807 Gratz St.
1,944 sq. ft., 3 bdrm, 2.5 bath
"We tell people ‘keep your thermostat around 72 degrees,' nothing too out of the ordinary," said the nurse. It was January, not quite five years ago, and I was sitting in a room at Children's Hospital listening to a short "take-home" presentation, preparing to bring our youngest son home from the neonatal ICU. Thermostat around 72 degrees? In January? In our drafty old Victorian? "Lady," I remember thinking, "it doesn't get to be 72 degrees in our house until late April, or even May."
That wasn't exactly the first time I pondered the paradox: Restoring an old house in the center city is ecologically sound for a lot of reasons, but energy efficiency isn't always one of them. And, as much as many city dwellers might like to brag about how infrequently they fill up their car's gas tank, they'd rather not think about the amount of natural gas that goes into their furnace. Or the amount of caulk, expandable foam, or even newspaper they have stuffed into various nooks and crannies.
There are ways, certainly, to make an old house more energy efficient, especially when it's gutted down to the studs. There are some amazing new products out there: leak-seeking foam insulation, for one (a sort of "Great Stuff" expandable foam on steroids). I've been in renovated homes that were every bit as snug as a modern McMansion, maybe more so. It costs a lot of money to heat that big Lawyer Foyer with the Palladian window perched over the front door.
It's also becoming increasingly common to combine modern, energy-efficient construction techniques and urban living. Over the last few years, new homes have started filling in the blank spaces in neighborhoods like Old North, Mechanicsville, and Fourth and Gill. And I'm not talking Habitat for Humanity houses, either. These are privately financed homes, marketed to or even custom built by upper-middle-class owners.
This house on Gratz Street, the last of three new homes built on the corner where McCallie School once stood, is the most recent example. Just a few blocks from the Old City, Downtown North, and downtown proper, this Arts and Crafts-style bungalow was built with sustainable materials, many obtained regionally. Designed to meet the neighborhood's historic zoning guidelines, architectural charm didn't come at the cost of energy efficiency, either. How many homes in Knoxville can boast of being walking/biking distance from downtown while also meeting Energy Star guidelines and being registered with the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Homes rating system? So check out the open house from 6-8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 1, and 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 2. Because stuffing this newspaper into that crack below the baseboard isn't the same as recycling it. m