Going Green on a Custom Home

Green Solutions for a Historic Home


The term green is new and often associated with modern homes. However, we discovered that some of the biggest energy waste comes from older homes. So “greening” them up poses some interesting challenges. In the historic district of Montford the early 1900 bungalow houses were considered very high tech with electricity and indoor plumbing. Although advanced for their time, older homes waste much more energy than the modern home.

Renovating the old home is nothing new to Scott. As co-owner of Harmony Interiors, an Asheville-based home systems installation company, he’s dealt with his share of inefficient homes. He knows that technologies like home automation systems and dimmable lighting definitely make an impact, but first he had to take care of that awful draft.

The greatest obstacles for resolving the energy loss issues in this particular home were partially due to it’s historic status. In a historic neighborhood everything must be approved, and simple energy saving solutions do not necessarily fly with historic resources commission. Simply changing handmade windows to insulated windows or adding storm windows would never pass.

The house was insulated the best possible with limited access to the plaster and lath walls. Particular focus was made on the 3rd floor since it was easily gutted and the most critical location for heat loss and repulsion. Extensive caulking, weather stripping and sealing electrical outlets helped with drafts. But there would still need to be a way to reduce waste and use less energy.

Winters are cold in Asheville. Natural gas works well for instant heat and efficiency. But regulating it took some help from the Control 4 system. The C4 thermostat was automated to lower at night and heat up in the morning. Also, during the day the goodbye button by the door dropped the temperature setting. Upon return, the hello button increases the temperature, saving energy during the day. The instant warm and efficiency of natural gas allows the goodbye setting to be lower than most using heating systems. These buttons, and a bedside keypad with a goodnight button, enable all the lights and temperature settings to be regulated easily.

With the help of their Control4 home management system, the Varns can switch off every A/V component whenever they engage the goodbye or goodnight commands. In addition to eliminating wasteful energy consumption, this setup will help extend the life of the A/V equipment.

Summers are mild, so we took advantage of the original architect’s design to keep the home cool without air conditioning. Throughout the home ceiling fans circulate the air and a natural draft created by the 3rd floor stair window allows hot air to be exhausted. During the evenings, the C4 system turns on fans to draw in cool air.

When the 3rd floor converted into an office and playroom, a separate through-wall HVAC unit was installed. This unit can easily be left on. If so, C4 notifies you on a keypad or can even send an e-mail to ask if it should be turned off.

A wall-mounted keypad in the third-floor playroom controls the temperature, lighting and music for the space. By swapping the home’s original toggle switches for Control4 dimmers and plugging table lamps into Control4 dimmer modules, the same commands designed to lower the thermostat could now also turn off the lights.

Located on the third level of the house, the office required its own air conditioner. To ensure that they wouldn’t forget to turn off the unit when they left the room, the Varns integrated the AC’s on/off switch into their Control4 automation system’s goodnight and goodbye commands. When they touch the goodnight or goodbye button on a Control4 keypad or handheld remote, the AC shuts off along with the lights.

Tech Fun

Updating the house for modern entertainment was also a challenge. TV was not invented and sticking a small TV in the corner was not an option for big movie viewing. Preserving the historic integrity was another priority. A hidden projector, a roll up screen and equipment off-line in a closet keep the room looking like it belongs in 1900.

A Control4 runs the show in Scott and Sam Varns’ living room. On command, a 92-inch Draper screen rolls down from a soffit that was added to the ceiling of the historic home. A soffit also hides a Sony video projector. Heat generated by a rack of audio and video equipment in a nearby hallway helps warm the room in the wintertime.

A Sony HS51A Video Projector finds a concealed home in the ceiling beam. With the help of their Control4 home management system, the Varns can switch off every A/V component whenever they engage the goodbye or goodnight commands. In addition to eliminating wasteful energy consumption, this setup will help extend the life of the A/V equipment. “That $350 bulb in our Sony video projector will last a lot longer if we keep the projector off when we’re not using it,” says Scott.

House-wide audio was also added during the update. Hidden speakers were painted to match the walls and ceiling, so the music is heard but not seen.

Hidden speakers in wall, floor and beams
Subwoofer hidden in floor Bose jewel speakers painted to match the wall Speaker hidden in wall


  • Old appliances were replaced by energy star appliances.
  • Doors and trim were stripped due to lead based paints. Responsible disposal of materials was observed and many materials were recycled by local salvage yards.
  • Lighting – use of CFL bulbs in some areas but using 100 watt bulbs in other locations. The C4 system controls the amount of wattage based on need. This house had very few overhead lights – the C4 lamp dimmer modules made lamps easier to use and save energy.
  • All of these items can also controlled remotely via cell phone or computer.

Bose outdoor speakers blend into the beams, though their awesome sound does not!

Located in the playroom, this equipment cabinet is usually sealed off from curious fingers by a hinged door. A specially programmed Control4 remote lets the kids control all the equipment inside.

Audio and video equipment can generate a lot of heat when they’re running. Fans mounted inside the closet where the Varns’ equipment is located expels some of the hot air into the living room to help keep it warm. In the summer, the hot air is exhausted into the basement.

A Panasonic security camera keeps tabs on the kids in the playroom. Mom and Dad can view the camera images from any TV that’s connected to the Control4 automation system.

A tabletop controller dims the lamps in the living room to help conserve electricity.

The Varns could have easily sealed up their home by putting in new energy-efficient windows, but that wouldn’t have set too well with their local historic resources commission. To remove the original leaded glass windows would have upset the home’s architectural integrity. Fortunately, there were other less intrusive options that would afford the Varns a greener, more energy-efficient lifestyle.

Mounted to the walls in prime locations, the keypads let the Varns adjust the thermostat remotely by just pressing a button. A goodbye command, for example, lowers the thermostat to an energy-saving daytime setting of 50 degrees. When the Varns return home, a hello command returns the thermostat to its original setting of 62 degrees. That may still seem a bit chilly, but Scott maintains that it’s the most energy-efficient level for this particular house.

After replacing the existing oil furnace for a gas unit, Scott installed a Control4 home management system. This would allow him and Sam to better regulate the new Control4 thermostat that went in place of the old unit.

Scott programmed the new thermostat to adjust automatically based on the time of day. Having it set back automatically at night has helped somewhat, says Scott, but what’s made the biggest difference in their energy usage are the Control4 keypads.