Green Home Profiles: Maher Properties

Facade of Maher property after renovation
Facade before renovation (top)
and after renovation (bottom)

Sustainable Rehab of Historic Properties
Patty Maher, Tiger Lily Development LLC

General Description:
Two side-by-side townhouses in one building; 2,000 square feet on each side. Located in the 3400 block of Wyoming, Tower Grove East Neighborhood of the City of St. Louis. Gut-rehabbed to 100% ENERGY STAR and City of St. Louis/State of Missouri historical standards. 

  • Reused: Existing structure: three course brick, structural members.
  • New materials: new interior construction: framing, plumbing, sewer/water lines, electric, HVAC
  • Approximate cost: $490,000 for both buildings, including Patty’s fee.
What’s Green about this project?
ENERGY STAR standards! HERS ratings are 50 and 55, respectively. Achieved by using high-density closed-cell foam enveloping the building and high-efficiency HVAC with all ductwork tested and sealed. Air Recovery System and all electric fixtures are ENERGY STAR rated.

“These homes are rehabbed to 100% ENERGY STAR and City of St. Louis/State of Missouri Historical standards,” Patty proudly proclaims. “These homes are 100–110 years old. They were built to last. If properly maintained, they will last another century—and consume half the energy resources of a typical home this size and vintage.”

“There’s no ductwork on exterior walls. That’s smart “Building Science.” With our summers hitting triple-digit heat and winters getting below zero, pipes and ducts on exterior walls are fighting the home’s environment. ENERGY STAR directs you to build smart! These homes have vents on interior walls. The kitchen sink is in the island, to prevent freezing. 

“The same top-level close-cell foam insulation is used in the whole house. I could save $5–6,000 with a combination of materials like foam and cellulose, but I won’t nickel-and-dime with insulation combos. The exterior brick is porous, so closed-cell foam—which adheres to the brick—gives the best air-seal to the whole building envelope. With a house this tight, you need an air-recovery system. That adds another $2,000 to the HVAC package, but this is a critical investment in air quality and occupant health. A Green Home has to be a healthy home, not just energy efficient. I test every duct during rough-in, ensuring minimal to no air leakage; that makes the best use of everyday heating and cooling energy.

“I work with Gary Fries of ASER USA; he’s St. Louis’ smartest energy rater. We discuss each project to make each one better. The rater oversees the project—it’s a key partnership for me as contractor and developer.”

How marketable is this kind of home?
“On the west coast,” Patty says, “people are lined up waiting to buy ENERGY STAR homes. Here in the Midwest – where energy costs are so much cheaper—customers want to invest their money in stainless steel and granite finishes. California rehabbers market homes with Clean Air – No Allergies and that is also a selling point here, where our urban air quality is compromised.

“I could save $20,000 on a project like this, cut the energy efficiency corners, leave the plaster walls, sell the building and move on—but I wouldn’t be as proud of my work. Even buyers’ inspectors say, ‘Wow! Great job!’

“These historic homes now have a HERS rating of 50 and 55. A typical existing home rates 130; new construction code homes are typically 100. The minimum rating for ENERGY STAR certification is 85. The lower the rating, the more efficient the home. Living in one of these ENERGY STAR homes with a 50 rating, you are saving HALF of typical utility costs. That is significant. Not changing your lifestyle, you’re still heating and cooling, but pulling so much less resources to enjoy conventional comfort.”

How does your Green commitment function as a business model?
“I did my first home rehab in 1983. My first ENERGY STAR project was 2007; I never went back to conventional rehabbing.

“I’m able to make this work because of Missouri’s historic tax credits—they’re the best in the U.S., a model for other states, yet they’re always under attack from the state legislature. They’re a commodity I can sell, and invest that money in the Green fundamentals—and in the next project. These credits also generate jobs. I create jobs. Every $25,000 in credits has created $75,000 in jobs on my projects.

“Because I’m acquiring rehab properties in marginal neighborhoods, I can buy cheap. I’m also helping to transform these areas. Twenty years of work is taking out the board-ups in City neighborhoods like this one. These two properties were the last board-ups on this block, where there used to be 20 or more of them. But there are still opportunities, homes and neighborhoods to reclaim. If I had five buyers, I could find five board-up homes to rehab, potentially in one area.”

Before renovation:
Maher property before renovation

After renovation:
Basement after renovation Hallway after renovation
Living area after renovation Hallway after renovation
Maher property before renovation