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06/02/2021 12:00 AM

Energy-Efficient Remodel Propels Historic Chester Colonial into 21st Century

Leonard Wyeth, principal of Wyeth Architects, LLC, is pictured at 2, 4, 6 Maple Street, a historic house in the center of Chester’s downtown. Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier

Leonard Wyeth, principal of Wyeth Architects, is renovating a 1749 Colonial house at 6 Maple Street in Chester, with an eye toward preservation through a deep energy retrofit. The project aims to achieve or come as close as possible to leading energy efficiency standards, as outlined by the International Passive House Association.

The criteria under these standards deal with reduced energy demand, airtightness, and thermal comfort, as well as minimizing the need for conventional heating and air conditioning systems.

“In order to meet passive house standards, [it] almost requires new construction,” said Wyeth. “So, because we’re experimenting with something that is very old, we’ll come close, but we won’t achieve [those standards]. But that’s alright, that’s alright. We’ll get farther than anyone else has.”

Wyeth’s aspiration, to preserve the structure while attempting to meet such high standards, is an undertaking that he’s prepared to meet head on.

“It’s quite easy to build a new building that is incredibly energy efficient,” said Wyeth. “It’s more challenging to renovate an old building to be incredibly energy efficient. And so, what better way to prove that point than to buy a 270-year-old building and retrofit it respectfully?

“In other words, maintaining and protecting the historic structure and bringing it very much up to date, as an extreme-low-energy building, kind of proving that it can be done, if you will,” he continued.

A variety of different sustainable techniques, materials, and construction practices will be used to make the building more efficient. One example is the installation of airtight, high-performance windows.

“It requires a different technique than most contractors are used to doing,” said Wyeth, who adds that the time and resources required to teach the technique are well worth it, as the contractors will now have the skills to use on future energy efficiency projects.

“What we’re doing in a funny way is just changing the way people regard old buildings and changing the way they are treated in order to make them work for the 21st century,” said Wyeth.

The building’s mechanical system will also be energy efficient and use an air filter with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 13, said Wyeth, which traps a high percentage of airborne particles such as dust, pollen, mold and bacteria.

In addition, the architectural firm is certified by the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office, which means that its renovations will meet standards in historical preservation set by the National Park Service.

The current phase of the project is one in which the exterior cladding is being installed and the interior is getting a complete overhaul.

“In its fully exposed condition, you can see exactly how it was built originally and the way that they used newspapers of the day, for example, to block wind and drafts from coming through the wall boards,” said Wyeth.

A portion of a wall, with newspapers dating back to 1779, was carefully preserved behind glass by a prior owner, of which there have been many over the years.

“We know Abel Snow, who had a factory where our [Chester Historical Society] Mill Museum is located, bought the house in 1824. During the 1800s, it had stores on the lower floors, and apartments above,” said Diane Lindsay, curator of the Chester Historical Society.

More recently, in the 1980s, the lower level was used as a bookstore. In 2002, Wyeth started his architectural firm there as well.

Once construction is complete, he plans to again headquarter his firm there, except on the upper floors of the building. The lower floors will be available for commercial tenants.

Ironically, he says, Wyeth Architects is now renting a space in town that was once the site of the lumber mill that operated during the time period in which 6 Maple Street was constructed.

“So this location is undoubtedly where all the sheathing boards and roof sheathing were sawn for that building, just a strange little historical twist,” said Wyeth.

The lumber would probably have been brought by horse and wagon to the building site on Maple Street, while some of the posts and beams for the building were made from trees closer to the site, he explained.

He plans to leave certain posts and beams exposed.

“Only in an architectural office would you want to show how the building was put together,” he said.

With a timeframe of mid-September for completing most of the construction work, Wyeth said a return to the center of town is the right move for his firm.

“We are basically moving right back into the heart of the town, which feels good,” said Wyeth.

A historic photo of 2, 4, 6 Maple Street in Chester. Image courtesy of the Chester Historical Society
Leonard Wyeth, principal of Wyeth Architects, LLC, has firm has undertaken a major energy retrofit of the building, which has a tentative completion timeline of mid-September. Wyeth plans to locate his firm on the upper floors and the lower floors will be rented out for commercial use.. Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier