Zero-Energy Dogtrot Inspired Home on Meadow Ln, Dennis, MA


Meadow Lane in Dennis, MA is a quiet little cul-de-sac off of New Boston Rd on the way to Chapin Beach. It’s tucked away off of another side road, and this particular home here is surrounded by woods and kitty-cornered to another lot that holds two homes for the Howe family. This home here was purchased by one of the five Howe brothers and his wife in early 2011. In need of three new bathrooms and a few other interior renovations, as well as some much larger ideas the Howes wanted to incorporate, they found us after visiting a yard sale at one of our previous renovation projects and seeing the work we completed at that home. Then in late 2011, we began talking about ideas, conceptualizing their project, drawing sketches and creating virtual models as we moved forward towards a start date in early 2012 and completion by the July 4th holiday 7 months later.

On the interior, the home originally had 2 bathrooms - one on the first floor and another on the second, both small in scale, and neither easily accommodating the large family gatherings that would take place in an area with three family homes sitting on adjacent properties. With that many people visiting and staying, there also comes a need for privacy for the home’s main occupants. In this instance, that created an opportunity to move a first-floor laundry room into the basement where we created a space that fill the laundry needs of five or fifteen (this “five-or-fifteen” theme is one of our most common recurring needs in the programs of our remodel clients), and subsequently in the space of this laundry room create a small half-bath accessible to the entire home’s occupants and visitors, as well as create an en-suite master bath accessibly only from the largest bedroom. The second floor bathroom was stripped and given a mid-level makeover with a tile bath and shower - just enough to present well and hold up to the throngs of masses that will trounce through it for two or three months each summer.

On a larger scale, and in accordance with John and Theresa’s wishes and ideas, the focal point of the renovation became the largely unused garage space on the northern side of the home. THIS is what got us excited. John is a wind-turbine engineer, which made me know immediately that this was going to be a project right up our alley. Between him and Theresa, they are both very conscious of their footprints on the land. With this in mind, we set to work.

The family drives one car - a Prius - so there is no need for the large 24’-wide garage space that covets more than 1/3 of the front of the home, nor is there any need for a double-car asphalt driveway. There was in addition a great need for a screened-in porch area off of the rear of the home due to John’s sensitivities to the sun, but also his love for the outdoors; John had requested one similar to the screened-in porch space that is on the adjacent lot’s home, the one in which he grew up spending his summers. Also, there was no back deck space on the home; being Cape Cod, being a home that is going to be host to many barbeques and backyard evenings, including a new deck in the design program was a must. Taking all three of these needs into consideration, as well as the Historic requirements of the location, we came up with a plan which was largely spearheaded by John’s idea of a Southern-style Dogtrot that runs from the front of the home straight through to the rear of the home.

We designed a conversion to the two-car garage that would see one side taken over by a dogtrot breezeway and the remaining side left for automobile space, gardening tools, and a small studio space in the back for Theresa’s artwork. By taking 10’ from the side of the garage attached to the home, we found our room for the front-to-rear 24’ long dogtrot. This space would then lead directly to the screened-in porch off the rear of the garage, and would also lead directly onto the new deck area created off the rear of the home. A ton of outdoor space, but still covered and defended from the sun for all to enjoy.

The landscaping plan was a large part of the project here as well, with over 1600 bricks being reused from the old home and incorporated throughout the property. Working with Erik Lambton and his landscaping team, a plan was put into place to fit the home, the homeowners and their desire to use reclaimed materials in a new way, and also to remove the asphalt drive, recycle that at S&J Exco in Dennis, and then put in place a permeable driveway to benefit the land.


That's a wrap...

What a fun project this was. Everything about it…working with the Lambtons on the landscaping; an awesome job transforming the front exterior all the way from John and Teresa and their ideas; Sean Kilmain and his crew touching the place up so it just looks super inviting, warm, and friendly now. John Raimo is the best electrician you can find, and he helped us transform this place from dusk-to-sleep and it’s beautiful, including restoring an old barn-light that we found in the basement for use in the new screened-in porch; Mike Hill and Pete Murphy did some super-cool woodworking on this pad - and some of it was pretty tricky and frustrating. This was just a fun job. A curved outdoor shower? A Southern-inspired dogtrot? Red-cedar sliding barn doors? Old barn lights?? A new bamboo-floored dormer off of the second floor?? Three new bathrooms??? All of it.

The neighbors were awesome and visited almost daily; the dogs behaved - for the most part - and did their job of keeping the 6-year-old kids across the street entertained all day; almost everyone showed up on time to work each morning; and we learned a ton of new stuff. Just awesome… Thanks to everyone, but especially and most importantly John and Teresa for trusting us to work on their home and keeping all of us goofballs employed and letting us do our thing this winter. I’m so, so thankful for that.


Real wood, please...

We try to build all of our decks from real, actual wood - pressure-treated not counting, as it’s just about as poisonous as you can find. Granted, the plastics all have their places; there are good times where they really can make a huge difference in place of a natural wood, i.e. for toe-kicks under exterior doors where snow and moisture often gather and stay. But for the most part, we will try to steer people towards real wood. Real wood worked for hundreds of years…thousands and thousands if you consider places like Japan where it’s used extensively and almost exclusively on homes.

If you think about for a second, what happens to a piece of plastic that is left out in the sun all-day long? It’s just sitting there, baking, steaming, compressing, expanding…and most of all, heating. It’s so hot you can’t touch it. Well, that’s what you’re putting on your deck if you’re using a plastic or composite deck. Again, some are good (or, okay, at best) and have their places (like on the bridge we built in Vermont last year…where we used a composite as a ledger to hold our Hemlock wood treads because the composite is easily bendable. But still, even in Vermont, we used natural wood for 95% of the bridge build). But wood…in the sun…is just…wood in the sun. It gets warm, sure, but you can easily walk on it, and you can easily sit in a chair on top of it without the 100-degree heat reflecting onto you or radiating up from the material.

We use cedar for almost all our decking. Used in combination with either a Vermont Naturals waterproofer, or a Benjamin Moore sealer, you’ll get a good 15-20 years at least out of your deck. And most importantly, you can actually use it. Barefoot.

Who puts on a pair of shoes to go out to their deck to eat lunch?? People with plastic decks, that’s who. Maybe some day we’ll be persuaded to change, but it will take a lot for that to happen. We’re always open, but were skeptical. And that’s always good to be.


Our version of a bug-free screened-in porch...

A big part of the initial design program for the Howe family was a large screened-in porch off the rear of the garage. John grew up in the house adjacent to this home, and the large screened-in porch on that house - and all the summer memories of time with his four brothers and large family - was the inspiration for our version here on Meadow Lane. For engineering purposes and wind-code, it’s built on a frost-wall with the deck framing supported in the center by two large concrete sono-tubes. A key point in the building of the porch - and in the finishing - was that there are actually three “rooms” integrated with each other here: the dogtrot breezeway; the screened-in porch; and the new exterior deck space. If you think of outdoor spaces as rooms - and you should think of them just that way - we needed to make three rooms work together. We did that with careful and well-thought out framing underneath allowing us to lay all of the decking running in the same direction even though there are three rooms that all started at different heights. It took a tad bit longer, sure, but not too much. And it’s well worth it. Three spaces, but all integrated to feel like one large flowing outdoor space. Awesome.


Open Says-a-me...and not just for Hollywood.

It’s the time of year… Time to wrap up the winter projects and get the families moved into their places and back in their pads. The Howe’s in Dennis will be entering their new pad through their new dogtrot breezeway. Eastern Red Cedar doors, Port Orford Cedar decking. No plastic on this home. Tons of fun.

Of course, we may have thought up this concept and laid it out, drawn it, conceived it, built all of the building around it, blah, blah, blah, and I digress and digress…. But nothing gets done without the village, and we love the village we work with. Huge thanks to E. Lambton Landscaping and Chris and Mark for giving us a hand here. Chris Lambton may be a tv star, and we may give him a ton of grief about that (because we’re allowed to as local guys), but the man can do some seriously nice work. There’s been a lot of time and effort put into this crazy concept that was thought up sometime in December, and we’ve worked our tails off making the structural points of the building work and all play nicely together, but without what the Lambton fellas pulled off this past week with their work this home just wouldn’t pop the way it does. I took off the tool belt for a day and gave it a whirl laying brick, and then put it right back on the next morning and went back to the wood….and let Chris fix all the mistakes I made. Tons of fun though. Love the Lambtons…


Red cedar garage doors...to match the red cedar sliding barn doors...

A big part of the transformation of this home is the transformation of the front facade. Originally housing a big ol’ aluminum 18’-long yellow(ish) garage door, the house now has gorgeous red cedar garage doors…and matching red cedar sliding barn doors leading to the dogtrot and the main entryway into the home. Just such a cool idea. Sometimes when we meet clients for the first time, it’s a feeling out process for both parties; i.e. can you work with us, and can we work with you? Is it all a good match? In this case, I’d originally thought of a dogtrot breezeway at the first mention of a screened-in porch off the rear of the home, as I thought the two should be connected. I honestly thought it was a bit too radical though and I didn’t think the Howe’s would ever go for it, so I didn’t bring it up. And then at our second meeting, it was John who paused for a second, laughed a bit, and then hesitantly said “Mike, what would you think of a dogtrot breezeway-type area running from front to back?”.

And that’s when I knew it was going to be a great project.


Garage doors are in!

Our new one-car garage door arrived last week, and after checking it off the flat-bed at 8:00 on a Saturday night, we managed to get it installed…and it’s pretty amazing.


Framing a smaller garage... Do less, and do it better.

Using our new load point, we’ve gone and framed in the new rough openings for the garage door and the sliding doors leading to the dogtrot. Fun stuff, this framing.

Step 1) Build big fake wall underneath existing structure.

Step 2) Remove all load-bearing structures and members holding up entire garage.

Step 3) Build new wall to your heart’s desire in place of the wall you’ve just removed that used to hold up the entire structure that is still above your head.

Step 4) Remove fake wall, put entire load onto the new wall you’ve just built in place of the old load-bearing wall.

Step 5) Hope and pray.

Actually, there’s no need to hope and pray. Of course we know nothing’s going to go wrong. It’s engineered, built with 11 7/8” wide, triple LVL beams over both openings. Pretty cool…


Yeah, we'll do our own foundations. Why not??

Actually, there are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t do your own foundations, but in this case, it was small enough and un-complicated enough that we could handle it on our own.

In prep for framing of the two new entries - the garage and the dogtrot - we needed a new load point to carry the beams for both the new garage door opening and the new sliding doors entry.

So we made one… Tim put his two high-school boys to work digging ditches one Saturday, and then we built our own form for exactly what we wanted and needed. Filled with rebar from top-to-bottom, it was a mono-pour footer and foundation.

Three days later, we dug it out, pulled off our forms, and viola.

Boom. Done.


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