From Leaky and Plain to Homey and Sealed

“It starts at home.” Such was the maxim that Rob Pankow had in mind when he began the extensive remodeling of his own residence in 2009. As owner and president of Pankow Construction, which he founded in 2000, he saw that the best way to test new materials and elements for his business would be to try them himself. Here, Pankow details the energy-efficiency measures he experimented with in his Phoenix ranch house and how he hopes to fit them into the arsenal of improvements offered by his steadily growing business.

Pankow's home had gone virtually untouched since its construction in 1957.
The contractor expanded the home’s patio and faced the front door toward the street to add curb appeal.

I started Pankow Construction in 2000 and got really into doing renovation in some of the more established areas of Phoenix—especially in some of the older neighborhoods that were built in the 1950s. We modernize a lot of the floor plans in the homes, build additions, and also do a lot of insulation and envelope improvements. The scope of the rebuilds and renovations dictate how cost-effective a new insulation or air-conditioning system will be, so a lot of the decisions we make are determined by what will actually work with the homes we do. That has always been the emphasis of the company from a construction standpoint: getting the best energy-efficiency value for the dollar.

The work we did on my own house stands at the cross-section of the work we do at Pankow. Like many of the homes in Phoenix, the house is a 2,500-square-foot, ranch-style home built in 1957. It’s in Arcadia, an established neighborhood, and when I acquired the property, it was very traditional.

My home had gable ends rather than ridge ends, which is why it was a prime candidate for renovation. You need gable ends in order to do a proper retrofit foam application in the attic, and I knew I could spray the foam and get a good seal. The home has good bones and sits on a good piece of property, so I was able to use and implement all of the energy features we promote on different projects. This home gave us an opportunity to retrofit [with] more energy-efficient systems, and I also wanted to see if we could actually get an Energy Star rating and lower my power bill in the process.

In the remodeled kitchen, Pankow bumped up the ceiling and incorporated a new center island with a beverage trough.

I opened up and modernized the floor plan, added a great room, and redid the insulation throughout the entire home. Pankow Construction is a Pella-certified contractor, so I installed triple-pane Pella Windows throughout the house. I also made the attic ventless—or, semi-air-conditioned—a process that involves spraying open-celled foam on the belly of the roof rather than on the ceiling system, and it makes the attic about 20 degrees cooler than the outside air temperature. We sprayed foam to fill all of the open cells for the blocks of the home, [and] we also did a stucco exterior with a foam barrier between the stucco and the block.

A typical 2,500-square-foot home in Phoenix will have electric bills of up to $400 in the summer months; mine hasn’t been more than $200. It’s one of the only homes I’ve done that is Energy Star-rated as a remodel. That’s a hard certification to earn. You usually need to take the home down to the walls to get that kind of a seal. We’ve done other Energy Star homes, but they’ve all been new homes. It’s hard to do it as a remodel, so it’s special.

I have a reputation for being practical, so if I think that a home will benefit from a retrofitted insulation system, then I will push for it; if it doesn’t make sense, I won’t. If an air conditioner is only a few years old and has a lot of life left in it, I wouldn’t try to push for a new one. Rather, I will work my remodeling around that extant system that has a lot of life left. We work in a lot of high-end homes, but just because we work in these homes doesn’t mean that the owners aren’t value-minded. My work has to be cost-effective and make economic sense. ABQ