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My current fire damaged renovation in Surry Maine

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An article from the Boston Globe
September 30, 2004

This is the story of my first gut rehab and total rebuild of a fire damaged house.

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Nailing down a dream house

Determination built her home

By Lisa Capone, Globe Correspondent  |  September 30, 2004

Wearing a pale pink blouse, coral lipstick, and a neat ponytail, Jodi Edwards might have passed for an ordinary suburban woman, enjoying iced tea on the new deck of her Hamilton home on a recent sunny morning. But closer inspection gave her away: mud on the hem of her jeans, work boots by the backdoor, a splotch of dried paint on one wrist -- and a pastel pink pickup truck in the driveway.




An extraordinary do-it-yourselfer, Edwards has been busy in the 2 years since she found her 1930s-era cottage. With just $10,000 -- but lots of ingenuity, persistence, and muscle -- Edwards nearly single-handedly transformed a fire-damaged ramshackle house into the cozy home she now shares with her dog, Skippy. Sporting recycled materials from skylights to floorboards and boasting energy-efficiency standards that exceed building code requirements, Edwards's inventive four-room cottage is one of about 75 houses, offices, and schools on the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association's Green Buildings Open House tour Saturday.

''I think the fact that a 44-year-old woman did this all by herself is what makes it stand out," said Anissa Sanborn, Green Buildings Open House manager.

A part-time English as a Second Language teacher, painter, and singer-songwriter, Edwards wanted to buy a house, but with an annual salary of less than $20,000, the prospects of owning a home weren't promising.

That changed -- and, she maintains, so did her life -- on April 24, 2002, when she and her former fiance David Gaspar of Wenham went fishing at Pleasant Pond, which straddles the Hamilton-Wenham border. When Edwards got bored, Gaspar suggested she walk back to his house, and gave her directions via Lake Drive. Along the way, Edwards stumbled upon a fire-blackened house that had been boarded up and vacant for three years. It looked like the kind of place she might be able to afford.

''It was so bad. It was charcoal black inside," Edwards said. ''I just saw the potential in it, I guess. I was so excited to think I could buy a house, I didn't care what shape it was in."

For the next three months, Edwards spent an average of five hours a day at Hamilton Town Hall, on the phone and Internet, and reading documents in a relentless pursuit to purchase the house. After locating its previous owners through the assessor's office and convincing them to sell the house and its half-acre lot, Edwards had to solve zoning, septic, and financing problems before she could close the deal. In July 2002, with $20,000 down on a $135,000 purchase and the rest financed by Salem's Heritage Cooperative Bank and a $100 per month mortgage subsidy from the Massachusetts Housing Partnership Fund, Edwards owned her house. It was time to roll up her sleeves.

''It was hideous. The whole house was hideous," she said.

Gaspar, who has remained friends with Edwards following their breakup, said he was ''skeptical" about her chances of buying a home -- never mind gutting and rebuilding one -- but he took a look at 310 Lake Drive and agreed it was ''salvageable."

''She gets an idea in her head and she tends to follow through," Gaspar said. ''She really wanted to do it all herself. She gutted the interior by herself. She actually did most of it herself."

A home repair novice who rarely saw her parents fix anything while growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., Edwards said she read construction manuals and found help along the way. After she gutted the house, Edwards asked Gloucester carpenters Robert Prichard and Dan Hurley to help her and Gaspar frame the interior. With their help, she framed her own windows. Peabody electrician Marie Opidee let Edwards help with rough wiring and then taught her to install switches and plugs. Edwards also put on a roof, installed Sheetrock, painted, sanded, landscaped, and built a wrap-around deck.

She qualified for weatherization assistance through Action Inc. in Gloucester, which provided $9,000 in materials, including insulation and a hot water system. At Action's suggestion, Edwards contacted Energy Star Homes, a nationwide energy efficiency program run locally by Conservation Services Group of Westborough on behalf of Massachusetts Electric.

''I thought the house needed a lot of work, but I realized it was a diamond in the rough," said Hamilton resident Alan Hezekiah, Energy Star Homes codes and outreach coordinator. ''It was not your typical Energy Star home and it presented a lot of challenges."

After the house failed his first energy-efficiency audit, Hezekiah lent Edwards a caulking gun and showed her how to seal windows and doors. The second time it passed, making Edwards eligible for $800 in lighting fixtures and a $500 builder's rebate that paid for her deck lumber.

While the deck, which Edwards finished this month, was built with new lumber, much of the house is a patchwork of recycled materials. Items gleaned from yard sales and classified ads include tools, skylights, paint, shutters, doors, appliances (except a new free refrigerator obtained through another utility program), a bathtub, a ceiling fan, kitchen cabinets, and a Corian countertop. She picked up lumber at yard sales, and reused boards left over from gutting the house. Wide pine boards from the attic, for example, became a green and white checkerboard kitchen floor.

''Maybe it's like that shabby chic look, but I don't feel deprived. It's what inspires me," Edwards said. ''I call this my lemonade house because I made lemonade out of lemons. It's truly the new age woman's all American dream."

Hours for the Green Buildings Open House are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Check the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association's website,, to confirm times and addresses, or call 413-774-6051. Admission is free. 

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.




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