1825 Home Becomes an Energy Efficiency Role Model - Remodeling Magazine

Recently, Jodi and I sat down with freelance journalist, Scott Sowers, to discuss the design challenges of the Historic Molette House in Molettes Bend, Alabama. Below is the full article below that will appear in the July 2014 print and digital edition of Remodeling Magazine. The article is currently on the magazine’s website. published on is a writer, producer and executive producer of various media content covering the field architecture and design, whose work has carried him into a variety of related areas of interest and expertise.

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1825 Home Becomes an Energy Efficiency Role Model

1825 Home Energy Efficiency Role Model - Home Owners

Jodi Laumer-Giddens of LG Squared with homeowners David and Eleanor Molette Cheatham. Photo courtesy LG Squared

Historic preservation issues when renovating, adding on, and moving a house almost two centuries old can lead to unconventional solutions. Chris and Jodi Laumer-Giddens came up with their share when called on to install 21st century energy efficiencies into one of Alabama’s oldest homes.

The 1825 Molette Plantation house in Dallas County, Ala., already was scheduled to move to a new location and was slated for an addition when Chris and Jodi’s Atlanta-based architectural firm, LG Squared, became involved.  As they began working on the project, the designer’s role expanded. “The owners originally contacted us to design the mechanical system, but after some additional site visits we took a closer look at the building envelope by doing some energy modeling,” says Chris.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

Because the owners wanted to keep the existing section of the house as close as possible to the original design, they had already chosen single-pane windows–a less than desirable energy choice for this Deep South home. Adding to the complexity, the design team was charged with preserving the interior paneling and saving the exterior siding on the existing house while tightening the building envelope.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Window

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

Each piece of original siding was carefully removed, course-by-course, as missing boards were replaced with new ones manufactured to the same specifications. To work around the vintage-style wall construction, compensate for the heat gain from the windows, circumvent moisture issues and hold costs down, LG Squared, Inc. selected rock wool insulation for the walls (R-15 in the original house, R-23 in the addition) followed by a layer of insulated sheathing (R-3.6 throughout) covered with a ventilated rain screen. The roof got [continuous] insulation worth an R-23.6 rating.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - ZIP System R Sheathing

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

Structural Insulated Sheathing (ZIP System R-Sheathing)

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Roxul Rock Wool1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Roxul Rock Wool

Rock Wool (a.k.a. Mineral Wool – Roxul Comfort Batt)

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Home Slicker Benjamin Obdyke1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Home Slicker Benjamin Obdyke

Crews replacing original siding over Ventilated Rain Screen (Benjamin Obdyke – Home Slicker)

All seams in the sheathing and gaps around window openings were taped or sealed with an adhesive in an attempt to turn the house into what its designers described as a “giant beer cooler.” Insulated sheathing was also used on the roof to seal off the lid of the cooler, while liquid flashing was applied at all windows.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Huber Woods Liquid Flash

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Huber Woods Liquid Flash

Danko Davidovic of Huber Engineered Woods reviewing installation instructions of ZIP System Liquid Flash with Steve Johnson.

The design team suggested a mini-split system for heating and cooling, but using the ductless variety on interior walls was voted down for aesthetic reasons.  “Ducted mini-splits give you almost the same efficiency as the ductless and you don’t see them,” says Chris. Instead, the project uses four air handlers hidden above the ceilings, each controlling one zone of the house. A tankless water heater and an energy recovery ventilation system are also part of the mix.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency - Energy Recovery Ventilator

Enthalpy (or Energy) Recovery Ventilation unit

Chris believes the result of the retrofit is a home that’s at least 25% better than the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code—and would have been up to 50% better if he had been able to use double-pane windows. As it stands, the home should score a HERS rating of 65 to 75, he figures.

The homeowners, David and Eleanor Molette Cheatham, who live in Atlanta, plan to use the house as a weekend getaway and eventually retire there. The house has been in their family for seven generations and had been moved once before. The latest move for the 80-ton building removed it from a flood plain, took six hours and covered three miles of country roads bordered by cotton fields.

Because the original section of the house didn’t have a kitchen or bathroom, those rooms are going into the addition along with a dining room and living area. The upstairs of the addition will contain a guest suite and the master bath. The old section of the house will be devoted to a family room and den on the first floor with the master bedroom and another bedroom on the second floor.

LG Squared worked with local builder Steve Johnson of Renovations Plus, based in Marbury, Ala., to come up with a plan to blend the old section of the house with the new addition. “They will look almost identical, with the new section coming off the center of the original house,” says Chris, “it will also have a back porch with a lower roof and a front porch that matches the rest of the design details.”  The project is expected to be finished this fall.

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

Chris and Jodi Laumer-Giddens with Steve Johnson

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

1825 Home Role Model for Energy Efficiency

“It’s very challenging to take a building with no insulation, and incorporating modern requirements into a house that was built without any requirements at all,” says Chris. “We were also able to come up with a floor plan that exceeded the owner’s expectations.”

-with the exception of the first photo, all photos courtesy of homeowners, David and Eleanor Chetham

-original article written by Scott Sowers for Remodeling Magazine.

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Comment by Bpb Farmer on June 24, 2014 at 12:49pm

I also agree with you on the "Ceramic Paint" it is with out a doubt a rip off just like foil or bubble wrap attic insulation. 

Comment by Bpb Farmer on June 24, 2014 at 12:38pm

The reason I am not open to anything else is stated below, but I forgot to mention that foam WILL pay for itself with energy cost saving's. As the inevitable price increases occur the saving's will only increase. Compared to fiber glass or rock wool that deteriorates with time, the energy cost will continue to increase due to (R) value loss.

Really, is there any one else out there that does not understand what I am pointing out???

Comment by Bpb Farmer on June 18, 2014 at 4:26pm

well, if a better product comes along I will seriously check it out. As for saving your breath, get foam installed in your home. That may really save your breath. Have a good day.

Comment by Craig Bird on June 18, 2014 at 2:38pm

Let's remember that some byproducts that off-gas are odorless. As for the rest, it is obvious you are not open to anything but foam, so we will just have to save our breath. I actually got into the same cycle with a guy selling "ceramic" paint but at least you have a legitimate product!

Comment by Bpb Farmer on June 18, 2014 at 1:58pm

A quality foam job seals every size and shape of hole with out question. Quality foam adheres to the structural framing members. The foam I spray has little to no odor issues. Have had customers with in 20 ft of actual spraying and they were not offended at all with the odor. As for tape, I can say in my experience that the tape adhesive will over time dry out and the "seal" is lost. Also consider the fact that fiber glass will break down over time, It does settle, it does provide excellent nesting material for rodents; ALL of which causes the "R" value to DECREASE with time. The same is true for rock wool. I do agree with "The process" however; the use of quality foam extends the results of the "Process" to the life of the building. 

Comment by Chris Laumer-Giddens on June 18, 2014 at 6:53am


We spend a lot of time with builders to develop assemblies and installation processes that ensure a continuous air barrier on the exterior of the building enclosure. As Craig says, the post points out that this house is no exception. This is best practice for most building types (grass huts in Hawai'i are at least one exception). Installing spray foam, when done properly, is a good process for insulating and air sealing within the cavities, though not at all THE best practice.

Regarding your defense of spray foam insulation being a far superior product, I have two comments.

1. No product is a solution, but a process is.

2. Many spray foam manufacturers and installers boast about foam being completely "off-gassed" within two weeks (some say even less time), so, they say, "it's not a problem" to the homeowners. Well, those "gasses" go somewhere and do damage (ozone, surrounding areas, etc.). I'm not saying any product is completely "healthy", but I am saying that every product is unhealthy. At some point in the manufacturing, delivery, installation, or disposal process, all products are bad. They're also very good, but not "perfect".


Thanks for all your great comments and feedback. We plan to do a final test out, and will be able to know just how well our air sealing practices did. I'll do my best to report them here. We are all very curious! Cheers.

Comment by Craig Bird on June 18, 2014 at 12:46am

I put the direct quote in here because the NTP is the only one stating that some fiberglass could be carcinogenic and still never been shown to be in humans. Now add to that all the rest of the other regulatory agencies that have completely removed FG from their lists. With this in mind the arguement simply becomes a scare tactic to sell whats in your barn.

I did cover the air permeation issue, please re-read. My first priority before ever insulating is fixing the air barrier (or creating one). I am a former Wx grunt so it sticks with you when you come out from the dark spaces. The article clearly states rigid insulation was incorporated continuous through the walls and roof and taped at all seams. An air barrier is an air barrier. The problem is one of neglecting it not in what it is made of. Selling a product tends to give one blinders. It is nice when you sell all of them because our eyes open to the fact that there is more than one solution. I use both depending on the situation. Oh, let me restate to take any ambiguity out for you. The pictures of the insulation are installed at Grade 1 level and if incorporated into a proper air barrier and in combination with a continuous rigid product to cut thermal bridging, will perform as well as other high performance assemblies. (of which there are many)

Comment by Bpb Farmer on June 17, 2014 at 8:12pm

Not all glass wool fibers cause cancer – only certain ones that enter the respiratory tract (inhalable), and remain in the lungs for long periods of time (biopersistent), are likely to cause cancer in humans”

the above are your words, thank you.

Sorry about the typo, Bob is the name.

I see you did not address the air permeation issue. Just step back and think about it; If air can move threw the insulation, the air will pick up particles of what ever it moves threw. Once into your living space these particles are in the air you breath, the clothes you wear, the furniture you set on and any place else air can move to.

The reason contractors choose this type of insulation is that they can do it themselves and there by raise the profit margin.

A truly concerned contractor, concerned with the quality that he is producing, concerned for his client, concerned with energy conservation and knowledgeable will use quality foam insulation.

I would also like to point out that in your statement  which follows;     

“The largest use of general purpose glass wool is for home and building insulation, which appears to be less durable and less biopersistent, and thus less likely to cause cancer in humans.”

The wording ( which appears to be  ) is in itself a disclaimer; meaning "not sure" and  (  thus less likely )

is also a disclaimer again "not sure". 

I am sure about my products. 

Plus, he who cusses first is the one that is wrong.  Your words ( look damn near). I understand your frustration. It difficult to support one self with words like " appears to be" " thus less likely" .

Quality foam is the only way to go, bring your self into the 21st century and forget about ( If it was good enough for dad, it's good enough for me). 

Comment by Craig Bird on June 17, 2014 at 4:15pm

Farmer - Are you still trying to ride that horse with carcinogens? Its been put out to pasture. I assume you hang your hat on the NTP. All you have to do is read further into the report to know it does not apply to home insulation:

Not all glass wool fibers cause cancer – only certain ones that enter the respiratory tract (inhalable), and remain in the lungs for long periods of time (biopersistent), are likely to cause cancer in humans”


“Certain inhalable glass wool fibers made the list based on experimental animal studies. Not all glass wool or man-made fibers were found to be carcinogenic. The specific glass wool fibers referred to in this report have been redefined from previous reports on carcinogens to include only those fibers that can enter the respiratory tract, are highly durable, and are biopersistent, meaning they remain in the lungs for long periods of time.”


“The largest use of general purpose glass wool is for home and building insulation, which appears to be less durable and less biopersistent, and thus less likely to cause cancer in humans.”

Also the batts look damn near Grade I to me and the use of Zip sheathing taped at seams around the whole house and roof are going to take care of the infiltration. I would be curious to see the blower door numbers. I spray foam too, but it is not the be all end all of efficiency. Believe it or not there are other ways to skin the cat if you know how to use your tools.

Comment by Bpb Farmer on June 17, 2014 at 2:19pm

Oh, did I mention that rock wool and fiber glass are considered carcinogens?? 

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