Saturday, October 11, 2014

No. 31- February 1, 2013 - Live Long and Prosper – In Ashtabula

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

Ashtabula can reframe itself for economic renewal and prosperity.

Twenty years ago Nathan MacPherson toured law schools in San Diego, where he was living at the time, and found himself inundated by real estate agents who advised him to buy a downtown condo, finessing on his income, so he could live there while in school – and leave school as a millionaire on the appreciation of the condo. Many of these same condos are now in foreclosure.

Skeptical, Nathan, instead chose law school in Des Moines, Iowa, where he purchased three distressed single-family residences and one distressed six-unit multifamily building. Doing much of the work himself, he improved these, with the usual paint, flooring, bathroom remodeling, kitchen remodeling. But he also added insulation in the walls and ceilings, replacing the windows with Energy Star-rated windows, replaced the HVAC units with the highest efficiency units available, and installed Energy Star-rated appliances.

After graduating from law school in 2007 Nathan took a job offer in Frankfurt, Germany, in the Baking and Finance Practice Group of a global law firm and sold his Iowa properties.

The market for real estate in America was crashing. Despite this he was able to sell them all at a profit because the upgrades made were not just cosmetic, but actually lowered the operating costs by as much as 70% while improving comfort.

Nathan's Iowa properties had gone fast, even in the dying market. But he was always looking for better ways to build.

In Germany, he toured construction sites and spoke with the local builders about techniques they were using. The Austrians and Germans were beginning to superinsulate their structures, including the use of triple-pane windows, and employing concrete and stone building materials as thermal mass. They were building according to the German Passive House Standard.

His own home in Germany, which he designed and built, complied with the Passive German Standard. When his first son was born the baby was able to play on a floor which was never cold, just wearing a diaper, in the middle of a winter snow storm.

Passive homes cost nearly nothing to heat. In the middle of winter, turn on a light bulb, it is enough. Contrary to what you probably believe, these cost less to build than conventional housing. These innovative, and clean, technologies need to be built in the US, too. Why not Ashtabula?

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