A Maine Barn Home Honors Its Historic Elements and Sustainability

A historic barn structure in Maine has been transformed into a delightful one-bedroom residence that is sustainable and up to date, yet gracefully honors its vintage elements.

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Instead of tearing down the barn and starting over, designer and owner Stephen Peck decided to follow his vision, which included preserving the original layout and many of the historical features present in the building.

As a result, the 1,420-square-foot Falmouth, Maine home went from a drafty old barn/workshop to a comfortable, sustainable and energy-efficient residence.

More Cons Than Pros

In fact, as the team assessed the property, they found plenty of liabilities and few assets. From needing an entirely new foundation to lacking any insulation or running water and having only minimal electricity, the project promised to be a challenge.

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Working in collaboration with the Briburn firm from Portland, Peck was able to take advantage of their sensibility and work that is at the forefront of sustainability. Converting the old structure into an airtight home required a deep energy retrofit along with a host of special considerations, especially given that the owner wanted to keep the building’s existing envelope intact. 

Making it Energy Efficient

A critical step was accommodating the preservation of the look of the original ceiling which was raw wood. To keep the appearance as desired, the team decided to build a 16-inch insulation space on top of the original roof.

To do this, they installed a dark-colored membrane against the boards of the roof to cover the cracks. Next, they installed a “smart barrier” product called ProClima Intello X. It is an exterior-grade vapor variable air barrier that also guards against moisture damages. This air-sealed the roof and a vented roof system was constructed using 16″ TJI joists. Finally, the cavities were filled with dense-pack cellulose insulation.

Actually, the whole building was air sealed and insulated by stripping the existing siding and roofing was stripped down to the board sheathing where it was sealed from the outside. Similar vapor variable interior membranes were installed along with a vapor open assembly of wood joists, cellulose insulation, a weather-resistant membrane, strapping and a final weather finish, which was metal on the roof and hemlock with bleaching oil for the walls. A builder even said they “turned a drafty old barn into a spaceship!”

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This cozy space serves as the back entry/mudroom with a special twist: An old-fashioned Jøtul woodstove from Embers Stoves & Fireplaces.

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Highlighting the Unique

Inside, the challenges continued.  Peck wanted to retain many of the barn’s quaint historical features such a the catwalk among the trusses, along with the floor that was made from 80 three-by-five-foot World War II Liberty Ship hatches. 

Because it was an old barn, most of the structural parts did not meet code and would not support the renovation, let alone support a legitimate catwalk from the bedroom space — previously a storage loft — to the stairs on the other side of the house.

Making It Open and Airy

The team decided the best thing to do was to take out the existing trusses and replace them with two new steel beams. This would be structurally sound, support both the catwalk and roof load, and still preserve the old board sheathing as the interior finish.

In addition, sliding glass doors were incorporated on the side of the structure that faces the east while the west side of the house was fitted with a set of modern gabled glass windows. A loft was added to the interior to accommodate the bedroom.

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Smart use of space adds functionality to the main living area, which is super inviting because it gets plenty of late-day sun. The designer included shelving under the stairs that swings out to allow access to the storage space behind it.

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To keep that light flowing through the home, the interior features custom glass shelving that also serves as a visual divider between the living and dining areas.

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The catwalk, leading to the loft bedroom, features a dormer that was added to the original roofline to allow for more comfortable passage into the room. The fully modern bathroom is organized around a repurposed dining room buffet that serves as the vanity alongside a curbless shower for safety and convenience.

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The result of the renovation is a marvelous combination of innovation and technology.  It is not only a modern, inviting — and most importantly sturdy — home that honors the structure’s past and unique historic features: It is also a savvy transformation of a leaky building into an airtight and sustainable residence.