“Vintage Green” Workshop House Teaches, Sells

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A plaster repair workshop at the vintage Smogor House in South Bend A plaster repair workshop at the vintage Smogor House in South Bend

A historic home in South Bend used by a preservation group as a site to teach sustainable renovation practices has already garnered new owners. The Smogor House was one of three identical kit houses in the area built by the Smogor Lumber Company.

The 1911 Queen Anne in the West Washington Historic District had been moved from its original location many years ago to make way for the Studebaker Museum and, unusually, was physically linked to its next-door neighbor.  Two preservation groups partnered on the homes in 2014, each taking one house to rehabilitate into a single-family dwelling.

Todd Zeiger, Director of the Indiana Landmarks Northern Regional Office, says the Smogor House presented an opportunity to expand on popular one-off skills workshops his office had been offering for years.

“Lots of homeowners don’t have the skills to do the work on their vintage properties, so we teach things like plaster repair and plumbing, but we thought one of the best ways to do a comprehensive workshop about these sorts of topics would be to have an actual project house we could work on over a period of time and demonstrate the variety of types of skills for working on a property when you buy it,” he explains.

Aside from the act of saving the house for reuse, Zeiger says the workshop series was specifically designed to educate participants in a chronological order that would teach realistic, sustainable and energy-efficient practices, as if attendees had just purchased the home themselves. The entire program ran two years and covered everything from insulation and windows to energy-saving appliances and new low-VOC exterior paints.

“Before you spend tens of thousands of dollars replacing your windows, have you addressed the insulation around the sills and the foundation or up in the attic, for example?” offers Zeiger.  “It’s not very sexy and what you see advertised on TV, but dollars well spent that help green the house make it more sustainable.” He adds that some of the participants did attend the entire series of hands-on demonstrations, which worked out to about one Saturday a month.

Zeiger says the home had been empty for years and was deteriorating from lack of use; it also had not seen any updates for about decades. In addition to the green upgrades made to the home, workshops detailed saving its tiled fireplace, pocket doors and original woodwork. The floor plan was opened slightly to appeal to 21st century buyers, and already included a full basement (a bonus that came when the house was moved from its original location).

“As part of the teaching, we talk about the different ways vintage house are inherently green or sustainable, and design issues and ways buildings are green through their rehabilitation.”

Indiana Landmarks put the home up for sale in August and Zeiger says it sold quickly to a young couple excited about its historic past. He says Indiana Landmarks will continue to offer workshops via its regional offices throughout the state because, while many buyers love vintage homes, the skills to repair them properly are being lost.

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