Cover story: Volunteer wins home remodel

When retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Gary Gaal began doing volunteer work in 1994, he never dreamed that after logging more than 19,000 hours of unpaid work, he would be rewarded with an exterior transformation for his home in Alexandria.

Col. Gaal, who works full time as chief of the Exercise Branch in the Army Operations Center at the Pentagon, said that using his certification as an emergency medical technician to help his community is a reward in itself. He became certified as an EMT to volunteer with the Wintergreen Ski Patrol and now uses his skills to also volunteer with the Fairfax County Police Department and the Fairfax County Fire Department. This year, he received the Lee District Community Champion Award for his exemplary efforts.

Col. Gaal’s work also has been rewarded by Case Design/Remodeling Inc., a Bethesda-based company that won $50,000 in products from Ply Gem Industries‘ 2011 Designed Exterior Giveaway. After receiving nominations from area organizations, Case turned over its award to Col. Gaal in the form of a dramatic conversion of his plain 1970s Colonial-style home.

“It took us a few months to pick the Gaals for our project, but we knew all along that we wanted to reward someone who had given a lot for their community as a volunteer,” said Bruce Case, president of Case Design/Remodeling. “Although we love the opportunity to do a complete makeover of a home, the most important part of this, to us, is to highlight that this is what America is all about: people helping people.”

Col. Gaal was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, preparing a crisis action team for an upcoming protest in the District. After planes hit both towers of the World Trade Center that morning, he was ordered to call up a crisis action team for a potential terrorist attack. Moments later, the building shuddered and he realized a plane had hit the Pentagon. Col. Gaal and his team spent the next three days inside the Pentagon maintaining communications from a safe location.

For the exterior makeover of Col. Gaal’s home, Ply Gem Industries, a manufacturer of exterior home products based in Cary, N.C., provided Case with a package of materials for a complete exterior makeover, including windows, siding and stone veneer from Ply Gem. The makeover also included solar attic fans and roofing from GAF, garage doors from Wayne-Dalton, weatherization materials from Dow Building Solutions and architectural design services from BSB Design.

“We gave the Gaals several ideas of what we could do with the exterior of their home, as we would with any other homeowners, and provided them with a written contract even though this project will not cost them any money,” Mr. Case said. “The inside of their home will stay the same, but the [new] exterior allows us to add some elements that improve the appearance of this home. We didn’t design this one to blend in with the neighborhood but more to show the potential for transformation of a plain home.”

Mr. Case said the home’s most distinctive new elements include a gable on the roof, a portico entrance and a mix of stone and shingles on the outside. He estimated that the entire project at full price would cost more than $100,000, but said other homeowners could select one or two elements to change the look of their exteriors. In addition to the cosmetic changes, the Ply Gem and other products will increase the energy efficiency of the Gaals’ home.

“I think the part of the transformation I am most excited about is the windows,” Col. Gaal said. “They were installed just before we got 50-mile-an-hour winds from Hurricane Irene, and it was so quiet I didn’t even know the storm was going on.”

Col. Gaal said that without the gift from Case Design/Remodeling, the most he might have done himself would have been to replace the home’s windows.

“Our collection of products is designed to work together for a cohesive, coordinated effect, but homeowners, remodelers and builders can also use our products individually,” said John Stephenson, vice president for corporate marketing and communications for Ply Gem. “The architectural details are designed to make homes more beautiful, but our products are also designed to make homes more energy-efficient.”

All of Ply Gem’s products are green-approved by the National Association of Home Builders. The Gaals’ home includes vinyl siding that has insulation inside, which Col. Gaal said has made a difference even before winter arrives.

“We did a blower test to determine the energy efficiency of the home before we came in, and we will do another after the project is complete,” Mr. Case said. “In addition to the new windows and the insulated siding, we installed a solar-powered attic fan that does not use any electricity. The roof overhang, which looks like a small architectural detail on the front of the home, has been insulated to add energy-efficiency.”

Mr. Case used the opportunity of remodeling to fix some structural elements in the Gaals’ home, such as window flashing that needed repair and bay windows that were not installed correctly. Case Design/Remodeling also provided new landscaping.

“This project shows other homeowners the potential for transforming a home, which you can see in the before-and-after photos,” Mr. Case said. “While this may seem like a cosmetic upgrade, this project benefits the homeowners because it adds resale value, energy efficiency and security features in the new windows and doors.

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