An 18th-century home that’s also net zero

  • Historic restoration of a home in Deerfield by Kent Hicks.

  • The original fire place was restored and made usable in a historic restoration of a home in Deerfield by Kent Hicks in Deerfield. Gazette Photo/Carol Lollis

  • The barn addition of a historic restoration by Kent Hicks of a home in Deerfield. Gazette Photo/Carol Lollis

  • Kent Hicks talks about the Historic restoration of a home in Deerfield. Gazette Photo/Carol Lollis

For The Recorder
Monday, February 19, 2018

DEERFIELD — Contractor Kent Hicks of West Chesterfield recently completed the retrofit of an 18th-century farmhouse in Deerfield — using the latest green technology to make it one of the oldest net zero homes in the country.

The brown, wood-sided home, set back from the street, looks like a classic Deerfield farmhouse, with narrow windows in the front and a stone foundation, but it runs entirely on energy from solar power panels on the roof. Other renovations were done with an eye toward minimizing the building’s carbon footprint, that is, the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere from the extraction of building materials from the earth to construction.

This is Hicks’ company’s specialty. For the project completed this fall, his builders used mostly repurposed materials, carefully blending them with the historic character of the home. Throughout the building, they meticulously worked around the bits and pieces of history, like the latches and handles that are easily 250 years old and were found on hand-built cabinets in the bedrooms. The builders cut away drywall to reveal old-growth pine beams stretching across the bedroom ceilings and they salvaged timber from a rotted old barn on the property, cleaning away the dirt to reveal the wood’s rich patina. This wood was then used to create the pine trim in the kitchen. “The timber is from an old-growth forest that just doesn’t exist anymore,” Hicks said. “It would be a shame if is ended up in a landfill.”

Hicks was showing off his work during a recent tour of the house. The homeowners, he said, declined to be identified for this article.

The house is a sprawling post and beam five-bedroom structure with lots of windows that pour sunlight throughout. The island in the kitchen is a modern touch, but the brick, freestanding restored fireplace and chimney in the center of the first floor is a reminder of the home’s historic origins.

Hicks looked at all the materials used in the building project closely, evaluating everything for the potential impact on the environment from the floorboards, which are repurposed heart pine, to the nails, which were hand-forged before they were hammered into cabinets built into the walls.

After tearing down the dilapidated barn on the property, Hicks replaced it with a barn shipped from Canada, selected for its antique frame, which fit seamlessly with the house to which it is connected. One side of the barn serves as a garage, and the other side features a family room and a loft bedroom. Also, the main entrance opens into a hallway in the barn which brings visitors to the kitchen.

There, a stairway leads to the second floor, which features exposed brick and mortar from the chimney, built when the house was first constructed. This was another detail that contractors uncovered under a layer of drywall, Hicks said. “We were really respectful of what the original house’s fabric was,” he said. “I feel like it flows together nicely. You are moving through a modern space to the 18th century.”

The first step to making the house run efficiently, Hicks said, was making sure the windows were airtight. He did this with windows, imported from Canada, from one of the few companies that provide highly energy efficient windows that look authentic. Depending on their size, the windows are either triple-paned or double-paned to keep moisture out and heat in during the winter months.

His team then built out new walls, adding thickness around the outside of the house, so they could easily add insulation. “The old walls were too thin, so we are adding to the dimension of the building,” he said. “We are kind of wrapping a building in a blanket. You are protecting it. You are putting a big parka on the building.”

While preserving the Earth’s health through sustainable building practices is part of his company’s mission, Hicks said his practices also take into account the inhabitants’ health. To that end, he has included an air filtration system in the home that cleans the air. Hicks sends a notification when it is time to change the filter.

Hicks Construction also evaluates the building materials it uses to ensure they don’t contain health hazards such as formaldehyde. It also is not uncommon for there to be volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing particles, in carpeting, Hick said.

For materials, Hicks’ builders use local suppliers, like Architectural Timber and Millwork Inc. in Hadley, to find recycled timber. They often buy pieces of wood harvested from old structures with dirt still caked on, Hicks said. But reusing materials is important, he added, noting that there is an environmental cost whenever new supplies are used — from extracting them from the Earth, to transporting them, to manufacturing parts.

“It’s not just the efficiency of the home, but the materials that go into the building,” he said. “That’s what we are weighing. It’s kind of a big puzzle to put together to hit all of those marks.”

For more information about Kent Hicks Construction, visit: Kenthicksconstruction.com