Dilapidated House Renovations

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For two years, Jennifer and Shawn Donovan of Waterbury Center had been scouring central Vermont for the right house to buy. After years of renting, they never thought finding an affordable house would be so difficult. Little did they know that dilapidated house renovations were in their future.

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On a whim, Jen called builder Steve Sisler, owner of Sisler Builders. “Do you have any spec houses, property… anything?” she begged. In fact, Steve had something, but it was, well, not for everyone. “You want to look at a derelict building and see if it might work for you?” he replied. He made sure to note that it had great views of Camel’s Hump. Unfazed by the unusual proposition, Jen agreed to stop by the next day.

The two met in Waterbury Center in front of a dilapidated and forlorn looking old house with ugly green asbestos siding. Steve explained that Sisler Builders would begin the dilapidated house renovations by tearing down the house and building on the existing foundation. He wanted to recycle as much of the building materials as possible and build a green, energy-efficient home. Jen walked around the grungy site, her shoes crunching on broken glass. She was quiet, and told Steve she’d get back to him. Privately, she had fallen in love with the idea of renovating an old home on that site.

Dilapidated house renovations on a budget

Jen showed Shawn the house that weekend. He was skeptical, but intrigued by the ideas that Steve had proposed, and motivated by his wife’s enthusiasm. A few days later, they called Steve to say they were interested – with a catch: could he build their dream three-bedroom, two-bathroom house for $180,000?

“That will be a challenge,” Steve replied, “but we’re willing to accept it.” It would be the leanest construction budget for a house of this size that Sisler Builders had done in years. But Steve and his colleagues, led by site supervisor and carpenter Matt Rouleau, were eager to demonstrate that with creativity and experience, building state-of-the-art energy-efficient homes – their specialty – could be done on a budget and a tight time frame.

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Steve, Matt, and their subcontractors came to the Donovans with numerous ideas for how to save money and energy while building something beautiful and practical from the dilapidated old house. By using the existing 20-year-old concrete foundation, deemed sound by a structural engineer, the couple could save $30,000. Steve and Matt proposed using T-111 siding instead of clapboards, for a savings of around $12,000.

Plumbing subcontractor Don Clark pointed out that an acid-etched concrete floor with radiant heat had the dual bonus of being more efficient and $2,000 cheaper than a hardwood floor. Electrician Mike Cannon proposed installing the electrical service in a way that saved significant costs. Noi Jones and Kevin Kinney got to work fabricating the central staircase using exposed old structural beams. A passive solar design featuring lots of glass would bring in light and views, and keep the home warm. Steve would design and draw the house plans himself, and Jen and Shawn offered to do their own painting and buy and install all the appliances and cabinets.

After making one minor change to the design, the couple “absolutely let us run with it,” recounts Steve. Five months after the dilapidated old house renovations began, Jen and Shawn Donovan moved into the beautiful new home that rose in its place.

Dream home completed

dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovationsLight streams in through the numerous south-facing windows that extend from floor to ceiling. The distinctive profile of Camel’s Hump feels close enough to reach out and stroke. Warmth rises from the heated concrete floor. Weathered barn board from the old house forms an interesting corner, and a staircase in the center of the living room features hand-hewn century-old posts, railings made of peeled logs that were formerly rafters in the old schoolhouse, and stair treads cut from the original massive 8×8 beams. Old melds seamlessly with new.

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Steve Sisler says the Donovan house has been especially satisfying for him, his subcontractors and his colleagues at Sisler Builders. “I’m proud that we took a derelict building that was a drag on the community and the tax base and turned it into something viable, valuable, and energy efficient for a young couple. They appreciate what it was, and what we made of it, and now have a real pride of place.” Steve reflects, “It’s rewarding to take something that was broken and make it beautiful.”

Remodeled Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont Home

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By David Goodman

Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont HomeBarbara Puddicombe was tired of being a weekend warrior. It was time to realize her dream—a contemporary rustic Stowe Vermont home. Since 1975, she and her husband Michael had been making weekend trips from their home in Rhode Island to ski at Stowe. “We just piled into houses with other people when we were in our mid-20s,” she recalls with a fond grin. “Three kids and a dog later, we were still coming here every weekend. Then weekends grew into summer vacations, because we found Stowe even more beautiful in summer than winter.”

Ten years ago, the Puddicombes decided that their days doing laps between Rhode Island and Stowe were over. Michael traded in his job as a professor of business at Boston University for one at Norwich University, and Barbara transitioned from her Rhode Island practice as an occupational therapist.

“Our five-year plan to move to Vermont suddenly turned into a five-month plan,” says Barbara. Then came the big challenge: finding a house. One day, Michael called his wife with a strange announcement, “You’re not gonna be happy with this house.” He was only partly right. The 25-year old post-and-beam cape “didn’t have a lot of curbside appeal, but it was very functional,” says Barbara. But when she looked out from the back porch, she saw a view framed by the Worcester Range on one side and Camel’s Hump on the other.

“This is it,” she declared. She points out her window to the multicolored waves rising up to meet the sky. “I felt that I was being cradled in these mountains.” Perched high on Stowe Hollow at the foot of the Worcester Range, the Puddicombes turned to Sisler Builders to help transform their 1970s-era house—and by extension, their lives. They wanted a contemporary but rustic Vermont home for their active family of five.

Today, Gretchen, 18, is a high school senior, aspiring artist, and avid soccer player, and Sam, 13, is an eighth grader at Stowe Middle School, who loves backcountry skiing and cross-country running; their oldest son Matthew is now in engineering school in California.

Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont HomeWe entered the house through a spacious mud room that opens onto a fieldstone patio. Bike helmets hang from a pole and running shoes and hiking boots litter the floor. The cramped original post-and-beam frame has been seamlessly integrated into an airy family room and kitchen. Light pours in through large windows that wrap around two corners of the house. On this morning, Gretchen sits at the kitchen counter tapping on her laptop, while Sam bumps around the kitchen getting breakfast. Lots of glass, exposed wood beams, richly colored granite counters, and a ruggedly elegant stone fireplace create a warm, earthy space for the family to hang out.

Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont HomeThe Puddicombe home is an extension of a life that is intimately connected to the outdoors. That was the dream Barbara and Michael were chasing when they moved to Vermont. From the windows that face out onto rocky mountain ridges to the skis in the garage, the dream has become a reality.

“Vermont has been everything I wanted it to be,” says Barbara. “This has been a time and place when I could just bring up my kids living outdoors.” She has maintained a busy private practice of hand therapy out of her home office, but she also relishes the days she spends as a volunteer in her kids’ schools. “I don’t think my kids remember when I was not engaged in their lives, which is just what I wanted. I also get plenty of time on the ski slopes.”

Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont HomeBarbara recently celebrated a milestone with some local flare. “I decided for my fiftieth birthday that I would do 50 things I had never done before. I started by skiing the Stowe Derby and I finished by running the Stowe 8 Miler.” Along the way she also made her first descent of some of Stowe’s classic tree skiing runs, had her first shot of tequila, and went cliff jumping.

Barbara strolls outside past the red barn garage onto the stone patio. “I feel like I’m the luckiest person,” she says. A light breeze flutters the autumn foliage in the yard. “I just live in the most beautiful place in the whole entire world. I feel such an affinity to the topography here. It’s a landscape that is constantly changing. No matter how many times you hike or ski it, it continues to offer you new challenges, or it doesn’t have to be challenging at all. Vermont just takes care of my emotional soul.” She sweeps her arms out, as if embracing the trees and air around her. “There is no place else that I have ever found like it.”