Learning From the Kennedy Green House Restoration

Turning a mold-infested house into an eco-healthy home

The original Kennedy home prior to mold infestation. (Image source: Kennedy Green House)

Eco-designer Robin Wilson discusses the Kennedy Green House restoration and how you can green your own home.

The family of Robert F. Kennedy had lived in their Mt. Kisco, New York, home for more than 15 years. Upon returning from a visit to their summer home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, they discovered that a flood had resulted in six inches of standing water in the space, and black mold creeping up the walls and on every surface of the home. (See slideshow)

Using the standard remediation tools of bleach and water, the clean-up began of the visible surfaces. However, unbeknownst to the family, the mold had infiltrated the crevice between the exterior and interior walls due to its proclivity for adhering to drywall. The toxic mold had also entered the heating and cooling systems, which resulted in an increase in winter respiratory issues for the children including hospitalizations for pneumonia, asthma and other maladies.

By spring, the warm air brought a resurgence of the mold spores, and the family quickly had to decide if they would use the more toxic herbicides available on the market. However, due to the possible cancer-causing agents in such products, the family decided not to use them, and ultimately realized that they were fighting a losing battle.

The family moved out of their historic home into a rental property. And then the process of rebuilding began. First hiring an architect and project manager, then a builder and interior designer — the family began the process of Green Dream Team collaboration which resulted in a masonry home that has the highest level of eco-innovation available in the market. To help with costs, the team sought sponsors for the project, resulting over $1 million of donations from leading companies who have an interest in showcasing their products to visitors — thus creating a living laboratory for those who are able to tour the space. Some of the features of the home include:

Energy efficiency: The home uses geothermal, radiant, solar, hybrid hot water heaters, passive, and fiber-optic lighting

Water efficiency: The home uses Kohler dual-flush toilets, low flow showerheads, and faucets with aerators built in that make droplets feel larger during a wash.

Low volatile organic compound paints: The paint in the home was provided by Benjamin Moore, and within one hour after painting, there is no paint smell which is great for those with chemical sensitivities.

Sustainability: The kitchen cabinetry is by Holiday Kitchens, a U.S. manufacturer that ensures that all the off-gassing is done at the factory and the paints and stains are baked into the finish. And they also plant a new tree for every tree used to make the cabinetry, while re-using all the waste wood for cutting boards or fire-starter pellets.

Flooring: There were two types of flooring installed in the home.  The custom flooring used reclaimed wood from the original home which was then cut into parquets for use in the home. The engineered flooring was used in the bedrooms due to its durability and also to ensure that warp and weft would not occur due to humidity changes from the radiant heat.

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