THE REHABILITATION OF THE ROSS HOUSE
The Ross House is one of seven homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the Ravine Bluffs Subdivision in Glencoe, IL. Built in 1915 as a spec. house on land owned by Wright’s attorney Sherman Booth, the house had fallen into a serious state of disrepair. An unsympathetic entrance addition, purple painted trim, decrepit heating and plumbing systems, leaky roofs and severe porch settlement combined with owners who believed that the property would be worth more by demolishing the house resulted in Landmarks Illinois placing the property on the Chicagoland Watch List in 2009-10.
The goal of the project was to not only return the house to its former condition, but also to serve as a laboratory for the exploration of sustainable building technology in the rehabilitation of historic properties.
- Recycled aluminum roofing shingles were used because of their “green” characteristics and ability to be recycled after use.
- The defunct gas-fired boiler was replaced with a geothermal heating/cooling system.
- Interior plaster was retained to the greatest extent possible, with dry cellulose (recycled newspaper) pumped into the wall cavity for insulation.
- Rigid insulation board was added to the roof, creating an R=50 roof insulation consistent with modern energy standards.
- Original windows were stripped of their purple paint and refinished with UV protective stain, prolonging the life of the original sash. Interior insulated glass storm windows were installed to reduce energy needs.
- Solar panels were fitted to the roof. The panels are connected to the electrical grid which can then be used by the house and its neighbors.
- LED lighting is used throughout and all appliances are energy star rated. Programmable thermostats call for heating/cooling only when needed.
- Interior trim and cabinetry was refinished using tung oil, creating a less toxic environment. Low VOC paints were used on plaster.
- In an effort to reduce carbon emissions, the house is run completely with electricity.
- The unsympathetic entry vestibule was removed and the original entry reconstructed.
- “Dryvit” stucco topping coats were removed due to their inability to allow moisture passage through the wall (causing mold) and a new tinted stucco topcoat installed utilizing the original spray method of application (1915) matching the original color.
The Ross House now stands as a representation not only of Frank Lloyd Wright’s skill of providing good design for the middle class, but also as a prototype for rehabilitating homes utilizing sustainable technologies. The house is now listed as a certified Landmark in Glencoe.
John Eifler is President of Eifler & Associates, Architects. The firm's practice primarily focuses on the restoration and rehabilitation of historic buildings, as well as new residential projects. The firm is located in Chicago, Illinois and has accomplished projects throughout the midwest. The firm is a strong advocate of energy-efficient construction and sustainable technology.