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Teaching an Old House New Tricks


This spring, a classic home-renovation TV show goes green. By Alison Sherbach


Once upon a time, not so long ago, there lay a suburban landscape, rife with modest, cookie-cutter houses flanked by neatly trimmed lawns. Those days, however, are long gone. The modern homeowner demands a more spacious abode, in which a master suite is a must and stainless steel kitchen appliances are staples. While many current home-renovation TV shows reflect this keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality, This Old House is trying out a new—and refreshingly modest—take this season with its first green renovation.

Austin resident Michele Grieshabler fell in love with her 1926 Craftsman-Style Bungalow the moment she saw it. The house, a once cozy retreat for Michele, is no longer large enough to lodge her new husband and his two young boys. Living in a cramped and outdated kitchen, one bathroom, and a single story to live on, the couple is desperate for more space. At the same time, the two are environmentally aware and want to make eco-friendly renovations.

With the help of green architect David Webber and green project builder Bill Moore, the homeowners will add an 800-square-foot second floor. There will be a master bedroom, although Michael and Michele chose to forgo a master bath for a shared one. Their kitchen will feature cabinets made from MDF (a material made of 100 percent recycled post-industrial wood fiber), as well as recycled glass and concrete countertops. Vintage doorknobs will be installed throughout the house. Outside, the renovations will include a seam metal roof—also made from recycled materials—and a rainwater harvesting system. These are only a few of the many green projects that will be shown over the course of eight episodes.

The show’s downside is that it can be a bit slow at times. If you’re looking for the heart-string tugging drama or wow-factor that programs such as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition provide on a weekly basis, this isn’t the show for you. In fact, the only drama the audience sees in the first episode is men crawling underneath the house, trying to level it in places it has shifted and sunk.

But what the show lacks in pace it makes up for in education. As host Kevin O’Connor points out, “If you want to teach about craftsmanship, it takes time and patience, and that’s what we focus on.” This Old House isn’t about pure entertainment; it’s about teaching someone how to renovate an old house, and how to do it well. This season we get the added bonus of learning how to do these renovations in a way that eases our environmental conscience. 

So go ahead, redo your kitchen, get that new roof you desperately need, or build that addition you’ve always wanted. And for a few helpful hints, watch This Old House’s Austin project. Even if the story drags a bit, you’re sure to come away from it a little smarter—and maybe even a little greener.

This Old House Austin Project airs on PBS, Feb 8, 2007. Check your local listings.