Green Home Profiles: Gerard House
Facade of Gerard Home before renovation
Facade of Gerard Home after renovation
Facade before renovation (top)
and after renovation (bottom)

Earth Home Above Ground
Mike and Joan Gerard

General Description:
Historic single-family home, built in 1894, in Lafayette Square neighborhood, City of St. Louis. Gut rehab from partly collapsed shell. Super-insulation (13″ of brick and 13″ of insulation) and specialized energy systems earn a HERS Rating 45. Of 3,600 original square feet, 3,100 ft2 is usable space, after insulating framing brought in interior walls.

Historic Factors:
This home is one of eleven nearly identical homes on the south side of its block of Hickory Street. They are three-story limestone with tall ceilings, Second French Empire Victorian. Winnifred Patterson owned all eleven homes, built by Nathanial Patterson. This house has had 17 owners, including ownership by Little Sisters of the Poor in 1891.

Three times the house sold for $100, once for $10. Current owners bought this house in 1983 for $9,000. They invested two years of weekends, nights and vacations to rebuild; minimal outside help was limited to bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, and sheet metal workers.

“We put our money into the structure,” Mike Gerard reports, “energy systems and super-insulation. Over the years we raised our family here, finishes were builder-grade. Once the re-framing and insulation were complete, we brought in 13,000 ft2 of drywall. We put down clear plywood on the floors, rolled a coat of brown paint on it and moved in. Then we completed all the finishes, especially after the kids left. We updated interiors, added two roof decks, garden areas, and other amenities.”

What’s Green about this project?
“This is a home within a house, and it was the opposite of restoration,” Mike says. “It was a tear-down and rebuild with all the original Victorian features saved or replaced, and an all-new modern interior. ‘Save Me!’ was spray-painted on one of the sheets of plywood boarding up the front windows when we bought it. It has been totally reframed and re-bricked.”

  • Inside the exterior brick walls are coated with R-10 urethane foam, then framed and insulated with R-13 vertical bats, then R-19 horizontal bats, then another framed wall with R-13 vertical bats. Ceilings are R-70, all walls are R-60; the first floor is R-30. The interior moisture barrier is achieved by overlapping and seal between insulation and drywall using a reinforced plastic wrap. 
  • All heat and hot water are provided by an active liquid solar thermal system installed in 1984 before move-in. There is no conventional type of heat or hot water system.
  • This is an all-electric house. A 5kW net-metered photovoltaic solar array, installed in 2012, helps power the home. The panel array also provides 400 ft2 of shade over one of the two large roof decks overlooking downtown St. Louis. 

“When the sun is shining,” Mike says, “the electric meter runs backwards, building up credits with power company Ameren. We use these net-metering credits when we charge our electric car or need house electric when sun is down or cloud-covered.

“We’ve lived in this home for 32 years with no furnace and no water heater,” Mike says. “The solar thermal system maintains 195-degree water in the tank, winter and summer, when the sun is shining. Its slope is v optimized for temperatures on December 21. We do have a small apartment heater, the kind used in Southern cities, on the laundry room ceiling. It takes heat off the solar-thermal water heating system and sends a little heat around through the ducts. The ducts are all within conditioned spaces, so they don’t need to be sealed. We do have a 2.5 ton 13-SEER air conditioning unit, but the house is so well insulated our cost to air condition—in the St. Louis hot-summer climate—is maybe $100 per year. Our neighbors on both sides, with identical original structures, all use a total of 12 tons of AC.”

How did you accomplish so much structural efficiency and stay true to the home’s historical character?
“Once we rebuilt the collapsed sections and re-bricked the exterior, the super-insulating renovations all took place inside. Of the original 16 cornice blocks under the mansard roof, only four were left. Our neighbor Bob Cassilly, the famous St. Louis artist and City Museum founder, made a urethane mold of a remaining block so that we could fabricate replacements.

“Originally we bought 54 windows, made into 27 units, in keeping with the tall-window character of the home. These were replaced a few years ago, using Renewal by Andersen Fibrex composite resin framed windows with wood veneer; inside, they are veneered with oak, maple or cherry, depending on the room.”

What can others learn and adapt from your home rehab example?
Mike Gerard’s response is emphatic and instant: “Focus on the thermal integrity of your house structure. Then however you supply our home’s energy needs becomes easier!”

Before renovation:
Gerard Home before renovation Gerard Home before renovation

After renovation:
Gerard Home after renovation Gerard Home after renovation