This Old House Star Renovates His Historic Santa Fe Home With Super Insulation
Steve Thomas, former host of the PBS series This Old House (1989-2003) and Planet Green channel’s Renovation Nation (2007-2009), is used to renovating challenging homes across the nation. However, his most recent project was a bit different for two reasons: it was his own newly purchased, 100-year-old, adobe-style home in downtown Santa Fe, N.M., and it was a mess.
For help, Thomas turned to someone he met while filming in Santa Fe in the 90s: Aaron Lewis with the Santa Fe firm Southwest Spray Foam. Lewis and partner, Matt Segura, immediately got to work on the home’s crumbling roof. They removed layer upon layer of tar, the original roofing small “latillas” (aspen or juniper branches laid across wooden beams) and more than 16 tons of dirt. They cleaned it, did extensive repairs to the roof deck, then used 6 to 12 inches of spray foam insulation (SPF insulation) by NCFI Polyurethanes: the U.S. company that pioneered spray foam insulation in the 60s, and the company that supplied the insulation for the This Old House episode in the 90s.
After roofing the home with NCFI’s SPF roofing system, EnduraRock, Southwest Spray Foam insulated the rest of the home. “Spray foam insulation is super insulation. It gives superior R-value, conforms to any shape, is a water and air barrier, gives the homeowner energy savings, and allows us to maintain the design integrity of the American Southwest,” Segura said. “It’s really the only insulation you can use around here.”
“He [Thomas] knows his building materials and building science, and he wanted the best for his home. NCFI is the best, so we used 3 to 4 inches of NCFI’s InsulStar SPF high-performance, closed-cell insulation on the new concrete slab floors covering radiant heat tubing, and 5 to 8 inches on the exterior of the walls. The SPF insulation was then covered with a 1-inch layer of cementitious stucco colored to match the neighborhood,” Segura said.
Segura added that the InsulStar works so well, Thomas was able to ditch his plans to install air conditioning.
“This home is going to be as low energy cost as it gets in New Mexico,” Segura said. “NCFI’s products are the best quality in the industry. They know SPF insulation better than anyone, and their support and technical experience with science, codes and compliance is unparalleled in the building materials field. Aaron and I have been using their products for 25 years.”
Thomas filmed a show in the 90s in downtown Santa Fe and fell in love with the area, so when he and his wife, Evy Blum, wanted a place to escape the brutal winters of their home off the coast of Maine, they looked to Santa Fe. The couple purchased the crumbling adobe “casita” in the downtown area in the summer of 2012, then Thomas put his years of renovation knowledge to work and brought in Southwest Spray Foam.
Since the 1,200-square-foot house had been built in stages over many decades and modified many times, there was an assortment of materials to deal with: adobe block, frame walls and penitentiary block — ceramic block manufactured by prisoners at a local penitentiary in the 50-60s. The aged block is notoriously brittle and difficult to work with. Not only were Thomas, Segura and Lewis dealing with assorted building materials, they were also dealing with multiple structural designs.
The house needed just about everything: new roofing, thermal protection, air sealing, waterproofing to meet Santa Fe’s stringent code, and all work had to be within the historic preservation zoning restrictions of the city and state. The height could not be raised, the interior height of the ceilings could not be changed, and the exterior style and color had to fit into the historical design guidelines. Plus, it had to be comfortable, energy efficient, healthy, sustainable, and meet or exceed building codes.
That laundry list was achieved with the use of InsulStar insulation, and the expertise of Segura, Lewis and Southwest Spray Foam. Santa Fe saves a piece of its history, and Thomas and Blum have a healthy, well-insulated place to enjoy their time in New Mexico.