Last night, on the 13th floor of the lovely brick beast that is the Monadnock building, I met with historic architects, preservationists from various organizations, the EPA, and the Chicago Green Homes rating system staff. It was, without a doubt, the most civil and productive 90 minute meeting that I have ever attended. For real. I’m still all warm and fuzzy about it.
The goal of the meeting was to see how it might be possible to integrate preservation measures into Chicago’s green building rating system–something that is unprecedented in the U.S. Tim Heppner, who heads up the Chicago Green Home program, had not restored his old farm house, but had completely disassembled it and reused as much of the material as possible, only to realize that no green rating system would recognize this effort unless he sold the materials and bought them back. Obviously, this is ridiculous, especially because Tim can literally head his entire home in the colder months simply by using incandescent light bulbs. Yeah, it’s that crazy efficient.
The labor and thoughtfulness that went into reusing so much of the original material vs. buying new “green” crap simply had no recognition in our systems. Ironic considering that Tim would have been rewarded had he bought materials that were shipped here from China after using 1000x the embodied energy of the product just to create the thing. And that would likely have to be replaced in 10 years. Anyone with half a brain in their skull would recognize how backwards this system of reward is.
And so…there is now hope. How to make this all work has yet to be determined. Part of what I like about the Chicago Green Homes program is that there are plenty of options for homeowners, and I guess I feel like preservation measures can be added to those options as line items that are (ideally) given more points for reuse vs. replacing. The kinks need to be worked out, but this kind of a system would be groundbreaking! The ideal, from a preservation standard, would be to look to England’s Breeam environmental assessment model, which not only rewards a building owner for retaining the majority of the materials, it actually really kind of makes you feel like a jerk if you don’t. With the exception of their oil drilling policies (oh, New Orleans, I will do all I can for you!), those Brits sure do seem to see the bigger picture.
So alas, this was just the first meeting, but we are all hoping for a whole lot more. For the love of god, we were even agreeing about windows!