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Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

So the LEED rating system is pretty much constantly being rethought and revamped, but the latest and greatest version is currently up for public comment, and as of January 14th, the first comment period will be closed.

As someone who spends a crazy amount of time trying to keep up with all of the green progress and initiatives—often more than I’d like because I never get to just look at a pretty historic building anymore and like it for being pretty—I get that it’s a lot to ask preservationists to care about all of these green building initiatives. On the other hand, if you don’t, you’re pretty much signing the death warrant for a whole lot of historic buildings and neighborhoods because these green initiatives directly impact whether older buildings will be valued and saved. Federal, state and local jurisdictions across the country are now using LEED as a requirement or model for zoning laws and building codes, so to influence it is to influence standard building practice in a very meaningful way.

The preservation community is the primary voice in the struggle to have existing buildings and materials valued (in-situ, or at least to value them as being more than chipped down and recycled into something unrecognizable and of lesser value) as an important part of the environmental puzzle. Seriously, all of this stuff is new and everyone is fumbling through it and constantly changing things. We can actually have a major impact if we don’t sit back and twiddle our thumbs.

Here are some links to learn more about what’s up, compiled by Barbara Campagna, FAIA:


Top Ten List of LEED Credits related to Preservation


Technical summary of the proposed LEED credits


Format changes to the LEED scoring system

1865 building in New York that achieved LEED Platinum. Of course, it took a zillion dollars and a lot of green bling to get there, but it's something. If you comment on the changes in the system and LEED begins to recognize existing and restored materials as being environmentally-friendly, this kind of designation can be a hell of a lot more attainable for historic buildings. And it should be.


Also interesting are some comments from Mike Jackson, FAIA, Chief Architect of the Preservation Services Division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency regarding changes to be made:

Material Credit 1 (Pilot Credit # 19) – Whole Building Re-use
Discussion: The proposed credit is the first time the LEED building rating system will recognize historic buildings and cultural landscapes. (LEED for Neighborhood Development was the first LEED product to include historic resource identification.) This is a much needed recognition for the LEED system. Let the USGBC know you approve. Comments don’t have to be limited to items that you feel need to be changed. This credit also has language about the retention of historic windows, which is another item worthy of positive reinforcement. This credit has not been specifically targeted towards residential buildings, and it should be applied to the LEED for Homes rating system as well as all others.

This credit also includes language about blighted buildings. The intent of providing special incentives for historic and blighted properties is good, but it would be better if these were separate items. Historic buildings have a working definition that includes listed and eligible properties and a strong constituency that can apply these definitions. The social benefits of investing in blighted areas as well as buildings is a good value system, but is not really that related to historic buildings.

Proposed Comment: The recognition of historic buildings is a welcome addition to the LEED criteria.

Proposed Recommendation: The category of “blighted buildings” should be given a separate category from “historic building.”

Material Reuse Credits # 2 and 3

Discussion: These two credits have been used to provide a material value to building re-use. The preservation community has long concluded that green building rating systems have undervalued building re-use. Keep in mind that this comment period is NOT about the allocation of points, which will be handled at a later stage. For now, it is important to comment on the need for a more equitable method of allocating the value of “in-situ” materials re-use other than the simplified two-part formula. For example, the BREEAM Ecohome rating system from England divides a house into seven major components and allows all materials credits to be claimed when 80% of the existing materials are retained in each category. As stated in BREEAM, “the environmental impact of replacing an element is far greater than reusing the element already in place.” The expanded use of Life Cycle Assessment tools would also provide a more equitable comparison of in-situ, recycled content, re-used or new materials.

Proposed Comment: The two-part credit allocation for materials reuse is too narrow and should have a stronger Life Cycle Assessment protocol to provide a better measure of building reuse.

Proposed Recommendation: The BREEAM Ecohomes rating system should be investigated as a better model of building re-use scoring. It divides a building into a larger number of major components/systems and allocates the full material credit for each component when 80% of that component is retained “in situ.” This system is much fairer in providing a positive benefit to in-situ material re-use. . As stated in BREEAM, “the environmental impact of replacing an element is far greater than reusing the element already in place.”

LEED for Homes

Discussion: The LEED for Homes system is primarily designed for new construction but it can also apply to renovation. The system does not include the category of building re-use or any materials credits for in-site materials use. There is some credit available for using reclaimed materials. This system is so biased towards new construction, that one gets the feeling that it should only be allowed for new construction. Having said that, it would be worth commenting on the building re-use and materials credits.

LEED for Homes: Location and Transportation Credit: Preferred Locations

Proposed Comment: The site location criteria should include the identification of historic area and those with the longest pattern of development. The use of historic and age criteria would provide a positive reinforcement of traditional patterns of development.

Proposed Recommendation: The retention and re-use of historic buildings should be encouraged just as brownfield development is encouraged. The retention of historic buildings should be a pre-requisite unless their demolition has been approved by the preservation authority having jurisdiction, as is stated in LEED for Neighborhood Development.

The redevelopment of existing locations could have an expanded value based upon the age of the settlement, with the most credit provided to the oldest settlement areas.

LEED for Homes: MR Credit: Environmental Preferable Products
Discussion: (See proposed comment)

Proposed Comment: This credit has been written from the perspective of a new building and is devoid of any environmental benefit from the in-site use of materials when buildings are renovated. The in-situ use of materials in renovated buildings needs to be added to this LEED for Homes rating system.

Proposed Recommendation: The BREEAM Ecohomes rating system should be investigated as a better model of building re-use scoring. It divides a building into a larger number of major components/systems and allocates the full material credit for each component when 80% of that component is retained “in situ.” This system is much fairer in providing a positive benefit to in-situ material re-use. . As stated in BREEAM, “the environmental impact of replacing an element is far greater than reusing the element already in place.”

LEED for Neighborhood Development
GIB Credit: Existing Building Reuse

Proposed Comment: The retention and re-use of existing buildings is a very important strategy for the long-term environmental benefit. The overall percentage of building retention in this category is extremely low. Retaining just 20% of the buildings except for 50% of the structure means that only 10% of the existing building stock needs to be retained for this credit. These means that 90% of the materials could be demolished as a green approved project.

Proposed Recommendation: The retention of existing building stock should be at least 80% and the retention of materials within buildings should be based upon an LCA approach such as the English BREEAM Ecohomes. The BREEAM Ecohomes rating system divides a building into a larger number of major components/systems and allocates the full material credit for each component when 80% of that component is retained “in situ.” This system is much fairer in providing a positive benefit to in-situ material re-use. As stated in BREEAM, “the environmental impact of replacing an element is far greater than reusing the element already in place.” The building retention test should also be subject to mitigation for when much higher density of re-use is proposed, except for the case of historic buildings.

GIB Credit: Historic Resource Preservation and Adaptive Reuse

Discussion: This is a credit that is allocated for the preservation of historic buildings and landscapes.

Proposed Comment: The recognition and credit for the retention and historic rehabilitation of historic buildings is an important addition to the LEED system. Retain and strengthen this credit.

Proposed Recommendation: This credit should be a prerequisite. The demolition of historic buildings should not be a permitted action approved through the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating except for the currently approved exceptions.

How to make comments: (This will require you to have a USGBC log-in.)

1. Click on the following link: http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/LEEDDrafts/RatingSystemVersions.aspx?CMSPageID=1458

2. Click on the Expand button next to “LEED Rating System Draft: BD&C, ID&C, and EB:O&M”

3. Open the “BD&C Document” and look for the following sections
a. MR CREDIT: WHOLE BUILDING REUSE p. 112
b. MR CREDIT: MATERIALS REUSE p.116

4. Once you have read the documents, click on the “Comment” button (Note: You must sign in to the USGBC to submit a comment. You do not have to be a member, but you do have to submit information about who you are to get full access to make the comments.)
a. Select the category “Materials and Resources”
b. Select the Whole Building Reuse section
c. Make comments
d. Repeat these steps for Materials Reuse

5. Repeat the process for LEED for Homes

6. Repeat the process for LEED for Neighborhood Development

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Lately I’ve been thinking about my mortality. A lot. In fact, I am pretty much always thinking about my mortality—it’s just a sweet, charming little thing I do. To exacerbate this, I spend most of my time trying to save buildings and the environment from being utterly destroyed. I think this is especially traumatizing for me with buildings, because we all hold onto the idea that like a paper cut, the environment can heal and regenerate itself. Buildings just die, either in a particularly public, violent way, or over an excruciatingly long period of decay. So, while I realize that buildings don’t have a central nervous system, I still feel utterly compelled to save them, even when I know that they will eventually die by bulldozer, fire, water, whatever. And so I’m compelled to explore this today, mostly because it’s interesting to me and because I understand that if a preservationist doesn’t understand their own preservation philosophy, whatever remains of it will be utterly compromised because, well, it’s easier to compromise when you don’t know why you believe what you say you believe.

Hi, I'm moisture infiltration. I will eventually kill every building that government officials and wars happen to miss.

So I’m going a little deep here today, folks. I’m thinking about the phenomenon of “death anxiety” and how it relates to preserving structures and also, by extension, the environment. Back to the question of “why do we preserve buildings when we know that they will eventually die anyway?” Well, why do we fight to preserve our own lives when we know that while that ginseng may help us remember who we are a little longer, our body is in a constant state of decay? We can stave things off for a bit—slap on a new coat of paint and do a little repointing when we break down or look a little old—but really, well, you get the point. We’re going to die. In fact, we’re probably going to die sooner than the brick two-flat we live in.

So this brings me to culture because decay logic just confuses me more. I don’t think we should ever think about preservation without thinking about culture. Sure, it is also important environmentally to reuse, repair, keep stuff out of landfills and stop using crazy amount of energy to create replaceable, throw away items or entirely new buildings when a viable structure already exists. But once we realize that everything eventually decays, we look to culture and symbols to immortalize us. Culture gives us a sense of place and meaning. We have flags, religious beliefs, social mores, clothing, language, and yes, architecture that will represent a big part of who we are long after we are gone.

Maybe you don't know why I matter, but you totally know I matter. Weather done taken its tole on me, but clearly everyone will be sad when I'm totally gone and people will be SUPER PISSED if anyone tries to obliterate me. Also, I apparently know how to talk!

These symbols are a part of who we are, they externalize our collective believe system, and that’s why they are so important to us. And while this may seem simplistic—to hold onto icons as a physical manifestation of our belief systems—I think it’s incredibly important. These objects remind us that we are part of something larger, a kind of family. Our culture, and, by extension, our value system, gives us a road map for acceptable behavior, a system by which we can measure right and wrong and act accordingly. This is a large part of why I prefer to landmark districts over single properties—it’s an easier way to preserve cultural values and hence, actions. When you know your neighbors, you feel more responsible for them and act more in accordance with a more general system of values, i.e. you don’t let your property fall into disrepair or sell it to a developer who just realized that they can build a 3 story box on your lot that will break up your entire street line. A cultural value system also gives us a way to excel. A system of values that is shared by a group allows an individual to rise in the ranks, i.e. to have the greenest or best-restored house on the block. It fosters a healthy competition and holds up a system of pride and respect.

Now I know it’s easy to be all “but the mob mentality leads to extremism” and yadda yadda. I know. I get it. But this is the other side of the coin, and I think that is sheds some light on why, why oh why, many of us spend so much of our time fighting to save our physical environment. I mean, right? Symbolism? Values? Discuss.

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I started this blog to stay relevant. All of the green rating systems and new data about climate change and crazy building material lab experiments change daily. I finished my MS in Historic Preservation in 2008, while simultaneously interning with the Department of Environment, where I was a spokesperson on innovative green technology. Er, within about 2 months of graduating, I started to feel obsolete. I wanted something that would essentially force me to write a short paper at least once or twice a week so that I had to do research on the latest and greatest trends and data, but also, I needed to continually reevaluate why I am a preservationist and how I am a preservationist. Really, it can all be very confusing. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to explain what, exactly, it is that I do for a living.

On Earth Day, the National Trust published a few stories about the intersection of preservation and the environment, and I stumbled upon a particularly relevant one written by Patrice Frey called “Old Homes in a Sustainable World: A New Job Description for Preservationists” that sums up how rapidly the field of preservation has changed over the past few years. Basically, she explains that to be a preservationist today, one needs to expand the original scope and also understand how preservation fits into puzzle of climate change. While I feel this is crucial for myself and have been harping on this point to the rest of the preservation world for a couple of years now, I also think that there is room for different kinds of preservation work. Some days I wake up and think about how I spend so much damned time trying to keep my finger on the newest green trends that I hardly get to focus on any true blue preservation anymore. And to be perfectly honest, I miss that. It is why I changed careers in the first place.

So here is the question: as a preservationist, is the goal to save as many homes possible (retrofit existing buildings that may or may not be historic), or is the goal to sensitively restore homes that are already saved? Of course, both are crucial. While it seems silly to ignore the obvious signs of global warming, the billions of dollars in retrofit funding, and the overwhelming popularity of green building and materials, we still need some traditional preservationists to keep the older mission–the mission to accurately preserve history, not just embodied energy–alive. And these goals are not contradictory–the mission of the Trust has certainly expanded tenfold over the last two decades. It’s just about staying relevant. Diversifying and being sure that preservation has a voice in the Brave New World of glass-infused wood and LEED, but also not always compromising for some hybrid of old and new. In my mind being a “green preservationist” and being an “historic preservationist” are almost two completely separate careers, though there is certainly overlap and a need to combine their goals for increased success.

In summary, a green historic preservationist is a pragmatist who loves and appreciates historic architecture but also fears the wrath of climate change and is, most likely, just a touch schizofrenic.

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I stumbled upon an article yesterday in New Scientist that describes how homes made to be more energy efficient are making homeowners complacent–it appears that many people are using just as much energy as they were before they made their homes more efficient. For example, some homeowners tend to crank the heat up more than they did pre-retrofit because they no longer have to worry about bills being as high as they would have been in the past. If a homeowner is used to paying $200 to keep their house at 65 degrees, they might not mind paying $200 to keep their home at 75 degrees where they can walk around in their favorite old Earth Day t-shirt and hemp boxers in the middle of January.

Why yes, this is indeed a rather handsome $5,000 high efficiency boiler! However, if you use it to create a jungle-like climate in your super insulated home, you're not doing yourself or the planet any favors.

While the article focused on a survey done in the UK, there is no doubt that the same thing is happening in the US—I’ve seen it and felt it in the 78 degree basements of homeowners after they’ve had air sealing done and fancy new mechanicals put in. This kind of behavior could be a real barrier in achieving local and national climate action goals in the near future, and is the result of a lack of education, not some demonic plot by the 1960s ranch house down the street to destroy the earth. If the new army of emerging “green” experts only treat the symptom and not the cause, homeowners will not change their behavior because they likely don’t understand the importance of changing their habits. Habits are, without a doubt, the MOST important part of any environmental movement, despite what your Pella Windows rep will tell you. And it is education that is often lost in marketing materials and hasty audits.

For the love of Pete, let's be sure to explain to homeowners how to maintain native plantings so the don't think they are weeds that are harming their turf grass. Photo: Mike MacDonald/ChicagoNature.com

And green education extends beyond just keeping your furnace at a lower temperature and turning off the lights—how about things like on-site water retention and native landscaping? Ever plant a native lawn for someone, only to return a year later to see that they’ve been mowing it like Kentucky Blue Grass? Yeah, that happens. And why wouldn’t it? Who in the last 50 years—at least in the Chicagoland area—has done anything but dump fertilizers and pesticides on their grass and mow the bejesus out of their tiny little plot of lush lawn? Beyond that, neighbors sometimes view urban-tolerant species and native landscaping’s more wild appearance as being the result of a lazy homeowner. As if they had a bunch of car carcasses rusting in their front yard that would drive down the value of everyone’s real estate on the block. Why not educate the homeowner so that they can, in turn, educate their neighbors? When people understand things, they can feel good about them and brag about them and motivate others to do the same.

Let’s all just slow down a half second and take the extra time to educate those who we are trying to help. Really, it is often only a matter of minutes in our day and the results will be so much better and more meaningful. Otherwise, we’re patting ourselves on the back a little too hard, dig?

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So, the average new house has doubled in size since 1970, despite the fact that average number of people living in each house has decreased. At the same time, the average density of towns and cities was 10 people/acre in 1920, and by 1990, only 4 people/acre despite the U.S. population doubling in those 70 years. What does all this mean? Some serious sprawl, y’all. (Thanks, Bill McKibben, for reminding me of all of this on the train this morning).

The 1600 sf, mid-1960s house that I lived in the first six years of my life. Mom, dad, two kids. No basement. Seemed plenty big to me.

One major point that preservationists like to stress when up against new, green buildings is that historic towns were already built for density. I’ve mentioned in previous posts the importance of convenience and walkability, as well as existing infrastructure like streets, sidewalks, plumbing, schools, churches, etc. But there is another issue here: American’s obsession with privacy and individualism.

Todays more typical family home. Or at least what families are told they should be living in with two parents and two children. Hope you've got good credit, mom and dad!

Beyond having our own, sometimes very large, piece of land (that is often just planted with Kentucky Blue Grass, covered in pesticides and herbicides, needing to be regularly mowed, and completely devoid of biodiversity), we have compartmentalized our over-sized homes. Every reality show that I watch shows families who don’t eat together, talk together…basically do anything together. And today’s architecture completely supports and encourages this because it means more profits for building larger homes. It also means that by promoting privacy, more green spaces are constantly exploited in order to build a larger quantity of over-sized homes. New “family” dream homes seem to involve as much separation as humanly possible within the envelope of the building. Separate computer rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms for all! People stand to make more money by assuming–and convincing you, the homeowner–that nobody in your family likes each other. This is a fact.

Wow, nice job designing this one! Looks like absolutely NO ONE will ever be tempted to convene on that there piece of land! Keep those sprinklers on that brown turf grass! Everyone will feel a great sense of awe and fulfilment while watching it from their windows.

Call me a sentimental lefty, but aren’t people and relationships important? Wouldn’t increased density and smaller homes force us to once again work together and play together and ultimately greatly enhance our quality of life? It is easy for me to link historic and preservation with green building practices in terms of health and materials and energy, but what about the human aspect? What about all that is lost when we continue to separate ourselves from the rest of the world through our architecture? Are relationships found in any of the rating systems yet? Wouldn’t improving those likely help solve the rest of this mess?

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Ah, once again, I’ve had a milli-second of downtime this weekend, which has lead me to think about the philosophy of preservation. I went skiing out in Wisconsin and squealed with delight each time I passed a barn that looked like it was about to completely collapse. Drinking schnapps and hot chocolate in a ski lodge will make one reflect on their reactions.

Morley Baer published a book that looked at barns from 1951 to 1994 and showed off why rural architecture is so very, very breathtaking. That said, I would appreciate it if one of my readers would buy me California Plain: Remembering Barns. Thanks.

I spend my time saving buildings and arguing that we should reuse existing structures whenever possible for both cultural and environmental reasons. But one thing I wrestle with is the fact that culture is not a static thing that can be simply preserved three-dimensionally. Barns are supposed to be used and used and used until they almost fall over, and then used another 10 years after that until they finally do fall over. That’s part of the culture. And then the boards can be reused, etc. I am not against restoring barns by any stretch of the imagination, and there are some great initiatives out there (my favorite is called “Barn Again!“), and no doubt there is a preservation philosophy unto its own involving barn restoration.

A barn returning to the earth in Indiana. Look at those bones!

But I remember learning about various preservation philosophies throughout history and being especially drawn to John Ruskin, whose philosophy was that a building’s beauty increased with its age, and a building’s beauty was not fully achieved until it was in ruins. Watching a building decay is possibly the most beautiful thing in the world, at least in my opinion. You can see the construction, how the materials work together, how the wind and rain and sun have changed each part of the materials. You can see how time and the elements have taken a bright, rigid, angular structure and slowly, over decades, worn it down to rusted patinas and bent it into organic forms that will gracefully return back to where they came. I mean good lord, doesn’t that just bring you to your knees? I might have to start a campaign for human/old barn legal unions.

Paradigm Music & Coffee in Sheboygan, WI. 70% of the materials used to renovate the space were recycled--some from the owner's parent's old barn--and non-motorized transportation to run errands and pick up goods for the shop. (Photo from The Sheboygan Press)

From an environmental standpoint, well, deconstruction is clearly the smartest route in a situation like this. A friend was telling me that she was just visiting her friend’s new cafe in Sheboygan that is made up almost entirely of recycled materials, much of which were salvaged from her family’s dilapidated barn (see above). It’s really, really hard to argue that that isn’t a creative and inspiring thing to do.

For the 2009 international Solar Decathalon competition, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students focused on midwest farmhouse forms and recycled barn wood.

We are constantly replicating existing architectural forms and styles, but usually using new materials. Recently, there has been a push to once again focus on deconstruction and materials reuse. Where does that leave the beauty of decay–will people still be able to squeal in delight and delicious horror while looking at a barn that is still in use and just waiting to crush someone? How should preservationists feel about the preservation of materials but not form? Should we just let some buildings die in a more natural way instead of always harvesting their organs, so to speak? Can nostalgia and environmentalism coexist, and where does preservation fit into the mix? I expect a full report on my desk next week.

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Several months back I became part of a committee to help organize a Green Historic Preservation symposium for the Region 5 EPA (IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, and WI). Because this is the first time the EPA has ever reached out to preservationists, they wanted to gather information to try and determine their roll in helping to make preservation and green building more synonymous and less contentious. They also wanted to better understand preservation in general as they are new to the field.

The matrix exercise Tim and I created to gather info from greenies, preservationists, and all those inbetween. By the end of the day, most of these were filled with ink with extra sheets for run off ideas. Awesome.

I was fortunate to be at these meetings with Tim Heppner from the Chicago Green Homes Program and we crafted an exercise for the event, which we later tweaked with the committee, that would act as a tool to help gather information from those attending the symposium. The EPA could then use all of that feedback to better understand the issues, and those attending the symposium could network and be better educated on what “the other side” was doing as well, where their barriers and incentives were, etc. The symposium, which went from an anticipated number of 80 to a whopping 300 in attendance from all across the country (woot!), was held in Indianapolis yesterday and went so well that we are already talking about plans for the next one! Go EPA!

There were several speakers in the morning from organizations including the IHPA, the National Trust, a D.C. firm specializing in tax credits, and the Region 5 EPA, among others. Some highlights (for me) included an explanation of how to combine green and preservation tax credits on projects for maximum funding (finally!), the need for preservationists to focus on ALL older buildings (this goes back to my thoughts on language and the stigma of “preservation” as well as a need to acknowledge buildings that just ain’t ever gonna be landmarks), the idea that Energy Star could expand its scope to vintage buildings, and the consensus that we need more people in preservation trades.

While we all know that lead paint is hazardous, the EPA is now taking abatement a step further. This will affect our arguments for window restoration, among other things, so we need to do what we can to educate the public so they don't freak out about older homes as hazards. Seriously.

A concern that arose is the EPA’s new Renovation, Repair and Painting law becomes effective in April 2010 . EPA issued a rule requiring the use of lead-safe practices and other actions aimed at preventing lead poisoning. Under the rule, contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 must be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. What preservationists should be worried about is the panic that this law could create. Lord knows the freak out about asbestos years back lead to a whole lot of gutting and demo when there was often no need to disturb the stuff in the first place. More on lead later…

All in all, this was a great meeting of the minds. People from both sides of the coin certainly got to learn a lot about the challenges and incentives or working together. I can’t wait for the next one.

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