Posts Tagged ‘LEED’

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 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.

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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 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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In my last post, I addressed rating systems and brought up the point that it is difficult for rating systems to, well, rate without standardized measures like NFRC ratings on windows. Fortunately, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) is smarter than me and is addressing this issue at the USGBC Cascadia Chapter’s Living Futures Conference in May. The Trust’s session will focus on “Outcome-Based Energy Codes as a Foundation for Policy and Market Transformation.”

As many of you may have read or heard, a New York Times article from August 2009 revealed that many buildings boasting the LEED label were not performing nearly as well as had been originally predicted by the U.S. Green Building Council. This was a pretty big deal because the LEED label allows building owners to gain tax credits and charge premium rents. It is also, well, a little annoying because there is so much patting on the back and hoopla surrounding these certifications. Once the data was released, some experts in the field were recommending that LEED certification be withheld until a building proves itself to be energy efficient, and that energy consumption data from every rated building should be made available to the public. Honestly, this was a big break for preservationists. Not that we like to encourage failure, but something smelled fishy from the get-go with many of these new “green” construction projects, and there was some rejoicing in that moment of “I told you so.”

Preservation Green Lab was created to encourage municipalities and states around the country to fully consider historic preservation and the existing building stock in formulating their climate change action plans.

I don’t bring that up to rehash the past, but to highlight how smart and timely the NTHP is in regards to this issue, even in a time when their budget is being hacked to bits and they are in danger of losing major programs. I will let Liz Dunne, Consulting Director of the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab sum up what outcome-based energy codes are about:

The NTHP’s Preservation Green Lab (PGL) is working with the City of Seattle on a new energy code framework that will be based on actual energy performance outcomes, rather than prescriptive measures, for retrofitting existing buildings. Existing energy codes typically rely on prescriptive measures (for example, requiring projects to use windows with a certain “U” value) rather than targeting certain performance outcomes (for example improving overall energy performance by a certain percentage.)

I sometimes think of software and rating systems as a kind of misguided cyborg Superman (surely, I am not alone in this?). They seem like they will fix everything and keep you safe and warm, but in reality, they often lose that human, common sense element, creating even more problems.

PGL is currently calling for case studies on older buildings that have undergone energy efficient retrofits (they don’t need to be historic) to collect more real data and to hopefully be a major voice in this movement–or should I say, a voice that is finally taken more seriously. This data will be valuable in many ways as stimulus money is continually being pumped into home energy improvements, which is always well intentioned but not always in the most effective way to use funding. Energy audits are also proving to be a poor predictor of energy savings with older homes (based on what I have seen, they are inflating the projected energy savings of homes based on the software recommendations), so what is needed are more realistic and outcomes to draw on instead of software programs modeling off of god-knows-what. And, of course, this will also show which measures are effective and which are not delivering what they promise. This is not to say that energy audits are not crucial to energy saving measures, just that they need to be expressed in a different way. Audits are missing that more human element, which could help owners to pay more attention to existing features and not worry so much about all the lab testing done on replacement materials because much of it is bunk or doesn’t take into account existing materials and factors.

In short (finally): I’m completely stoked to see this new data and glad that we’re finally getting to a point where measures installed a couple of years back can now be measured in terms of true performance. It just seems that the most accurate lab testing out there will not be done in a closed room with expensive machines and artificial conditions–it will be the info gathered by the Preservation Green Lab.

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In late February, NPR released a story dealing with historic preservation and green building that raised a lot of eyebrows in the preservation community. In fact, I think about fifteen different people forwarded me the story just in case I missed it. In a nutshell, the story talks about a new law that will go into effect next year in California requiring that all new construction meet significant green building standards. Preservationists worry that this with further reinforce the belief that only new buildings can be green. Patrice Frey, Director of Sustainability Research for the National Trust responded to the article on the PreservationNation blog. Another blog post by Ralph DiNola, LEED AP, LEED Faculty, Associate AIA, and preservationist, also responded to it in great detail. While there are some points that I might argue–like materials reuse credits and how and when they are applied–this is a great post that really breaks down a lot of issues that preservationists bring up on a regular basis. Certainly both blogs are worth the read, regardless of your feelings about LEED. Honestly, I’m still not sold, but think that it’s important to keep up with the changes and to try and understand them.

A 16,000 sf building built in 1865 was awarded LEED Platinum status in New York. 97% of the structure was reused. (Photo from Jetsongreen.com)

The other day I was having a discussion with a green building professional about rating systems and getting ranty about why things like windows were rewarded even in light of evidence that they aren’t terribly effective and certainly not cost-effective in terms of weatherization projects. I naturally just assumed that it was because of the money factor…rating systems catering to green product manufacturers that essentially buy add space in the manuals and training sessions that are related to those rating systems. And while I am still convinced that is part of it, this particular green building professional (and I should say, a friend of mine) brought up a valid point: it is easier to reward and keep track of something like new windows because they are rated by an independent party and therefore have a standard to measure by. In other words, how do we give points to a homeowner who says that they have restored their windows? What if there are no receipts? How can this be monitored and kept track of? I have to say, as much as I hate to admit it, it is a valid point and one we need to address in the preservation community.

The best way to encourage preservation is through incentives–we know this and this is why we push for increased tax incentives for historic properties. So let’s think: how can we prove that we have restored something and avoided landfill waste and new material usage? How can we show the good work we have done without receipts and manufacturing stickers? There are simply not enough auditors and long enough check lists to keep track of these kinds of things in historic homes and then apply them to a rating system. We need to find a creative solutions to these questions and more and find a way to prove what we are doing is good–in my opinion better–for the environment. The burden is on us.

I’ve been entrenched in a Falkner novel recently and this quote struck me: “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.” It’s basically sums up how I feel about most “green” products and services these days. It seems that common sense usually gets buried under the labels and jargon. Let’s fix that.

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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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