A Green Renovation on Newton Street


I love having the opportunity to see the insides of homes that I walk by all the time. I was fortunate enough to be invited over to this home on Newton Street to see some of the Green features. The owner, Jimmy Edgerton, and the housemates were beyond kind in giving me a tour of the entire home yesterday. Following is an explanation of the renovation by Jimmy.

The home features 6 Bedrooms & 4.5 Baths on 3 floors – central heating and A/C (2 zone) – solar photovoltaic panels that generate electricity – solar hot water heating system – partly vegetated roof – recycled materials installed & waste diverted from landfill.

The house originally was roughly 1200 SF liveable (1st and 2nd floor) with a 600 SF crawl space basement. After renovation by a previous owner who went bankrupt, the house had a 20ft rear extension, added a third story, and dug out the basement to make it liveable. Now the house is 4000 total square feet and is the “greenest house on the green line”!

Eco-efficient features include: solar photovoltaic and solar thermal panels on the roof, no or low VOC paint on the interior and exterior, bamboo flooring on the first floor, carpet made from 100% post consumer recycled material on the second and third floors, incredibly high percentage of re-used and diverted from landfill building materials and fixtures, energy efficient central heating and air with two zone flexibility, optimization of natural light, and inviting social spaces throughout the interior. Green features coming in 2010: partial green roof, front and rear landscaping to reduce stormwater run-off, rooftop rainwater harvesting, and an exterior “living” wall from bamboo.

Jimmy stands by some of the Green features. You can learn more about Jimmy here.

The solar photovoltaic panels that produce electricity and reduce the house’s energy bills by 40-60%. The panels are on an open loop system so a certain times the house acts like a power plant and supplies energy to the grid! For example, on a summer day when the air conditioner is off the house will producing more electricity then it is using so the power flows into the grid! At this time I have not sold the RECs (Renewable Energy Credits) to Pepco because then I am effectively allowing Pepco to pollute and the house losses its ability to say it is a carbon off-setting facility.

The solar thermal panels that pre-heat the houses hot water. There is a back-up electric water heater that kicks in if the solar panels are not keeping the water hot enough. If showers are not taken all at once then basically all the house’s hot water comes from the Solar panels (80-90%).

Before photo:

Newton St - Jimmy's First View - 1.4.09

See lots of photos of the interior after the jump.










1 - Solar Photovoltaic Panels

2 - Solar Thermal Panels

37 Comment

  • A lot of awesomeness here. Quite the socially conscious bachelor pad. I hate to introduce any negativity whatsoever into this story, but I’m going to anyway. Does anyone else think chainlink fences are ugly? I think they can make an otherwise beautiful property look really outdated and sloppy. I can’t be alone in this, can I? Otherwise, kudos on all the work on this house.

  • I think this is fantastic and wish I were that motivated (and flush with cash) to do this to my house! (btw – that couch on the front porch needs to go – very ghetto!)

  • Too bad the front porch looks so trashy and they still have the chain link up. That whole street has more chain link than just about any block in Columbia Heights. Please people, no upholstered furniture outside.

  • Wife and I are very interested in adding solar panels to our house. Can anyone comment on cost as well as vendors?

  • @skeedattle – I completely agree that chain link fences are hideous, which is why my first big project when I moved into my Petworth rowhouse was to remove the chain link to be recycled. My front yard looks much lovelier and more spacious.

  • I’m with Skeedattle of the chainlink fence. I HAAAAAAATE those. Even my libertarian-minded self wouldn’t object to a bad on that type of fencing in front yards. They’re just as ghetto as a sofa on the front porch. 😉

    My only other criticism would be the lack of ornamentation to the pop-up addition. It would have been fantastic to see the carry-over of the dental molding and fenestration used on the second floor.

    But it’s still a more intensive remodeling that I’ve ever done. So kudos to overall job. Glad to see someone using solar power AND water. Too many people think neither is practical in a nothern climate. Happy to see that myth being proved wrong.


  • Care to share the cost to dig out and under pin the foundation…

    I agree, hopefully landscaping in 2010 will mean removing the chain link, but that would be kind of anti-green, even if you did recycle it. I know a good mason that lives across 14th on Newton from you if you want his information. I’m sure living on the end with the alley, would probably attract trash and stooping on any wall.

  • this is absolutely awesome. i love love love it.

  • First poster took the words out of my mouth.

    My first thought was “recycle that chain link fence!”

  • Surprised PoP/the Owner didn’t mention the fire that took place there. During renovations over a year ago, the house caught on fire (don’t know specifics). Glad to see it got turned around. Now, all they need to do, is clean up the front of the house and remove that nasty couch from the porch.

  • Since the chain link fence didn’t appear on the original photo, I have to assume the current owner installed it. To be really green with it he could plant an indigeous vine like honeysuckle along the base and make it a living fence. It will smell sweet in the summertime too.

  • Let me add my kudos to putting all the effort in to go green. Like the other readers, I’d like to hear about the costs — when I was doing the initial renovations on my house, I looked into solar panels and found them to be so expensive as to be prohibitive. It wouldn’t save me any money for about 30 years (granted my house is small) and by then the technology would probably change so much that I’d want to replace the system anyway.

    I really am curious to hear more of their thoughts on that; I know there’s a trade-off being energy efficient and responsible, even though it tends to be extremely front-heavy in the investment. Have other people done these kinds of improvements and found them worth it? (I don’t mean basic stuff like putting in energy efficient windows, etc.) I wish we could get more investment in energy efficient R&D so we could get the consumer costs down — this stuff won’t really take off until that happens, I think.

  • Also I’ll add, the biggest pet peeve I have about renovating a house is having people over and condescendingly saying, “Um, are you going to [do some totally obvious but only-cosmetic fix to the house]” And I say, YES, of course I am, but 10,000 things are on the list and I haven’t gotten there; let’s get everything functioning first.

    So jeez people, ease up on the chain-link fence. He’s probably BUSY with the 10,000 other things he’s doing and just hasn’t gotten around to it. Dang.

  • The pop-up would have been a lot nicer if they would have matched the bricks and the styling of the rest of the home. Good work overall, though.

  • I’d also like to hear more about the green touches, particularly the renewable energy choices, from an investment perspective. How awesome would it be if solar got cheap enough to install if everyone could just slap a solar panel on their roof and produce 50% or more of their own energy. But presumably this isn’t happening (yet) because the price is too high and the return on investment doesn’t work.

    But, I’d love to hear from others who have made these investments whether there’s actually a way to make it cost-effective, or whether it’s more of a “donation” to the environment.

  • You need a fence on your yard in my experience, or else people start living there or using it as a toilet and/or dogs poo there too. So, fence is a priority, and maybe the chain link was chosen due to cost.

  • _There’s a metal recycling place in SE. I took my old metal sash weights there and made enough $$ to go out to dinner on.

    _The city is giving grants for solar installation. There are a number of coops of homeowners that are working together to get people started. I’ve hard of one in Adam’s Morgan and I belong to the one in Capitol Hill. There’s no reason you can’t join either or both and get some help. The city reimbursement is 1/3 I think, but there’s a HUGE waiting list. Check out DC.gov for details.

    _Ditto to Goot, the mismatched brick is the Achilles heal. Who’s going to pay top dollar for a house with crummy curb appeal?

    _The payoff for solar is like 30 years unless you sell the energy credits which *can* reduce the payback to

  • What I’d really love you hear is ideas on how to insulate exterior walls of an old brick house. So far the two options I have is either insulate from the inside of the house by putting insulation and new drywall on the inside part of the wall or dig holes on the walls and blow foam in the wall cavity.

    Does anybody know of other ways to do this? Is there some magic liquid that you could apply to the exterior walls that would provide sufficient insulation?

  • Goot and Ragged Dog: It seems that the previous owner did the brick work, they bought it with it already mismatched. I would imagine it would have been expensive to rip it down and redo it. While its still a pop up…its one of the better ones.

  • Thor – it’s pricey, but much easier than redoing drywall. If you paint all your upstairs ceilings you’ll probably trap the most. Assuming you’ve eliminated drafts with new window/doors, most of you loss is probably through the roof anyway.


  • Solar is actually remarkable affordable in DC, with a payback period of 5-8 years possible. Typical total installed costs are $8-9/watt, which works out to $27,000 for a 3000 Watt (3 kW) system, enough to offset 1/3-1/2 of a typical home’s energy use. DC gives a rebate of $3/W for the first 3 kW, $2/W after that, which brings the $27,000 cost down to $18,000. The federal government offers a 30% tax credit on the total installed cost, which then cuts the cost down to $9,000. You’ll probably save close to $500/year on electricity costs, and another $1,000/year if you sell the renewable energy credits to Pepco to satisfy their renewable standard requirements. That works out to a payback period of 6 years, which is not bad at all for an investment with an expected lifetime of 25 years or more.

    More info:

  • Michael — That’s great information, thanks for that and the links.

    The biggest downside then is that you still need the $27,000 up front, even if you can get a lot of that back later.

  • Poking around a bit online, it looks like the materials are in the range of $13k to $17k. Any thoughts on DIY solar panels? I am sure an electrical would have to hook it up, but how difficult would the rooftop install be and chasing the wires through the house?

  • Heather – DC gives you the rebate even before you install the system (if you don’t install the system within 6 months you have to give it back to the District), but you are right that you don’t get the federal tax credit upfront. You can adjust your tax withholding to account for the amount of the expected credit so that you don’t have to wait to get a refund until the next spring, but even then the credit will be disbursed over the entire year, not up-front.

  • I agree that the outside reveals none of the inner beauty of this house. I especially like the bedroom with the brown walls and lots of windows. You can tell that the person who lives in that room has a lot of style…the others, not so much.

    I also agree about the couch on the front porch. Unless you want to leave the house someday and find someone asleep on it, I’d recommend tossing it. Get some cheep but nice-looking porch furniture and be done with it.

  • Stubs – to get the DC rebate you have to use a certified installer. The DC rules explicitly say you cannot get the rebate if you DIY.

    You definitely need a certified installer to do the electrical hookups. If you know what you are doing it may be possible to mount the panels yourself, although since you risk doing serious harm to your roof or having the panels blown off in a wind storm if you don’t, you’re probably better off having the entire thing professionally done.

  • Michael, thanks for the heads up. Truth be told, your concerns are applicable to any DIY work. Some do it well, others not so much. In my opinion, no reason to pay someone to do something I can do myself. Of course permits and the like are an important part of the process, but it is frustrating how DC discourages DIY.

  • I’ve dreamed of solar and such, but just can’t swing that up front payment. $20 – $30K is just light years beyond what I have on hand, no matter what the long term payback is.

  • Almost 50 houses in Mt Pleasant had solar installations this fall, you can find more information at the Mt Pleasant Solar Cooperative (http://www.mtpleasantsolarcoop.org/)
    The cost of solar panels has gone down and the rebates and incentives (and the collective power of 50 households) make it more affordable.

    You can also choose to install solar film instead – the solar film is less expensive but also generates less energy than solar panels.

  • I like the solar panels, but I hate the styling. Seriously, why does anyone want to live like they are just out of the Peace Corps and crashing in a group house past the age of 24?

  • Kudos to Jimmy for such a thoughtful renovation! Its nice to see someone talk the talk AND walk the walk, with regards to energy efficiency and sustainability.
    And, I’m with Heather on the cosmetic nit-picking…when renovating a home, a functional infrastructure will always win out over something as inexpensive (or costly) as replacing a fence. Seriously, this isn’t Apartment Therapy.
    Thank you PoP for sharing such a great example of residential Green design!

  • I just wanted to comment that I watching Jimmy put this project together last year was both exciting and impressive. The house contains reclaimed floor to ceiling tile in the bathrooms and a reclaimed granite counter top in the kitchen. It takes a lot of creativity, motivation, and initiative on his part to put these pieces together, find tenants, find funding, and finish the project in I think only 2 or 3 months. I recently quit my job and started working with Jimmy on his current business venture because I was motivated the work he did on this house.

  • @Stubs & Heather – I would be happy to talk over the solar installation, grant process for DC, and discuss potential contractors. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected]. I am budgeting that the solar panels, both PV and thermal, will pay for themselves within 7-9 years, and that includes not selling the RECs and without changes in fuel costs.

    @Dirty – The dig out of the basement was performed before I found the property. But whenever dealing with foundations and basements storm water is always a major issue. Also, please e-mail me name of the mason, I think I know who you are talking about.

    @Drewlove – Interesting idea about the honeysuckle plant — I will keep it in mind for the spring.

  • @Bloodhound – You can most definitely go green within a strict budget, but you must be creative and constantly seeking opportunities to break from common practices, instead of just throwing dollars at a project to make it sparkle and “green”. The first LEED Platinum house in DC cost approximately $300/SF to renovate and receive certification. Not to be too vague, but the Newton St renovation cost less than $100/SF. Creativity and eco-efficiency go hand in hand, and without a project being financially sustainable it cannot be environmentally sustainable.

    @Thor – I have not personally run into your exterior brick issue, but I would like to hear more about it.

  • Jimmy – Willie Edwards 202.270.2404 – honest guy, works hard, he has some transportation issues at times.

  • @ Ragged Dog — what are the deets for metal recycling in SE? Is this off Kenilworth? I have some old metal. Used to have a lot more but could never get the specifics for where I could bring it in SE to recycle/sell

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