Old is the New Green: Forget the Prius, Renovate That Old House!

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Green Renovations

Editors note: Happy Earth Day, old house lovers! We thought it would be fitting to introduce a new voice to this blog on this particular day. The Old House Web is excited to welcome our new contributing blogger, green renovation guru and founder of Greenovation.TV, Matt Grocoff. In honor of National Preservation Month, which kicks off on Saturday, The Old House Web will be partnering with Matt Grocoff to bring you tips and advice on making your old house greener. This year’s National Preservation Month theme is “Old is the New Green.”

Restoring History - Protecting Our Future
by Matt Grocoff

When my wife Kelly and I bought our 110 year old Folk-Victorian home in Ann Arbor’s Old West Side Historic District, it was a dream come true: drafty old windows, lead paint, zero insulation, a half-century old furnace, asbestos siding, a gas powered mower in the shed and even a few pieces of coal scattered around the back yard.  What more could a couple ask for?

Matt Grocoff's old Folk-Victorian home

Matt Grocoff's old Folk-Victorian home

From the start we knew that homes use an astonishing 22% of energy consumed in the U.S.  In fact, your home uses far more energy than your car.  Home energy costs have skyrocketed to an average of $2200 per year.  Old homes use even more than their fair share of the energy pie.

When we first inspected our attic we found that the only insulation was a single layer of newspaper dated 1902 (and it was covered in a layer of coal soot).  There are 58 million homes like ours in the U.S. with zero insulation.  None.  Nada.  Zippo.


But using resources to build big new “green” homes to save resources just seems ironic.  There are 130 million existing homes in the U.S.; half were built before 1972.

So, retrofitting America’s old homes is not just about preserving history, it is indeed about protecting our future.

A casual visitor to our home would never recognize our house as a “green” house.  And that’s the point.  We’ve restored as much as we could and used salvaged materials and antiques for the rest.  When buying new was the only option, we looked for recycled content.  Only the solar panels on the roof will give away our secret that this is no ordinary historic home.


Thoreau once said “what use is a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

By creating Greenovation.TV Kelly and I want our home to be a restorative part of our community.  Once we add solar to our ultra-efficient home, we will produce more energy than we consume and become the oldest house in America to achieve net zero energy.

We want prove that, even on a limited budget, you can have a home of unparalleled comfort and style while spending less on utilities than your neighbors who live in less comfortable homes.


Any target of net-zero energy use from the grid must begin by reducing your load.  Efficiency is the cheapest power plant in the world.  Once you reduce your load as much as possible, then you can look for sustainable renewable resources to produce what is needed for the remaining.

As owners of great old homes we all need to make a promise to ourselves, our neighboring communities and to generations that follow that we will eliminate any negative impact our old homes have on the environment.  Mission Zero.

It’s a simple but vital goal.  Our Take-Make-Waste economy is not viable.  Every decision we make in our houses must be guided by this compelling, realistic vision.

Mission Zero begins at home.  Your home.  I hope Kelly, our little Baby Jane and I can inspire you to create your own Mission Zero.

Don’t be overwhelmed.  We’re proving that it’s possible.  Saving our old homes and civilization is not a spectator sport.  First, do something.  Anything!  Then do something else.  And something else.

Undoubtedly, your actions will then become an example in your community. We hope that our new website www.Greenovation.TV will inspire and empower you to make your old house more comfortable and affordable.

In my next post I’ll list ten steps to help you eliminate the negative environmental impact of your old home.

Remember that, in the end, we all share the same home.

Matt Grocoff is an attorney-turned-producer and founder of www.Greenovation.TV.  He is a regular contributor to The Environment Report syndicated on NPR stations nationwide.  He and his wife Kelly are renovating an old Folk-Victorian which will soon produce more energy than it uses.