Historic homes go green

Gundersen_historichomerenovations-2_1
Photo by Gregory Gundersen.

A new company is looking to turn purchasing energy efficient historic homes into an affordable option.

Verdigris Ventures, started by Nancy Greenberg ’78 LAW ’83 and Corey Stone SOM ’85 in mid-2010, specializes in restoring historic homes to become more energy-efficient. The group has completed one project so far, the renovation of the James L. Bassett House in Fair Haven, Conn. The company utilizes government subsidies and generates a profit from selling tax credits they gain from completing energy efficient renovations. Greenberg and Stone said the driving force behind starting Verdigris was that they wanted to make a local impact.

“She was definitely more interested than I was in historic preservation from a cultural and aesthetic point-of-view,” Stone said, “I was looking for a deep energy retro-fit.”

John Herzan, the preservation services officer at the New Haven Preservation Trust, said that the business model Verdigris Ventures uses is distinctive, adding that sustainable renovation is “the new frontier of preservation.”

The company recently completed their first project by renovating the Bassett House. The house, which was built in 1876 and at one time was inhabited by an oysterman, is located in the historic Quinnipiac River District of Fair Haven and thus qualifies for government subsidies. Greenberg and Stone initially chose the house because it fulfilled both of their objectives in sustainability and historic preservation. When first purchased, the house used twice as much energy as specified by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, Stone said. He said that this inefficiency was due to the home’s poor insulation.

“[When we removed the interior], you could see light through the cracks in the wall,” Greenberg said, in reference to how the original fiberglass insulation had consolidated at the bottom of the wall framing.

After refitting the house with foam insulation that is more dense and durable, the house achieved 44 percent energy efficiency, nearly twice the level that Energy Star recommends for new construction, she said. Stone said they also installed an instant water heater and a furnace that converts 95 percent of the input energy into heat. The renovations cost an estimated $190,000 and the house is currently listed on the market for $287,500, Stone said.

From demolition to completion, the whole process took eight months, Greenberg said.

“I’m encouraged to finally see a developer who’s attentive to the details,” John Cavaliere, a local goldsmith and subcontractor who worked on the house, said. He added that most developers would have ripped out the house’s historic stained glass window and replaced it with a vinyl frame.

“The housing stock in New Haven is unbelievable,” he said. “Other places don’t have a fraction of the history.”

The company earns revenue from two types of tax credits: one for renovating historic homes and the other for implementing more sustainable measures. Karen Senich, the executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, said that the state offers three tax credit programs for renovations of historic buildings.

“To qualify, buildings have to be listed on the national or state register,” she said, adding that many New Haven districts are eligible for this program. Districts on Prospect Hill, Whitney Avenue, Hillhouse and the New Haven Green qualify for the tax credit program, according to the New Haven Preservation Trust website. .

These government programs make it possible for Verdigris Ventures to renovate homes, and then sell them at affordable prices, Greenberg said. The company also guarantees energy bills are lower than $100 per month, promising to pay any surplus for the first year, she said.

The company is the product of extensive business experience from both entrepreneurs.

Greenberg left her previous job as senior vice president at a commercial real estate development and management firm in Fairfield to start this venture, she said.

Stone also left “a string of successes,” including jobs such as business owner of several companies and partner at a consulting firm, to start Verdigris Ventures.

“I was looking for a way to get back into the energy business in a hands-on way,” he said. Stone is currently a Clinical Visiting Lecturer in Yale Law School’s Community Economic Development Clinic.

The name of the company comes from the shade of green copper turns after oxidizing, alluding to the “old” and “green” aspects of the renovations Greenberg and Stone are interested, Stone said.

Comments

  • jaybrightarchitect

    This renovation involves so many ggod ideas! Even the establishment of a corporation to use all of the tax credits is an improvement to the recent custom of getting only 50 cents on the dollar from an attorney in MA? who aggregates many projects to sell to big corporations.

    I hope there will be more open houses when the roads are not snow blocked.