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My Sustainable Day-Cation in Halton Hills Day 3: Heritage and Sustainability together at Devereaux House

In addition to having such a strong connection to their natural heritage, the people of Halton Hills are also fortunate to have an abundance of cultural heritage in their town as well.  One of the best examples of where that cultural heritage has been preserved and updated for the enjoyment of future generations is the Devereaux House, a home originally constructed in the 1860s and occupied until the early 2000s.

The exterior of the Devereaux house. From outside, you would never guess that this home has so many innovative, energy saving features.

The original plan for the Devereaux house was to demolish it; the structure was showing its age and the feeling was that it would be better to clear it away to make room for a new building.  But community members had a different idea for the house.  They saw the value of keeping such a historically significant building, and decided to undertake an aggressive fundraising program with the goal of restoring and retrofitting the house to make it viable for generations to come.

Now many people will look at a 150 year old house and say that you could build a new home in a more energy efficient manor, but the factors that get overlooked when choosing to replace old with new is the embodied energy and costs that go into sourcing new construction materials.  In many ways, the greenest buildings are the ones that are already standing, they just might need a little bit of extra work to get them to where they need to be.

Outfitted with furniture that feels very much of the period in which the house was constructed, the living room of the Devereaux house makes you feel as though you’ve gone back in time!

Such was the case with Devereaux house.  The volunteer group, with the support of the Town, began soliciting partnerships, and it wasn’t long before they found a major partner: The Georgetown Soccer Club.  With the 100-acre farm attached to the Devereaux house property owned by the town and slated for conversion into soccer fields, the partnership seemed to be a match made in heaven.  So the Soccer Club, the largest youth sports organization in Halton Hills, advanced the Devereaux house society 5 years worth of rent, $40,000.  The Soccer Club now has its administrative offices in the house, where they have been since the construction on the house was completed.  The Friends of Devereaux House also received capital from the Town of Halton Hills and donations from business and individuals as well as money from the Province of Ontario and federal government, all with the goal of restoring and retrofitting the house to serve for generations to come.

Now this whole tale would be a great success story if the house were simply restored and utilized, but it wouldn’t be notable enough to make this blog.  I have pretty high standards, after all.  What makes this story really interesting is the way that the Devereaux house society integrated a surprising number of green building features into the redevelopment of Devereaux house.

The foyer of the Devereaux house. Notice the light fixture, which fits with the look and feel of the house, but is outfitted with energy efficient bulbs.

Equipped with Geothermal heating and cooling, a high-efficiency HVAC system, ultra-low-flow toilets, tankless hot water heating and high-efficiency lighting throughout, Devereaux house performs as well as a new build when it comes to energy efficiency, all while maintaining the look and feel of a heritage building.  Even the old wooden storm windows were custom made, installed and sealed so while they might not perform quite as well as a modern, high-efficiency window, they do a very good job of keeping drafts out, and performed very well in a blower test, designed to find leaks in the house’s insulation.

The windows at the Devereaux house are custom built in the wooden storm window style, but professional construction, installation and sealing ensures that they perform as well as modern windows.

The results of all this hard work speak for themselves, especially when the utility bills come each month.  Rather than spending the estimated $10-12,000 each year for HVAC, water and lighting, Devereaux house only uses approximately $3600 per year in utility costs.  If those are the kinds of savings they achieved in a 150 year old heritage building, just imagine what YOU could do with your home, especially now that Ontario has introduced home energy efficiency retrofit financing attached to the property rather than a person (watch this blog for an explanation on why that is such a good thing!).

The dining room in the Devereaux house, where meetings can be held or parties can be hosted, all in an energy-efficient, high-charm location!

Devereaux house is a great example of how a municipality can respect their cultural heritage without sacrificing their ability to preserve their environmental track record.  It’s an inspiring project showcasing how great the results can be when the community works together with all levels of government, and I hope that it serves as a model for future projects around the GTHA.  Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at some of the great sustainable features of Downtown Georgetown.  Stay tuned!

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