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A green home that saves the green

A century-old farmhouse gets a green home renovation – on a budget.


Sheep Dog Hollow, shown in this real estate photo, is a 1902 farmhouse located in south-central Connecticut. It had been vacant since 1975 when Alexandra Marks bought it.

Courtesy of Mick Marsden

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A picture can sometimes stir your imagination. One of a house caught mine on a Sunday morning this summer. And within a day, it had transformed my life.

The house is called Sheep Dog Hollow, and the picture was in the window of a real estate office in an elegantly restored Colonial home in Essex, Conn.

Let me be clear here. I was not in the market for a house. I had recently built an addition onto my current home and a greenhouse to keep the deer from munching on my summer tomatoes. But I enjoy window-shopping for real estate, if only to indulge my fantasies.

I have since learned that this can be extremely dangerous. Sheep Dog Hollow is a century-old farmhouse that has been abandoned since 1975, leaving it a musty shell bereft of electricity, plumbing, and heat, but full of bats, barn swallows, and dusty old junk.

It’s located in a bucolic setting, surrounded by rolling fields accented with grand spreading maples, a pond, a babbling brook, and an elegant post-and-beam barn.

It was exactly the kind of place I had always imagined I’d one day end up in – at least in my dreams.

By the end of the day, Martin and I had made an offer on the house, which was accepted that night.

Within a month, we had closed on the property and I had mortgaged my current home and quit my job in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Martin and I are now beginning to renovate Sheep Dog Hollow in as green and economically viable a manner as possible – goals that I’ve been told are no longer mutually exclusive because of advances in green technology and generous tax incentives that encourage homeowners to become energy efficient.

Our renovation will be a test of that assertion.


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