuddy, Principal, TranSystems
  • Mary McCahon, Senior Historian, TranSystems
  • Barbara Shaffer, Planning and Environmental Specialist, Federal Highway Administration
  • Dain Gattin, Chief Engineer, Philadelphia Streets Department
  • Emanuel Kelly, FAIA, Philadelphia Art Commission
  • Kaitlin O’Shea, Historic Preservation Specialist, Vermont Agency of Transportation

Join us to learn about historic bridges, replacement projects, and historic districts!

Vermont: A Green State or Just Green Mountains?

Vermont is known by its nickname, The Green Mountain State. (Really, it’s on our license plates.) And we are a green state. We Vermonters recycle just about everything. People are active and love the outdoors, have urban chickens or large rural, gardens. Reusable plastic bags are commonplace. People live off-grid and have solar powered houses. Living machines clean water at the rest area on I-89 in Sharon. There is a huge focus on local food and local businesses.  It’s an entirely different culture than I’ve lived in before. Sometimes the organic, granola, hippie image fits.

Yet, our towns and villages are spread far apart and many people live down winding roads, far from neighbors. Vermont is not immune to sprawl, poor development. Perhaps our population of just over 600,000 keeps it from being as noticeable as it is in other places. Vermont is not known for its public transit. Rural environments are beautiful, but it means that people often drive for every errand or outing. Small towns lack basic amenities because there is not enough population to support it. For all of the fuel-efficient cars out there, just as many or more drive larger, gas-guzzling vehicles. Vermonters drive a lot because they have to.

Overall, that doesn’t sound very green, does it? An interesting Environment 360 article from a few years back (2009) argues that New York City is the greenest place on earth, not Vermont, which is what most people think (read below).

…Vermont, in many important ways, sets a poor environmental example. Spreading people thinly across the countryside, Vermont-style, may make them look and feel green, but it actually increases the damage they do to the environment while also making that damage harder to see and to address. In the categories that matter the most, Vermont ranks low in comparison with many other American places. It has no truly significant public transit system (other than its school bus routes), and, because its population is so dispersed, it is one of the most heavily automobile-dependent states in the country. A typical Vermonter consumes 545 gallons of gasoline per year — almost a hundred gallons more than the national average.

Fast forward to 2014 (5 years after the above article), and Vermont does have public transit. It’s not significant, but it’s improving and is used by many commuters. For my own experiments, I’ve been attempting to take the bus to/from work (Burlington – Montpelier) because it actually is cheaper than driving, and it uses my time more efficiently. It’s easy enough to do a few per week, but could I get along without a car. It would be a lifestyle change. Living in Burlington or Montpelier is easier than other places if you’re trying to live car-free. Some crazy, intrepid folks bike to work year-round! And with the Burlington-based CarShareVT (similar to Zipcar), more and more people are learning to live car-free or one-car-per-household. Of course, some lifestyles do not allow this. Students are often able to do this, but those of us in the working and commuting world have a more difficult time.

Lately, I’m pondering how life would be without a car in Vermont. I like to think of it as going urban: living downtown, getting around on bike or bus, staying local, traveling by plane for greater distances. It’s not something I’m immediately ready or able to do, but it’s floating around in my head. Going urban in Vermont would be a challenge, though if you’re a core downtown area with everyday services, it’s not impossible. And it would come with great benefits, but challenges, too. Perhaps the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. In some places in Vermont, it would be impossible. The question that this brings to mind is: just how urban (read: environmentally friendly) can you go? Where do you live? Can you live car-free? Would you take that jump to do so? What do you think of Vermont? Green living? Green in color?

And, is living a sustainable lifestyle connected to preservation, for you? To me, it keeps the focus on the local environment and local economy, which is most definitely affiliated with historic preservation.

Flamingos in NYC: The High Line

The flamingo crowd spent a September weekend in New York City, this year’s edition of our annual get together and oh! the sightseeing we did. One of the highlights of the trip was definitely The High Line.

What is The High Line? It’s an elevated railroad on the West Side of New York City converted to a public park. Check out maps here for a better idea of its location. Yes, a landscaped park above city streets. It’s unlike any park most of us have seen (one exists in Paris, but otherwise none have been created yet). This elevated rail line operated as a freight train from 1934 to 1980, serving the meatpacking industry on the West Side, as well as the post office. Portions of The High Line were demolished between the 1960s and 1990s, but 1.45 miles remain and 1 mile is open to visitors.

Mr. Stilts was along for the ride, of course.

Mr. Stilts was along for the ride, of course, just observing people strolling on the High Line.

Here’s a brief history of the creation of High Line from the Friends of the High Line website:

Founded in 1999 by community residents, Friends of the High Line fought for the High Line’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under the threat of demolition. It is now the nonprofit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to make sure the High Line is maintained as an extraordinary public space for all visitors to enjoy. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, Friends of the High Line works to raise the essential private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget, and to advocate for the preservation and transformation of the High Line at the Rail Yards, the third and final section of the historic structure, which runs between West 30th and West 34th Streets.

The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. The first section of the High Line opened on June 9, 2009. It runs from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. The second section, which runs between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened June 8, 2011.

Simply put, The High Line is a unique, amazing part of New York City. It is landscaped with plants and seating areas, self watered, rail lines are incorporated into design. Some areas are narrow, some wide enough for cafe areas. Sections pass under buildings, between buildings, all with interesting views and a captivating landscape. Historic preservation, landscape design, rehabilitation, urban planning, and community efforts all come together for one big win! Tae a self guided tour and check out some photographs from our flamingo adventure.

View on The High Line.

View on The High Line., near the southern entrance.

Some areas of The High Line are narrow like this and traverse under buildings.

Some areas of The High Line are narrow like this and traverse under buildings.

On The High Line.

On The High Line.

Other areas of The High Line are wide and have grassy areas like this one where visitors can relax and enjoy the scenery, like in any park.

Other areas of The High Line are wide and have grassy areas like this one where visitors can relax and enjoy the scenery, like in any park.

View from The High Line.

View from The High Line.

On a September Saturday afternoon, it was a very crowded spot!

On a September Saturday afternoon, it was a very crowded spot!

More surface and landscape.

More surface and landscape.

Permeable surfaces and plantings throughout the park.

Permeable surfaces and plantings throughout the park.

Laurel and me on The High Line, fellow flamingos.

Laurel and me on The High Line, fellow flamingos.

An excellent adventure on the High Line! If you are New York City, it’s definitely worth a visit, and it’s worth strolling the entire mile, though there are many access points.

Nice Ride Minnesota

Many cities have a bike share program; Minneapolis and St. Paul have Nice Ride Minnesota. What’s the purpose?

Nice Ride bikes are designed for one job, short trips in the city by people wearing regular clothes and carrying ordinary stuff. All Nice Ride bikes are the same size, the only thing you may have to adjust is the seat, and it’s easy!

Mr. Stilts came along for the ride, obviously.

Mr. Stilts came along for the ride, obviously.

Commuting to work? A quick trip to the store? In need of a ride across the city? Grab a bicycle at one of the many, many stations throughout the Twin Cities. You can rent a bike for $6 for 24 hours or $65 for a year. What a bargain! The bikes are available November – April, 24/7.

Station across from the Minneapolis Public Library.

Station across from the Minneapolis Public Library. See, they are quite popular.

At each station you get a code, which you then type into the bike stand to unlock the bike. Every time you get a new bike, you get a new code.

At each station you get a code, which you then type into the bike stand to unlock the bike. Every time you get a new bike, you get a new code.

And, Nice Ride also works well for tourists. Touring Minneapolis by bike was the perfect way to see great parts of the city.  The catch? You have 30 minutes to get between stations, otherwise you pay fees on top of your 24 hour or year subscription. With all of the stations, it’s easy. And then you can immediately take out another bicycle to continue on your journey.

All you have to do is (1) find a station, (2) insert a credit card, (3) select your subscription, (4) get a code, (5) punch in the code in the bike stand, (6) remove the bike, (7) ride and repeat within 30 minutes. You do have to enter your card at each station, but if you haven’t gone over 30 minutes, you will not be charged extra. And you can rent more than one bike at once and get more than one code.

These bikes have adjustable seats for all heights and were very easy to ride around the city. The green makes them easy to spot, and they’re fun looking bikes for cruising!

Each station has a map showing other stations so you can plan your trip.

Each station has a map showing other stations so you can plan your trip.

Hello transportation nerd, checking out the funding and yes, there is FHWA funding.

Hello transportation nerd, checking out the funding and yes, there is FHWA funding.Warms my heart.

Now, there were a couple of times when I didn’t think I’d made it to a bike rack. The $1.50 wouldn’t have ruined my day, but, hello, the challenge! That’s when the iphone app called Spotcycle (it’s free!) was incredibly helpful. Spotcycle identifies your location and shows you closest bicycle docks, how many bikes are at that station, gives you routes, timers, and more. It has cities all over the world. Check it out on your phone or on the website. Using the Spotcycle app as a tourist and doing my best to reach each station before the 30 minute limit made exploring quite the fun urban bicycle adventure.

Biking around a city was a great alternative to walking because you could cover more ground, and was definitely better than driving because it removes the need for parking and is slow enough to feel like you’re exploring. And with a bicycle I rode along the river. If you’re in a city with a bike share program, I’d highly recommend it, even just for cruising along a bike path.

What are the disadvantages of a bike share program? Safety, considering not everyone knows how to cycle in a city or knows the rules of the road; bike maintenance and security on the municipality; and usage. All of these are obstacles that can be overcome, by education and outreach. For cold weather climates, it’s a great way to get people to see their city in a new way. And for warm weather climates, it’s good all year long. And for everyone, it’s environmentally friendly and takes up less space than parking lots, garages or spaces.

Have you tried a bike share? What do you think?

Riding around Minneapolis on a Nice Ride bike. Mr. Stilts is there, too. The bikes have brackets and a bungee cord (as opposed to a basket) so you can secure whatever you need to. In my case, it was a flamingo, a pocketbook, and a water bottle.

Riding around Minneapolis on a Nice Ride bike. Mr. Stilts is there, too. The bikes have brackets and a bungee cord (as opposed to a basket) so you can secure whatever you need to. In my case, it was a flamingo, a pocketbook, and a water bottle.

Photos of Minneapolis by bike coming soon! 

Preservation ABCs: E is for Economics

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.


E is for Economics

The corner of State Street and Main Street in Montpelier, VT.

Historic preservation is good for the economic health of your town, city, state and country; the two fields are inherently related. Investing in existing buildings in cohesive commercial cores brings people, dollars and life to your historic downtowns and city centers. Here the environment is often human scale and has grown organically, meaning that people can live comfortably in such locations. When people are able to shop, work, live and play in a central location, quality of life improves and happiness improves. Over the decades, historic buildings and downtowns have been neglected, forgotten and eventually reinvigorated. Interest in reinventing the existing built environment continues to grow as people find value in the well built historic buildings and locations.

Why does historic preservation help the economy? Many of the reasons relate to the sustainability of working within the built environment, and the fact that historic preservation is sustainable development. Donovan Rypkema, of Place Economics, speaks best to this subject: read one of his presentations here.

In brief, historic preservation is good for your economy because it brings businesses to your community and creates cultural and economic life. Historic preservation work offers tax credits. Historic preservation is sustainable, and thus, a good financial, economic decision. Historic preservation creates jobs. Historic preservation creates heritage tourism, which brings revenue to your community. Here’s a brief fact sheet from the Georgia Trust. And here are economic studies provided by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

This topic can and should continue in greater depth, but it’s important to know that historic preservation is entirely related to economics, and therefore applicable to all of us. It’s good for you and your community.

Preservation works. Preservation makes cents (pun intended). Preservation is good for your economy.

New Interior Storm Windows

Historic windows are some of the most significant defining features on a building; windows hold the potential to completely alter the appearance and impression of a structure. Sometimes, as we know, the windows are replaced completely. Other times, the wood storm windows are removed and if replaced, it is often with aluminum triple track windows. When talking energy efficiency, storm windows can be one way to retain the historic windows and meet energy standards. Yet, new storm windows (assuming they are not wood like the originals) can change the building’s historic integrity. Original storm windows (such as those in yesterday’s Preservation Photos #144) are a rare sight.

A creative solution is to use interior storm windows, which retains the appearance and integrity of the building’s exterior.

Interior storm windows on Debevoise Hall located on the campus of Vermont Law School in South Royalton, VT.

Interior storm windows.

However, the windows are then altered on the interior: losing the depth of the window casing and losing the window sill, and some of the feel of the historic windows. What is your impression?

Interior storm seen from inside the building.

So, if you had to choose, what would you do? Interior storms? Exterior storms? Good replacement windows? Perhaps interior storms that are not white would be a better fit, and could fade into the background. This is an issue that is often considered with tax credit projects and energy efficiency ratings.

Dollar General v. Smart Growth in Chester, VT

Today is a guest post by Scott and Wendy who write the blog, Northern New England Villages, with the mission of “Encouraging the preservation and restoration of towns and villages in Northern New England (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) through picture galleries, blogging, forums, social media and more…”

This post will address the pros and cons of a Dollar General store in Chester, VT, following that discussion with an introduction to form-based zoning. Regardless of your opinion, it is important to understand both sides of the issue and to consider solutions. Scott and Wendy are happy to answer your questions and respond to your comments. 


Tiny Chester, Vermont (pop. 3,154 as of 2010) is garnering national attention in their fight against Dollar General. A recent article in the New York Times states:

While Wal-Mart has managed to open only four stores in Vermont and Target still has none, more than two dozen Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores have cropped up around the state. All three companies are thriving in the bad economy — between them, they have more than 20,000 outlets nationwide, selling everything from dog treats to stain remover and jeans to pool toys. Their spread through Vermont, with its famously strict land-use laws, has caught chain-store opponents off guard.

This case differs from battles with Dollar General in other Northern New England towns in that it is a green-field development. Across the border in Winchester, New Hampshire, Dollar General wants to demolish the historic Wheaton-Alexander House in order to build their mini-monster.

Generally, the application for demolition is where towns can prevail over Dollar General by denying them the ability to do so.  However, with a green-field development, the town cannot fall back on anti-demolition ordinances to protect their historical architecture.

Without the prospect of a demolition to galvanize the community against Dollar General, this battle has evolved into two distinct camps—the folks who want the economic development versus the Smart Growth folks who want to preserve the architectural heritage of the town.  Here is a run-down of the pros and cons:


  • Preserving private property rights: The Dollar General will be built on a subdivided lot from the adjacent Zachary’s Pizza House—the owners must think this is a good deal and certainly have the right to sell their property. For more details, see this document from the Chester Development Review Board (pdf).
  • More retail sales/jobs and greater tax base: Vermont already has a tough time competing for retail sales against sales tax-free New Hampshire. A recent study (pdf) has found that Vermont annually losses a half billion in retail sales and 3,000 retail jobs to New Hampshire.
  • Higher property values: Enhanced local retail opportunities mean more choices and better prices. Also, in an age of $3 to $4 per gallon gasoline, traveling great distances to go shopping can get expensive which detracts value from more rural locations
  • Positive environmental impact: Closer retail means from less driving and gas consumption.
  • Restraint on trade and competition: Keeping Dollar General out would reduce competition in the retail sector which means local consumers will pay more.


  • Overbuilding: There is already a Dollar General store in Springfield, Vermont which is less than 10 miles away.
  • Visual blight: The design will detract from the traditional New England architecture of Chester villages—see this slideshow for the visual impact (pdf)
  • Economic black-hole: Dollar General would drain sales from local businesses, take profits out-of-state and threaten the town’s overall economic viability. Many local businesses have been pillars of the community for years such as Lisai’s Grocery Store.
  • Negative environmental impact: The large surface parking lot, which is wastefully only used during store operating hours, will create runoff issues in an area prone to flooding. See this video on the flooding that occurred during Hurricane Irene before the store is built.
  • Lower property values: The presence of an undesirable chain store may discourage tourism and folks from buying second-homes in the area.

What do you think . . . did we miss any pros or cons?

Whichever side you fall on, Dollar General has seemingly won approval to move ahead with the project.  However, we hope that we can use this experience to better prepare for the next time. After all, Dollar General and related kin, Family Dollar, have already expressed their desire to further expand into Vermont and Northern New England.

Ultimately, a large part of the problem stems from how towns approach zoning. Current zoning practices are all about separating land uses from one another. This not only relegates form to the back of the line, but practically barred traditional, multi-use forms all-together.  Traditional zoning was, in part, an enabler of drive-everywhere suburbia.

One intriguing solution is to invert zoning so that form comes before use—called, appropriately enough, Form-Based Zoning (for more information see Form-Based Code Institute and this excellent article by the Michigan Association of Planning (pdf)). Unfortunately, form-based zoning is only now arriving in New England. A recent study on the history and challenges of form-based zoning in New England (pdf) found that:

Publicly-adopted form-based codes have gradually gained acceptance over the last fifteen years as an alternative to the principally use-based local zoning ordinances and by-laws that have dominated land use regulation in the United States since the 1920s. These codes were first adopted with the force of regulation in the south and west before they moved into other regions of the country. By and large, for reasons that remain open to discussion, the region with the lowest degree of penetration for form-based codes has been New England, where the first true form-based code was adopted only in 2005, and the total number of such codes in all six states is still in single digits. This article will discuss in detail three of the adopted codes in New England and three specific legal issues raised by those codes, starting with a review of form-based codes’ recent history and concluding that form-based codes are poised to enjoy wider acceptance in the region, which for the time being remains the nation’s “Final Frontier” for this alternative approach to land development regulation.

From Michigan Association of Planning: Smart Growth Tactics (page 4). Click for source.

As shown in the picture, even Borders Bookstore can find a way to fit in under Form-Based Zoning. So imagine if Dollar General were going into a building that fronted Main Street, had 2 to 3 stories with office space/apartments, wide, shaded sidewalks, back-ended street parking and only a single curb-cut for overflow/winter/tenant parking and deliveries. Would there be less opposition?

At any rate, we’ll have to save all of the ins-and-out of Form-Based Zoning for another post. The concluding point is simply that the current form of zoning is inadequate to preserving the historical character of our towns and villages. More battles like Chester, Vermont are on the way to Northern New England so new tactics, such as Form-Based Zoning, need to be developed now.

Street Observations: 10 Questions

Sunshine, flowers, spring foliage, light rain, no more snow, more daylight hours – what more could you want? While some people love cold weather (skiers, for example), eventually, we all are craving sunshine and warmth. The streets are filled with bicyclists, walkers, runners, kids, adults, and everyone is happy in the sun.  Here in Vermont, March and April are not always the prettiest of months (some call it stick season, some call it mud season…there is a lot of brown), so we eagerly await the springtime foliage and warmer days. If you live further south, you’ve been out and about for months in warmth, I know.

Regardless of when this resurgence of green and spring is for you, it is an excellent time to take a look around your streets and your town and to really think about them.  Think about street that you like. Have you thought about why you like it? Could you describe it to someone? I’d bet that there are specific aspects of the street that help to shape why you like it over another.

For a fun mental exercise, below are 10 questions to ponder the next time you are out and about. Perhaps you think about these already or maybe it’s a new topic for you.

(1) What do your streets look like? Are they wide enough for two lanes of traffic and parking lanes? Are they narrow city alleys? Where do cars park: on grass, on gravel, formally, informally?

(2) Do your streets have sidewalks? Are the sidewalks level with the travel lane? Are they concrete or asphalt or brick?

(3) Do the sidewalks have distinct curbs? Or is it just a slab of concrete or poured asphalt with a nondescript edge?

(4) Do the streets have green strips? In other words, is there grass between the traveled lane and the sidewalk?

(5) Are the streets filled with trees or void of trees? What types of trees?

(6) Where are the power lines?  Overhead or buried?

(7) Where are the mailboxes? At the curb or on the house?

(8) What types of buildings are on the street? Is it commercial or residential or both? Can you name the architectural style? Are they one-story, two-story or more? Are they single family homes, duplexes, apartment buildings, row houses or something else?

(9) Is there street furniture such as benches and trash or recycle bins? 

(10) What do you think of this street? Is it pleasant? Loud? Quiet? Aesthetically pleasing? Ugly?

So, what else would you add? Did you discover anything new about your streets? Beware, you may never stop thinking about this now that you’ve noticed these nuances. But, that is a good thing! Understanding your environment aids in understanding your sense of place and in defining why you prefer one place over another.

This (Not Very) Old House: Part Two

The week  began in Virginia, skipped over to Ohio and jumped to  MontanaYesterday’s House Hopping with Preservationists post took us to Vermont where Jen introduced us to her pre-fab fabulous home. Today she shares what happens when a preservation wife and an energy guy renovate a house together. 


By Jen Parsons

Energy Guy VS Home Built When Oil Was Cheap

While the technology of aircrafts and lightweight materials were all the rage in manufactured home construction in the post-war era, there are repercussions when it comes to living in the house in a modern environment. Energy Guy soon realized the framing of the manufactured part of our home was not your normal 2” x 6” stud-wall construction. The studs were, I’m not kidding here—1” x 3”. Our walls are half the thickness of the wall of your standard home. Now, that may mean little to someone who is not married to an Energy Guy, but think of what it means to him. Our walls are only half as deep as the walls on your normal stick-built house. No big deal, right? WRONG! Energy Guy is all about insulation! Energy Guy would make a home with R-1 zillion insulating value if he could, and our half-as-deep walls meant half as much insulation. I watched him fret about our skinny walls and their proximity to the outside of our house on winter nights, as he would drink beer, put one hand upon the wall, feel its coolness to the touch, and drop his head down to scowl.

Another important feature of note is the use of a product known as Beaver Board, a.k.a. paperboard. This roughly 1/4” thick wallboard is made entirely of compressed wood, and as such, is paper-like. When painted and attached to the wall, the normal onlooker would likely mistake it for a wall built of 3/8” drywall. An advantage in the manufactured home would be that Beaver Board is lightweight for shipping. However, disadvantages are as follows:

  • When removing wall paper from it, the Beaver Board tears.
  • When removing wooden door or window trim, Beaver Board tears.
  • When removing old picture-hangers, Beaver Board tears.
  • When hanging any new items to our wall, Beaver Board tears. You many only hang so much as a key holder where a stud is available.

Energy Guy does not approve of the insulating qualities of Beaver Board when compared to gypsum. Not only are the walls in our manufactured home too skinny for ample insulation, the wallboard is skinny as well. The solution, for the parts of the house where it was necessary to remove wallboard, was to replace it with gypsum sheetrock. While he is Energy Guy, I guess that makes me Thrifty Wife, because I did not allow him to rebuild out the entire house with gypsum sheetrock—just about 2/3 of it.

What’s to be Made of This?

They say you remodel until you mop your way out the door. We’ve done floor coverings in the bedrooms, a full bath remodel, addition of a half bath, but the big two for our quality of life were as follows:

1. Removal of the forced hot air oil heat.

The hot air heat was generated in the furnace in the laundry room, ducted through the attic, and forced downward through dinner-plate sized ceiling ducts (probably in a 1950s effort to drive Energy Guy of the future bonkers). This heating system was yanked and a modern, efficient natural gas boiler/hot water tank was installed, as well as the addition of solar collectors for our hot water needs. Radiant panel heaters replaced the ceiling dinner plate style forced hot air heaters. They are beautiful, and remind me of a modern take on accordion style radiators.

Original forced hot air heat vented through the ceiling.

Panel radiator.

2. Kitchen Remodel/Integration of the Trailer to the Double Wide

Did I mention the original owners were incredibly clean? They were also remarkably cheap. While tearing out the Styrofoam drop panel ceiling in the rear addition (a not-so-clever technique of hiding the damage from a failed roof many years ago), we also discovered that much of the addition was framed with scrap lumber—wooden pallets, to be exact. Our suspicions proved correct when we removed a board with a shipping address written on it in marker—it was from Shelburne (Vermont) Bakery! Needless to say, this made Energy Guy, a husband of superior building diligence, absolutely crazy.

The exciting beginning, as Energy Guy begins to unearth the truth.

So we reframed the whole back third of the house inside the existing envelope. The good news is that this allowed Energy Guy to add copious amounts of fiberglass insulation. The bad news is that, while conducting this out-of-pocket remodel on nights and weekends, our remodel had long reached its exasperation point, as I cooked dinners in my unheated, un-insulated garage well into Christmas season (we started in June).

A pregnant lady compelled to bake things in a garage in December is a sad, sad thing.

The house had long held a camp-like smell, musty and sneeze-inducing, especially after being shut for a weekend away. We were successful in finding the cause of that smell. A roof leak, probably the same one that caused the previous owners to install a drop ceiling, still existed and allowed water to pool at the intersection where the roof of the addition meets the garage. This meant framing existed within our walls with ant-farm quality carpenter ant tunnels.

Busy little jerks.

Sparing all the gory details of remodeling, we built new stud walls within the existing framing, installed vapor barriers, insulated to high heaven, installed outlets, air sealed, and all the other things you would expect out of a modern house built by a good boy scout like my Energy Guy.

What living in your remodel is really like. Here, the galley kitchen in the manufactured part of the house enters the 1980 addition.

Our goal to integrate the space of the older manufactured home into the rectangular addition was achieved by about a third of the original exterior wall which separated the two. A mini glue-lam allowed us to open up the space. We modernized by creating a large kitchen area, with a huge bar to eat at, and installing as many cabinets as the house could hold, since the house only had 3 small closets prior. Also, there are glorious electrical outlets every few feet, and nearly more lights in the house than you can stand.

The finished remodel.

Ultimately, we do have a home of Superior Quality. Ironically, the plaque was not all that wrong. Framing and materials within the original manufactured home were by far superior to those parts built by thrifty Vermonters in 1980. More remodeling has ensued, but those the tiny kitchen and the inferior heating system were the big two for us.

Preservation-wise, I did have qualms as more of our choices led us away from the era in which the home was built. Our layout is very current; with a kitchen that opens up into a living area via a bar, and the only original building material we utilized were new Formica countertops. However, when a home was manufactured to be put on a truck and installed quickly on location so that ordinary people could have an affordable home in a reasonable neighborhood, what sort of historic integrity must be maintained? We chose to honor the spirit of the efficiency and affordability of the home, while keeping with the idea that the National Home Corp rose out of what was considered a modern construction technique post-war. We used the most modern means of construction within our budget to make a house that can be lived in for another sixty years, if need be. Hopefully, that’s where Energy Guy and Preservation Wife found their compromise.


Jen Parsons graduated from the University of Vermont with a Master’s degree in Historic Preservation and lives in the Green Mountain State. With a young child at home, she mostly preserves heirloom cookie recipes currently. She is sick of remodeling old houses, this being her third, and is looking forward to finally rehabilitating her 1966 Scotty Gaucho canned ham camper this summer…or building a tiny house. You never know.

Thank you Jen for sharing your remodel woes and successes. The house is looking great!

This wraps up the Preservation in Pink House Hopping with Preservationists tour. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.