Posts Tagged ‘Landmark’

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

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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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.

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I’m all about finding the positive side-effects of the current recession, for example, now that I can no longer afford to go out to eat often, I have learned to cook like 5,000 more things and can wow my friends with my dazzling kitchen skills! Yes, so the recession has simply made me more lovable and you can’t put a price on that. And even though my own income is, well, let’s say modest right now, much of the work I AM getting is somehow the result of positive effects of the recession. Grants abound and conservationists, preservationists, and environmental advocates are all benefitting in some way. And I like to think the general public benefits from all of our efforts, even if they don’t know it yet.

A recent New York Times article explained how land conservationists are scooping up acres of land in places that were already purchased by developers to build on. Depressed real estate prices have effectively chopped the heads off of development projects all over the county. Because of this, state and local governments, conservationists, and non-profit groups like the Trust for Public Land are purchasing thousands of acres of open land that should have been protected in the first place. This land will now be “put aside in perpetuity for parks, watershed protection or simply preservation of open space.”

California's Bruin Ranch was once listed for $30 million, but the oak-studded, riverfront land could now be protected for just $13 million. The collapse of the housing market has had a silver lining for open-space advocates. Land conservancy groups are buying up whatever they can, but largely rely on donations to do this.

There have also been a considerable benefits in terms of building preservation. First of all, there are plenty of grants out there now, and will soon be more, to weatherize existing buildings. Also, because of the housing bust, homeowners are staying put more rather than take a huge loss on their home, and making existing homes more efficient. This lessens the demand for new construction, of course. And yes, I know, people are out of work as a result, but with billions of dollars being poured into programs like “Cash for Caulkers,” hopefully more construction workers will be trained on how to retrofit existing buildings. There is plenty of research out there now that shows how projects on existing buildings actually generate a lot more work than building new.

Main Streets like this one in Rockford, Michigan will be able to take advantage of beefed up preservation tax credits for restoration and repair projects.

An interesting article from a Real Estate news source talks about how Michigan’s Governor has signed legislation that will bolster the historic preservation tax credit to help downtown areas. Beyond the typical 20% tax credit, plans that cost $250,000 or less will receive additional funding. This will be a huge help to smaller downtown areas in the state and help increase local business as well as tourism.

Beyond this, I would venture to guess that building owners across the country would be more likely to pursue landmark designations in an effort to get that tax credit for repairs in the midst of a financial downturn. Hmmm, also more money for preservationists. Can you even imagine how much more land and many more historic properties will be left alone and/or protected because of this? I mean, it’s all pretty darned exciting, folks.

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I had every intention of posting artfully crafted paragraphs about energy auditing, complete with new, timely statistics and pictures throughout the post. The reality is that I’m so exhausted after a week-long whirlwind RESNET training session that I can’t even muster the energy to get a beer our of the fridge. Which I’ve been meaning to do for the past 3 hours. Physics and geometry have been resurrected from the deepest recesses of my brain (ouch), and facts on leaky ductwork and temperature differentials are still banging around in my skull after 5 twelve- to fourteen-hour days of cramming. So, you know, please bear with me if I ramble on in my current state. At least you can’t see me drooling on the couch.

On the first day of training, I learned that RESNET, like most energy rating systems, is actually focused primarily on new construction. Energy Star and other programs work in conjunction with RESNET on nothing less than a total gut rehab–meaning that the house needs to be torn down to the studs so that insulation and air sealing can be done or redone properly and effectively. This is obviously not ideal for historic homes. The RESNET scores uses the HERS Index, where a score of zero is ideal as it implies a zero-energy home. Granted, it will take decades for a zero-energy home to “earn” back the energy that it took to make it, but if you’re going to build new, it’s a good goal. Unfortunately, embodied energy isn’t rewarded in the same way even though an older home has already paid its sustainability dues and can be easily improved for efficiency.

Michigan's first LEED Platinum gut rehab. The homes HERS Index on this historic frame home was 216. I must admit, that is terrible.

In terms of scoring, there are many strikes against historic homes–for example, preservationists advocate for thoughtful insulation solutions like drilling small holes into walls and blowing in cellulose vs. tearing all the plaster down to insulate. Unfortunately, any insulation that cannot be seen is considered “Grade III,” and will lower the score on a report. Creative solutions that lead to keeping what you already have vs. replacing what you have don’t get points even though there is an obvious environmental benefit. In fact, more total waste is created annually from rehabbing homes than demo. Of course, this is likely due to the fact that we rehab more than we build new, which is a good thing, but considering how much waste is created by demo, it’s still a staggering thought.

Having said all of that, I still think that energy audits can and should be performed on older structures. Vintage homes may not make the grade on the final RESNET report, but wow, anyone who owns an older home certainly can benefit from these audits. You may not get to brag about your points on fancy plaque or qualify for grant funds under LEED for Homes or Energy Star, but you’ll get a more comfortable and efficient home.

Oh, and I should mention that new windows were repeatedly discouraged as a viable energy saving measure during the training. And, Obama’s new “Cash for Calkers” program could really give older buildings a leg up and compensate for some of the grant funds that are not available to existing homes, not to mention create more work for energy auditors and contractors.

It is unfortunate that there still doesn’t seem to be a way to evaluate the environmental benefits of living in older homes, i.e. embodied energy, or perhaps the amount of material that has been kept out of landfills because historic home owners haven’t added stories to their homes or gutted them every 20 years. And beyond materials, there are built in systems to help ventilate homes, allow heat to escape, etc. On the other hand, RESNET, or rather the HERS Index, is specifically designed to measure energy consumption based on how a homeowner is currently using their home, so it’s difficult to fault the system for not being more sensitive to historic homes. Energy consumed is energy consumed, and this system can help historic homeowners consume less. Period.

So….who wants to come up with an energy rating system for historic homes? If you want something done right…

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