Buying Here: Highland Park

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In a city the size of Pittsburgh, the "green" builders all know each other. But how often do two of them finish rehabs at the same time, on the same street?

Open houses will be held next weekend at homes at 708 and 808 N. Beatty Ave. in Highland Park. Though different in size, style and price, they share common goals -- energy efficiency and sustainability.

The house at 708 N. Beatty is the smaller of the two -- 1,600 square feet with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and a 3.57-kilowatt solar array on the roof. Priced at $242,000, it will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 1-2.

Michael Merck and West Penn Energy Solutions (412-352-3245 or perform energy audits and whole-house sealing and have completed two other renovations with solar on nearby North St. Clair Street. Pittsburgh's often cloudy skies leave some residents skeptical of solar arrays, Mr. Merck said.

"We have four peak sun hours per day. Albuquerque, N.M., has six. You don't need beautiful blue skies to make this work," he said.

Eight of the house's 14 panels are on a roof that faces mostly south with a slight eastern exposure. The other six are on a gable facing southwest. Mr. Merck said solar arrays and energy efficiency are a cost-saving, environmentally friendly combination. This early 1920s Colonial has American Craftsman thermal windows with a 0.28 U-Factor, a 95 percent efficiency gas furnace, compact fluorescent and LED lighting, EPA WaterSense-labeled faucets and low-flow toilets and closed-cell foam and cellulose insulation for R-29 in the walls and R-60 in the ceilings. There's also a programmable thermostat and security system.

The new open floor plan is accentuated by bamboo flooring throughout and 9-foot ceilings on the first floor and 8 1/2 feet on the second. The 11- by 11-foot kitchen has IKEA cabinetry and concrete countertops with a glass tile backsplash. Contractors rebuilt the front and side porches and installed new columns and railings and Hardie-Plank siding. The three bedrooms measure 12 by 15 feet, 12 by 13 feet and 10 by 9 feet.

About a block away is 808 N. Beatty, which has a very different look and approach thanks to Michael Sciarretti and City Dwellings Restoration. Mr. Sciarretti and his employees Todd Christy and Tom O'Day gutted a brick-sided house built in the late 1930s and applied passive house principles he learned from Katrin Klingenberg at Carnegie Mellon University. It has four bedrooms, three full baths and two powder rooms and is priced at $495,000 (412-477-4630 or It will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 1-2.

Mr. Sciarretti, who was helped by sees the house as a showcase for creative reuse and ways to sharply reduce energy use and carbon emissions.

"You create efficiencies in every single decision you make," he said.

The 2,100-square-foot house is sided with stained cypress clapboard and synthetic stucco painted an almost black purple known as aubergine. With advice from stained-glass artist Daviea Davis, Mr. Sciarretti created a striking entry door by applying aquarium glass pebbles to salvaged French doors from Construction Junction. Vines on a new front trellis will shade the first floor in summer and die back to allow passive solar heat in winter. Critical to the equation are triple-glazed windows by Allegheny Millwork and a combination of rigid and foam insulation that makes the walls about R-30 and the roof R-60. The three-story open staircase acts as a chimney to spread heat and air conditioning evenly.

In addition to passive solar, the house has radiant heat flooring on all four levels fed by more than 6,000 feet of Pex tubing, a geothermal ground loop and a 93,000-Btu, five-phase boiler that heats water and can efficiently heat just one area or the entire house.

The house has a beautiful contemporary vibe that comes from 10-foot ceilings and an open floor plan that allows light and air to flow through the spaces.

"Because it's a small footprint, you need to be able to see through it," Mr. Sciarretti said.

He collaborated with artists Ben Grubb and Travis Rohrbaugh, respectively, on the iron and welded wire mesh staircase and its lighted glass newel posts. "The thing I love is to integrate the artist into the design," he said.

Mr. Sciarretti is proud of his creative reuse of items ranging from stone corbels on the steel-fronted electric fireplace to 1930s milk-glass school light fixtures to Carnegie Library catalog drawers installed in the kneewalls of a third-floor bedroom. Most came from Construction Junction. The corset-like light fixture in the dining room is a Victorian chandelier stripped of its cloth shade and rewired by Typhoon Lighting.

The home's buyers will also get a chance to be creative. Because kitchens are such a personal thing, Mr. Sciarretti has left the space empty so the buyers can decide layout, fixtures and finishes. In the master bath, they will get to choose a soaking tub or vanity. He also got permission from the city to turn the unfinished two-car garage into a studio apartment if the buyers want it.

The buyers will also receive a "rulebook" that explains the house's workings. Among its rules: no drilling or nailing in the radiant-heated floors or walls that contain chases for electric, plumbing etc. There is also a security system with nine cameras and electrical lines running to the roof in case the buyer decides to add solar panels some day.

Looking at the house now, it's hard to believe it was once an eyesore. Mr. Sciarretti's father has a joke about that:

"He says: 'Pick the ugliest house on the street. That's the one my son will fall in love with.' "


Kevin Kirkland: or 412-263-1978.


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