Perfect Preservation

A slice of Main Line history gets a well-deserved makeover.

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The Willows Cottage, a humble Tudor-style gatehouse at the Willows Park in Radnor Township, is celebrating its 100th birthday by going green. The rundown building, once slated for demolition, has received a much-needed, eco-friendly makeover that includes energy-efficient windows, a geothermal heating and cooling system, and (eventually) a green roof.

Builder Mark Janiczek inside the Willows CottageBut perhaps the greenest thing of all is the fact that the Willows Cottage is still standing. “Historic preservation may be the most important green building practice,” says Beverlee Barnes, manager of Delaware County’s Historic Preservation Department.

Over the past century, the structure has been home to horses, carriages, cars, chickens, turkeys and farm equipment. At one point, the Radnor Township manager lived there. For the past few years, it’s been filled with junk. Things had gotten so bad, Radnor Township had all but decided to tear it down. That’s when an ad hoc group of preservation-minded residents, calling themselves Friends of the Willows Cottage, swung into action.

“This is one of the only estates left on the Main Line that has the main house and all of the original outbuildings intact,” says Barnes, a member of the Friends of the Willows Cottage. “This helps tell the story of how people lived in the early 20th century.”

The group successfully persuaded Radnor Township to save the cottage, but the decision came with strings attached. First, the renovation had to be done at no cost to the township. Secondly, a year-round use for the building had to be found. “Doubly interesting and exciting to us was the opportunity to save this building in a green way,” says Barnes.

To lead the project, the group chose Mark Janiczek, a Wayne resident and custom homebuilder who specializes in green building practices. For him, the project dovetailed nicely with his skills and offered a chance to showcase his expertise to a wider audience. “This was something I could do to give something back to the community,” says Janiczek.

Janiczek defines green building as the practice of increasing a structure’s efficiency while reducing its use of energy, water and materials. Site, design and construction should benefit both the environment and the occupants’ health.

With help from volunteers, Janiczek conducted mold and radon tests, identifying water damage, rot and anything else that could impact the building’s structural integrity. While the structure showed its age, it was tough and sturdy, withstanding the ravages of time fairly well. “The only real problem was the mold, but we could deal with that pretty easily,” says Janiczek.

To resolve the issue, water was pumped out of the basement, and the ground around the building was reshaped to steer drainage into a nearby stream. Rainwater is also collected in wooden barrels strategically placed around the building.

While volunteers cleared out debris, scraped and painted walls, and swept out years of dust, local electricians and plumbers pitched in to rewire the building and put in new systems. To keep utility bills as low as possible, walls were padded with thick insulation and energy-efficient windows installed throughout.

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