Posts Tagged ‘Green Technology’

Anyone who has worked in preservation eventually gets a little bit tired of seeing the insides of old, restored Victorians (admit it), and good lord, once you’ve seen a dozen green buildings, you’re pretty much over the typically installed measures and upgrades. But occasionally, I still get to be surprised–the tour I went on today was astonishing, and showed how preservation and efficiency are important because they simply make way more sense than the alternative. I’m sure I’m leaving so much out from the tour, so by all means, add or correct me after this has posted.

The Plant, located at 1400 W. 46th Street in Chicago at the Stockyards.

The 93,000 sf warehouse, now called The Plant, is so unbelievably innovative that I won’t pretend to fully understand everything that I’m going to mention. The Plant describes itself as “a project combining adaptive industrial reuse and aquaponics to create Chicago’s first vertical farm.” While “aquaponics” and “vertical farm” seem innovative enough, there is so much more to this place. The ultimate goal of The Plant is, according to it’s developer, “to create sustainable food and energy systems in urban areas that can be reproduced at a grass roots level by others with few resources,” and that is accomplished through the cooperation of many entities and ideas.

This is how I was greeted at 11 a.m., as if I wasn't already happy to be there. They don't do this on SOM tours.

The building was sold for the scrap value by the time it was purchased this summer by John Edel, the owner and developer of this project. Edel also recently converted a burned-out 24,000 sf warehouse in Bridgeport into the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center, proving his point that “no building is too derelict to be sustainably renovated and made productive again. It doesn’t necessarily require large amounts of money, just creativity.” BOOYAH. His new project could likely be an excellent and unprescedented model for other cities and depressed areas around the country like Detroit, and could finally help keep big box stores out with the work space and food it creates. And yes, it’s a former meat plant, and yes, it still smells meaty (they are cleaning it) and has cage rails on the ceilings that pigs would swing from. And yes, meat plants apparently make for damned good garden spaces, but I’ll explain that later.

Mushroom columns hold the weight for organic farming--fitting, no? Note if you can the floor drainage here from the meat packing plant. The floor pavers are durable and dip down to drains in the center of the floor. This drainage would have been astronomically expensive to put in for urban farming. Fortunately, it was already here and in tact!

How the space will be used:

-Energy-efficient brewery (the idea is to be even more efficient than Fat Tire)


-Community (“shared use”) kitchen, which apparently there is a dire need for. For more on issues with this in the city, please see a Chicago Reader article and extremely sad Chicago Tribune article and video.

-Conference rooms and offices

-Nonprofit farm

-Research offices to test effectiveness of hydroponics, vertical farming, condensers, etc. so that The Plant can be an effective and tested model and help other communities to do this work

-Rentable office space (that can sometimes be bartered for when times are tough)

-Some retail space

Visionary and developer John Edel explaining the meat cage rails that still exist--and will be preserved--in a future conference room and office space.

So all of this is really great, of course, but it gets so much better, folks. These are all noble ideas, but the expense of heating and cooling a 93,000 sf facility with all of these plants and processes would be insane…well, it would if you weren’t terrifically smart like Edel and friends.

Because this was still used for meat production up until four years ago, lots of coolers and stainless steel remains for these new projects, cutting costs considerably.

How The Plant closes the energy loop:

-Everything in the building is being salvaged, with the exception of some plastic walls that were put in and are unrecyclable. Everything.

-Windows are being replaced with triple-pane windows that are produced locally. I know, I hate window replacement, too, but these are mostly just glass block at this point and painted or boarded over. This is bringing in local business and actually will be a huge improvement in this case.

-Floor drainage for vertical gardening would normally be insanely expensive to put in, but existing drainage from the meat plant (don’t think about it too much) will take care of all that and is in great condition

-The building is already extremely well insulated because 70% of it was used as a cooler for the meat. I know, right?

-Tens of thousands of dollars in plumbing equipment was left inside the building when John bought it. And this is a building that has some pretty intense plumbing needs.

-Before the last company moved out, they updated all of the electrical wiring, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades

-There will be an anaerobic digester, which will make biogas, which will feed the turbines, which will provide waste heat that will help heat the building. I hope I got that right, and it obviously deserves more attention than this bullet point.

-All electricity will be generated on site, so there will be no transmission loses. Vertical garden plans are often thwarted by electricity needs, so that problem is solved.

Fish breading and aquaponics will create fish waste, which is primarily comprised of ammonia, and use it to feed the plants. The plants then filter that same water so that it can return to the fish tanks.

-An 8,000 sf greenhouse and small orchard will be installed on the rooftop

Donated containers--I believe from a bakery--will become tanks for thousands of fish.

I’m sure I’ve missed a million other ways of closing the energy loop within the building, but the bottom line is that if we want successful, green adaptive reuse projects, we need to find buildings that already have systems built into them that help serve the purposes of the new use(s). Buying a giant warehouse and completely gutting it to the brick shell just isn’t that impressive, green, historic, or cost-effective. Seriously. We all know this intuitively, but as preservationists, we are accustomed to taking what we can get. Being creative with what already exists is so much more effective and rewarding. And involving the community and providing organic produce, work spaces, educational opportunities and more is essential to the success of reuse projects, especially those in areas that have very few places to eat, shop, and work. That’s why we keep seeing the Big Box of Despair going up in depressed areas, knocking out all independent thinking, lowering wages, and destroying the remaining ma and pa businesses that give neighborhoods character. I hate you, Walmart. But I kind of like to think that if humans join forces with plants and fish, we may create a large enough army to beat you, not unlike a Tolkien novel where the good always prevail in the end.

The rooftop, which will eventually house 8,000 sf of greenhouse space.


Read Full Post »

In the fall, Preservation Chicago will be having what will no doubt be an incredible fundraiser at the Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center (aka the old Sears Power Plant that underwent a $40 million dollar restoration and rehabilitation). The building originally supplied heat and electricity to the massive Sears, Roebuck and Co. campus on the city’s West Side, and is one of four main buildings of the George C. Nimmons designed Sears, Roebuck and Co. complex and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. I’m on the Preservation Chicago board and pretended that it was necessary to tag along and scope out the venue because it’s something I have been wanting to do for quite some time now.

Historic view of what is now the large entry room and dining hall of the charter school. There was a whole lot of giant, heavy equipment that had to be removed for this project. A whole lot.

The 1905 structure in North Lawndale was originally 30,000 square feet (now expanded even further), and is a creative example of adaptive reuse that resulted from a partnership with Chicago Public Schools’ Renaissance 2010 project and the Henry Ford Learning Institute. The Power House was slated to become an energy efficient charter high school in what has been a terribly under-served area. I guess if you’re going to spend $40 mil, that’s a good place to spend it. Because of the unusual space and the way that classrooms were carved into the existing structure, the setup of each room is, well, atypical. I thought this was especially cool in that it helps break the hierarchy and traditional layout of classrooms and only reinforces the mission of the school and it’s progressive curriculum. For some reason, this analogy came to mind: if Stevie Nicks wasn’t spiritual on the inside, her lyrics wouldn’t seem as magical, right? Be kind, it’s Friday at 3:30 and I still have much work to do today.

The main room after the restoration with some Preservation Chicago people digging the tour. The strip of flooring that is clay colored is restored flooring from the original room. The dining hall area is actually in the far background behind the large piece of equipment, which acts as a kind of wall. Yes, this room is massive.

While the website says that the building is aiming to achieve LEED Gold status, I was told on the tour that they may actually end up achieving LEED Platinum. While I love to raise a suspicious (let’s be honest, even condescending) eyebrow at the LEED rating system, the fact that this structure is used by thousands of people, and the fact that it is an adaptive reuse project makes me glad to see it is getting such recognition. The project architects were from Chicago–based Farr & Associates, who began the assessments in 2005. Work was completed in time for the 2009 school year. For more incredible historical, before, and after photos of the powerhouse, look here.

Windows were beautifully restored and the glass was replaced with more energy efficient glazing. Tons of natural light in this building!

Here are some highlights of the building that I pulled from the website:

• Geothermal Heating and Cooling – The HVAC system capitalizes on a half-acre geothermal well field of 84, 350′-deep vertical ground loops circulating water with glycol to reject heat in summer and extract heat in winter. Coupled with an integrated DDC controls system and 42 individual water-to-air heat pumps the system will allow greater temperature control and reduced energy consumption.

• Energy Efficient Historic Windows – The historically regulated windows on the west and north facades are retrofitted with insulated glass, thus retaining the historic character of true divided lite windows, while simultaneously enhancing the energy performance.

• Movement and Control of Conditioned and Ventilation Air – Mechanical systems employ heat recovery and demand-based ventilation. Two energy recovery units on the roof will temper outside air intake with exhaust air utilizing an enthalpy wheel.

• Preservation – The walls of the Great Hall are lined with white glazed brick. Original terra cotta floor tiles were lifted and reinstalled as part of the new floor plan. The original 40-ton gantry crane and rail system remain in place and the skylights spanning the space were refitted with an energy-efficient, natural daylighting system. Large pieces of heating, cooling, and power generation equipment from throughout the building’s lifespan have been left in place, including sections of the original coal conveyor system, coal hoppers, a diesel generator and other “mementos” of the building’s history.

The history of the building is honored in many ways, like the above enlarged photographs of what the spaces lookedl like before the rehab. Many of these hang in the main room of the building. There is original equipment and painted coal shoots all around the building as well, which give it a cool, industrial feel and add to the magic of the spaces.

A hallway with a built in classroom wall on the right.

Super awesome interior stairwell.

Apparently, I didn't take any pictures that do these classroom spaces justice, but trust me, they are considerably more interesting than any classrooms that you or I have ever spent time in. There are painted coal chutes and I-beams along the ceilings, giant, arched windows that bring in light, and a giant, preserved coal chute in an exterior light well that students can look at up close and personal. Table configurations are generally non-traditional so that teachers walk around the room instead of stand in front the entire time, allowing for more interaction with students and less of a traditional, heirarchical way of teaching.

Read Full Post »

In a recent meeting, we were discussing the advantages of having your home certified “green”—advantages that now include an eco nod in MLS listings (some kind of acknowlegement of whatever rating system the building is certified under), a 3-5% premium in real estate sales due to projected energy savings, and a shorter sale time. Now thems some real perks. But then I got to mulling.

When you did a little deeper, you might just ask yourself, well, what the hell does that green certification mean? Sure, in 2009 a homeowner puts in a high efficiency furnace and some insulation, but what does that actually mean when you want to sell the house in 10 years? What if you buy a house with a tankless water heater and then replace it with the cheapest piece of junk you can afford years down the line—does the building lose its green certification? What if changes are made to the home like additions with south-facing sun rooms that bring in so much solar gain that they could cook a future owner’s cat and throw him/her into foreclosure because the central air bills are more than the mortgage and cat funerals are extremely expensive in the coming years? Yeah, bet you didn’t think of that.

Pulled from http://www.listedgreen.com, a website that lists properties with various green certifications.

Well, some green rating systems are better at tracking these things than others, but I’m guessing none of them will audit a home until the end of its life—if LEED has some plan to do this, please by all means let me know as so much changed with LEED 3.0 and I still haven’t gotten off my laurels and learned it all.

Basically, any kind of quality control would require something like every green home being audited on a regular basis, as most changes that are made to homes to make them green don’t require permits, so there is no way to flag a review for quality control.

Now to be fair, the same can be said for a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once you’re on the list, you’re on the list unless you are Soldier Field or Federal funding is somehow monkeying with your property—like someone wants to build a highway through your collection of Charlton Heston paraphernalia in the extra bedroom. Why anyone complains about property owner’s rights in terms of being listed on the National Register is completely beyond me because you can only stand to benefit as nobody will EVER ring your doorbell and make you explain why you used Type N instead of Type O mortar on your wingwalls. Seriously, I promise you this.

That said, local landmarking is a different story. Each municipality is different of course, but if your building is a local landmark in Chicago and you do work that requires permitting it will flag a special landmarks permit review. Which I, of course, think is completely appropriate, especially if you have benefited from tax incentives from your landmark status. These reviews are pretty basic, as they focus on materials or changes in the building massing—your building no longer looks historic if you add a giant metal-clad addition to it. Of course others will get all “cowboy” about property rights and whine after they have a) often bought the house for the very reason that it looks so charmingly historic, and b) have used the tax breaks to fund repairs to their home. But I digress.

Lathrop House, a local Chicago landmark. If the owner wanted to do any work that required a permit, the City Landmarks Department would be notified and do a review to make sure the project didn't compromise the hisotric look of the building. These guidelines don't change and because there is a system in place, the integrity of the building isn't in question so the designation actually has meaning.

So we know how to determine if a building is historic. The whole point is that it doesn’t change too much and we just look at a bunch of pictures and/or plans to determine that. But how do we know if a green building is still green, even if it’s listed that way on the MLS? How can changes to mechanical systems or insulation be flagged for review as they are so totally crucial to energy efficiency? Should these certifications only be good for 5 years? What happens when what was green one year is not green the next, like all these green materials that are now being outed as toxic? As basic building code continues to change and today’s green measures becomes tomorrow’s baseline standard, what will these rating systems mean anyway when you’re prowling the MLS listings? I would love some feedback on this one because honestly, I have no idea how to answer most of these except to say that, er, I’m a preservationist.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

Lately, I feel like every day I am pulled into a conversation revolving around this question and it’s lead me to believe that perhaps as green building advocates and preservationists, we should do 2 things: Establish some kind of guidelines and promote more repairing.

I know the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation are out there, but most homeowners don’t exactly have them hanging on the fridge–most likely they have never heard of them. But

Really? Does this make your heart go pitter-patter?

at least preservationists already have an idea of when to repair vs. replace, the info just needs to be more accessible. The green building movement is a mess in this regard, likely because there are so many new materials on the market and so many certifications out there to show how green that they are, and that’s a whole lot of money and industry. Good news is that there seem to be some acknowlegement of this, at least on the part of a small faction of Chicago “greenies,” as I was recently asked to be part of a group that weighs in on “green” materials on a monthly basis. I think that frequency is key here as 8 million new products seem to come out each year.

As a side note, if preservationists want to promote restoration to a larger, more general population, language is crucial. People often think of “restoration” as being cost-prohibitive. And this is because, well, let’s be honest, it can be. If we start to use words like “repair” which actually tends to conjure ideas of frugality, along side “restore,” a lot more of the will be on board with the idea of keeping more of what they already have and simply fixing it up. I think that this is presicely why a lot of people also fear landmark status, when in reality it will benefit them vs. make their lives difficult and more expensive. “Landmark,” like “restoration,” has a stigma for many.

Oh, how we love to gut interiors like this. It's madness.

That said, I’ve recently joined up with an initiative started up by Big Shoulders Realty “Restoration Not Rehab” to help people looking for homes, or who already have existing homes, to restore/repair their existing features and/or make their homes more efficient without gutting all the charm and craftsmanship out of the interior. I’ll save the details for another post, but I think the initiative is rather awesome. We’re a down-to-earth crew with a wide knowledge base and the best intentions. That’s what it’s all about. (Please save the Hokey Pokey jokes).

Read Full Post »

Well, I suppose the answer to that one is “it depends,” or, my favorite thing to say whenever someone asks me how much some modification/upgrade to their home will cost (especially if I don’t have a clue what the answer is): “um, well, it is really case-specific.” And you know, it’s absolutely true in both cases.

Honestly, most of the new “green” architecture is really just some brightly painted boxy thing that still focuses on maximizing interior space and has little regard for its neighbors, which are sometimes smaller homes that used to actually have some of their own natural lighting before the angular red and blue monstrosity erected itself right up to their lot line. Then there are the “green” homes that are supposedly more green because they are in a previously untouched field of green. Yeah, you lose. Crazy amounts of energy has to be used in order to build new infrastructures because you need to have your house built in the middle of nowhere, and it takes you 5 hours to drive to the nearest Walmart for pancake batter. And then, of course, there are the 30,000 square foot mansions that are “environmentally friendly” even though they only have 2 old rich people living in them and are 30,000 SQUARE FEET. Naturally I find HGTV programs that focus on these to be both ridiculous and insulting and immediately begin writing a letter to the producer that I never finish or send. Yes, that angry.

Certified green by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Florida Green Building Council. The $29 million home features eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, two elevators, two laundry rooms, two wine cellars (one for red, one white), a movie theater, and guest house, a high-tech air purification system and eco-friendly light fixtures. Lame.

BUT, its incredibly annoying and short sighted to hate anything that is new just because it is new, and honestly, some of these buildings are actually attractive and really pretty thoughtful. Several months ago I grabbed a few friends and drove out for a tour at Tryon Farm and was impressed by the density, community, and architectural creativity of the settlements. The homes range in price from $170,000-$470,000, but none of them are huge (our unapologetic tour guide seemed slightly annoyed when another person on our tour asked whether they had any larger homes available, much to my glee), and the materials and design are thoughtful and just fun to be in and around. There is also community gardening and concerts and all that jazz, and you aren’t that far from the rest of civilization, so you don’t have insane treks to buy additional supplies.

If you are going to build an environmentally-friendly dwelling, it had better be near civlization or you'll spend a whole lot of energy just getting to and from places. Also, you may end up becoming a creepy recluse who will likely give up bathing and potentially grow a second personality. Walkability is key!

There are also building materials being designed by architects and chemists that are meant to eventually biodegrade. Imagine a building that, once it’s useful life is up, basically eats itself and the waste created will act as fertilizer and actually HELP the environment. Crazy and Sci-fi, right? But if you have a pulse, you will be intrigued (geek or not). Many of the new, successful green building leaps are made by teams of people–engineers, architects, scientists, etc. as the technology and systems are often completely different than what architects and builders have been dealing with until now.

How does vintage architecture fit in you ask? Well it’s all part of the sustainability equation. We replace such a small percentage of buildings annually that it is madness to not focus on energy efficient retrofits of existing buildings. We also need to maintain a sense of history and place and culture in our cities, and if we replace everything with brand-spankin-new architecture, not to mention architecture that really has not yet stood the test of time in terms of its materials and systems, well, we lose not only our sense of place, but a whole lot more of our resources. I like the argument that all of the great cities in this world have a harmonious mixture of old and new architecture. The infrastructure is already built in, and historic buildings are often clumped together because walkability was obviously key when you didn’t have cars. We need to celebrate both our history and our modern innovations, so why not make the best of them both?

Read Full Post »

There is a tremendous amount of information available to homeowners who want to “go green,” much of which comes directly from companies that produce a product that is, in some way, more environmentally or energy efficient than a comparable product. Well, usually. Some of it just has a green label with a tree on it but enough chemicals to create your own meth lab. Sneaky ad execs and their greenwashing!


Greenwash: A term used to describe the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, such as by presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources. Comic found on http://www.risingtidenorthamerica.

Of course, all of this information is daunting and may have you spending more money than you intended, or leave you with a retrofit or remodel that is not what you had hoped. Don’t panic. Just sit back and decide what it is you really want to achieve. If you want to reduce the materials in your home that off-gas (release chemicals into the air through evaporation) and pay less to cool your home in the summer, solutions can be very inexpensive. If you want to reduce the cold air leakage during the colder months, there are many ways to accomplish this without tearing out all of your windows or spending your children’s college fund.

Put away your mountain of marketing pamphlets and evaluate what is most important to you and/or your family before you are seduced by the promise of a new miracle product. Also consider that there is more to a home than efficiency—consider aesthetics and health as well! Here are some first steps:

1. Determine your climate zone and work with it: Different climate zones require different solutions. For instance, to cool a home in a hot, dry climate, additional moisture will help, whereas in a hot, humid climate, the heat would only worsen with humidity.

2. Perform your own energy audit: Tearing out windows and replacing them without an audit is like having a doctor prescribe you something based on one symptom. Address the cause, not just the symptoms. You can perform a mini audit by yourself with the Energy Star “Home Energy Yardstick” on the energystar.gov site, and by walking around your home looking for cracks in your masonry, roof damage, etc.

3. Better yet, hire an energy auditor! These audits will tell you exactly where your air leaks are coming from, how to fix them, whether sealing up your house will make you suffocate from carbon monoxide poisoning, etc. These are so, so very worth it. They cost anywhere from $400-$700, but will likely save you a whole lot of money in the long run in terms of energy savings and preventing you from throwing money at a problem and not seeing results. Email me at carlabruni@greenpreservationist.org if you would like some recommendations on auditors.

blower door

A blower door is an incredibly useful diagnostic tool used by energy auditors. It is designed to measure the airtightness of buildings, and to help locate air leakage sites. Without it, you're really just guessing.

4. Decide on a budget and keep your ears open for grants, rebates, etc. They change constantly, but they’re out there! I find this site useful and up-to-date more than most in terms of federal, state and local green grants: http://www.dsireusa.org. For preservation grants, contact your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) or local city landmarks board. Or both!

5. Find a good contractor. Easier said than done, yes, but it’s worth the time investment to ask around and research online. There are plenty of yahoos out there right now who claim to be either preservation architects or green architects and are quite frankly neither. It’s best to find 3 contractors and get 3 estimates whenever possible. Make sure the contractors are certified and ask them for references.

I’ll post more on avoiding the pitfalls of bad contractors and next steps in an upcoming post. More on energy audits coming soon as well! It’s getting cold, so I imagine this is on the minds of many.

Read Full Post »

I’m still working out the mission statement, so here are my rambling, uncensored thoughts on the purpose of this site.

I created this site because I wanted a forum for people to discuss the following issues and keep each other updated on new technologies, policies, and ideas. After studying and working in both historic preservation and environmental work places and on various projects around the country, I’ve learned that these fields are absolutely essential to one another. Different cities have different approaches and policies, but essentially they are the ying and yang needed to bring about a more sustainable built world. Unfortunately, there is still a whole lot of tension between these two worlds. What I have noticed most often is that preservationists fear green builders are too quick to bulldoze and build new, and green builders feel that preservationists are a roadblock to progress.

It’s all hooey, really. There is absolutely no need for tension here, and hopefully we can find some middle ground and (god forbid) foster creative solutions. This is not to say that these issues are not legitimate, because of course, they are. And, of course, economics play a major role in all of this, but this can be overcome. We won’t be able to come up with creative solutions to make both of these fields interactive and prosperous (there is so much room for job growth here it is staggering) until we all gain a better understanding of the incentives and barriers in related architectural fields. Once we understand how we are alike and different, and what works and what doesn’t, we can more easily work together to affect change.

But first, we need to get over ourselves and break down some of the barriers. So here is what we need to do first in order to stop slamming our heads against a wall:

  1. Preservationists have to stop being on the defense and be more proactive. We are all in love with architecture, materials and the building arts and need to a better job of getting people excited about these things. In the eyes of most designers and architects, we are still the lame, crotchety old ladies that started this movement, ala Ann Pamela Cunningham. We need young, innovative designers and this new architectural energy on our side, so it’s time to rethink how we’ve been doing things and edit those Secretary of Interior’s Guidelines already. Let’s show that we want progress too, and learn to play with the hip kids.

  2. Green building people need to acknowledge the importance of embodied energy and to stretch themselves to focus on how to be creative within existing walls. You don’t always need a blank canvas. And history is cool. Not just cool, it’s fascinating. Not to mention a heck of a lot greener to preserve in most cases as these buildings—even at 100—are more sustainable than most of the new architecture that is going up. Retrofitting is so often the greenest option, but we need new technology to help us constantly improve our energy and water reduction, and to work better within existing structures.

History, artistry, sense of place, dwindling resources, indoor and outdoor air pollution—these things matter and are not incompatible. We are all well intentioned, so lets cut to the chase and get some work done. Educate me, educate yourselves, educate each other. Then let’s combine forces and take over the world.

Read Full Post »