Around the same time as we kicked off project #1 at 394 Frederick, we started our second project home in Cole Valley, just a couple of blocks away at 173 Downey Street.

173 Downey is a 1902 Colonial Revival Cottage that had fallen on hard times.  When we purchased it in 2006, the previous owner (who had owned it for over 30 years) had just died and the realtor had cleaned the place out.  Although the home had some real potential and a couple of lovely fireplaces, this house needed everything.  Fortunately, that’s the best way to do a green rehab since you can get inside every wall to replace all the old wiring and plumbing, insulate completely, and remove all of the old toxic lead paint and asbestos-wrapped ducts!

While a nice paint job would have transformed it, the facade back in 2007 was…well…meh.

173 Downey Original Facade

The poor choice of paint colors, dingy steps and years of deterioration had taken their toll.

Before getting into the details, here’s the “after” shot.

When we purchased the home, the ceiling plaster was moldy from years of roof leaks, lead paint was everywhere, and the circa-1940’s furnace fed the house via asbestos-wrapped ducts.  The entry hall and stairs had been “upgraded” with knotty pine wainscot…

Stairs and Entry

and the rear Sun Room…


…looked like someone’s weekend project, with its translucent fiberglass corrugated roofing (leaky, of course), raw plywood walls and aluminum windows.  Ummm…nice light?

But that said, there was a lot in the house worth saving.

The lovely inlaid oak floors in the Living and Dining rooms just needed refinishing, as did the original Douglas Fir stair and complete upper floor.  The Living room mantel was unrestored and perfect, with bronzed filigreed ironwork in front of a defunct gas heater (with more asbestos…yay!) and perfectly operable pocket doors separated the Living and Dining rooms.  The sole bathroom, while scary in many ways, had a lovely original clawfoot tub.

Living Room Fireplace

What we saw when we looked at the house was…an opportunity.

An opportunity to keep the great details while de-toxifying the house, upgrading the foundation seismically, adding a garage, insulating the home to make it efficient, and replacing all of the unsafe and outdated plumbing, electrical and HVAC.  We refinished what we could, replaced what couldn’t be saved or reused, and diverted waste to salvage wherever possible.

Again, our goal was not to create a museum piece or a showplace but rather a perfect family home designed to be lived in and shared with friends and family…

…but having some nice views of the ocean, Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Park, and the Marin Headlands and a built-in home theatre doesn’t hurt, either.

Going for GreenPoint Certification

Taking the eco-concept farther than we did at 394 Frederick, 173 Downey would have been LEED Certified had that process been available for remodels (which it wasn’t in 2007/08), so we chose to pursue the a GreenPoint Rating from BuilditGreen and received a certified GreenPoint Rating of 99 – more than 30% higher than required by San Francisco’s Green Building Code for 2012.

What did we do to get there?

  • 2kW Solar Photovoltaic rooftop panels (but wired for 4kW)
  • 220V line in the garage for future electric car charger
  • Efficient 3-zone electric heat pump system for cooling/heating
  • Air-tight AirKrete VOC-free foam insulation in exterior walls
  • Recycled denim Ultratouch VOC-free insulation in interior walls/floors
  • All new multi-pane insulated windows and doors
  • VOC-free paints and floor finishes
  • EnergyStar appliances
  • State-of-the-art dimmable LED lighting
    (just 6 watts/bulb vs. 60W for incandescent)
  • Drip-irrigated garden
  • Refinished existing floors
  • Added reclaimed flooring
  • FSC-certified, sustainably-harvested lumber
  • FSC-certified Richlite kitchen counters
  • Motion-sensing auto-shutoff dimmers throughout
  • Fly-ash concrete (uses recycled material plus less water)

But a home isn’t the sum of its tech specs – it’s about a great location, a great floor plan, and great features for livability.  We converted the old 2 bedroom 1 bath home by building out the lower level completely to add an office, garden room, bath, wine cellar and deck and extending the top floor over the sunroom to create a good-sized Master Bedroom with views of the ocean and Golden Gate Park.

New Floor Plans

Downey New Floor Plan

On the main level, we put in a Ritz Escoffier Chef-designed kitchen (OK, that’s me…I did train at Ritz Escoffier even if I don’t cook professionally), a 500 bottle wine cellar (expandable to 1000+…after all this is a house for living!), wiring for CAT5, audio and video throughout, and, not least, adding a 2-car garage plus plenty of storage space.

Wine Cellar

The brick on the wall is from the original chimney that was deconstructed.

Downey Kitchen

Downey Kitchen Too

Kitchen Detail

Traditional cabinets on the refinished original floors plus gorgeous recycled-material tile from Fireclay Tile in San Jose.

The top level expansion created a good-sized Master Suite with a view deck, wiring for an HDTV, a bathroom with both a soaking tub and a large walk-in shower, separate WC, double sinks…plus a huge walk-in closet.

Master Bedroom DeckMaster BedroomMaster Bedroom Split DetailMaster Bath

The wood-burning fireplace in the Dining Room was updated with a modern flue and works perfectly

While over in the Living room, we left the mantel “as-is” and found a replacement fireplace insert that could go behind the original bronzed filagree ironwork.

Living Room Fireplace

As with 394 Frederick, we focused on our 3 Eco-priorities…

  • Health
  • Sustainability and
  • Efficiency


To assure a healthy living environment, we wanted to eliminate toxins and improve air quality while utilizing formaldehyde-free materials and zero-VOC or low-VOC paints and finishes.  This meant:

  • Remove – lead-painted doors and trim
  • Remove – old asbestos duct insulation
  • Remove – plaster ceilings and walls that could harbor mold
  • Paint – Zero-VOC paint on all walls and ceilings
  • Insulation Exterior Walls – VOC-free Airkrete air-tight foam
  • Insulation Interior Walls/Ceilings – Ultratouch recycled denim int. wall/ceiling batts
  • Cabinets – Use formaldehyde-free plywood in custom cabinetry
  • Bath Fans – Automatic continuous-circulation fans improve air quality


To minimize the impact on the planet, we kept whatever flooring and materials we could in the house and then used Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified lumber to assure that the lumber was all harvested from sustainably-managed forests.

  • Lumber – FSC Certified
  • Cabinets – Sustainably-harvested plywood
  • Counters – Slate-like FSC-certified Richlite (paper fiber in non-toxic resin)
  • Concrete – Incorporates recycled fly ash and reduces needed water


To keep the carbon and water footprint of the home down to a minimum, we converted the home to run entirely on electricity (except the commercial-style range) and added 2kW of solar photovoltaic panels to the roof (with wiring for expansion to 4kW to enable nearly all of the home’s power demands to be offset).

We also completely insulated the home, created separate zones for heating and cooling each floor (so you only heat the area you’re in), switched from a furnace to an electric heat pump that heats and cools 2X to 3X more efficiently than any gas furnace, utilized a state-of-the-art Hot Water Heat Pump to achieve water heating efficiency nearly 2X that of the now-popular on-demand tankless hot water heaters, put in low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads, EnergyStar appliances, better-than-fluorescent non-toxic dimmable LED lighting, and motion-sensor dimmers throughout to automatically turn off lights in unused rooms.

  • Lighting – Dimmable LED lighting in halls and kitchen
  • Lighting Control – Motion-sensor dimmers throughout
  • Insulation – Ultratouch recycled denim in-between all walls/floors
  • Windows – Argon-filled double-pane Low-E wood windows
  • Heat Pump – Heat pump is 2X-3X efficiency of a furnace & cools too!
  • HVAC – Added separate zones for each floor
  • Faucets, Toilets – All low-flow
  • Appliances – EnergyStar-rated

Net net, 173 Downey shows that building Green doesn’t have to mean building Modern.  This home shows off a range of state-of-the-art technologies, materials, and finishes, yet at the end of the day it still looks and feels like a warm old family home and retains its historical roots in San Francisco going back to 1902 when the home was built.

Just for fun – check out the original service order with the Water Department to turn on the water in 1902.

173 Downey recently sold.