One of the hottest trends in new construction today is “building green.” Builders and their real estate agents all across the country are gearing their marketing to tap into a growing environmental awareness and energy consciousness. Builders advertise that their windows, doors, and appliances are Energy Star compliant. Developers plan their house sites to be sure that houses take maximum advantage of solar energy. Contractors are opting for geothermal or solar heating and cooling systems. One developer is even building the country’s first completely “green” subdivision – White Oak Farms, a 134 lot development in Colchester Connecticut. And, the National Association of Realtors has recently created a new designation as Ecobroker, which certifies real estate agents in green building and development practices (find an Ecobroker near you on their directory).
Most people don’t think of historic homes as energy-efficient, and wouldn’t usually place an older home in the “green” category. After all, old drafty windows, hard-burning cast iron furnaces, flaking lead paint, and limited insulation don’t exactly paint a picture of perfect environmental friendliness. Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, would have us think differently about it, though. According to Moe, houses and buildings are the results of a tremendous amount of energy expended. From harvesting timber, to transporting raw materials to the house site, to assembling the structure, every step takes a huge amount of energy, and all of that energy increases carbon emissions into the atmosphere. That energy is “embodied” or stored up in the building. If an old building is torn down, all of the energy spent to create it is wasted, and more energy is expended for demolition, and even more used to rebuild in its place.
“The greenest house is the house that’s already built”
One study in the UK estimated that a new, energy-efficient home would take 35-50 years to save enough energy to recoup the carbon emitted as a result of building it. That means that building new green homes is an environmental investment that will only pay off decades from now. Renovating and “greening” older homes is a strategy that will pay off far sooner by eliminating all of those construction-related carbon emissions. Two historic homeowners, one a contractor in Texas and the other a couple in South Carolina, have been in the news recently trying to “green” their antique homes.
In Austin, Texas, DJL Properties, a builder specializing in sustainable building in the Austin area, has taken an 80 year-old house and retrofitted it with energy-saving and environmentally-friendly features. The house will soon be Austin’s only historic home with a 5-star energy rating. DJL used an impressive quantity of foam as insulation, replaced the windows with custom Energy-Star reproduction historic windows, and recaulked all of the window and door seals with VOC-free compounds. One of the local energy program officials commented “..there’s nothing more sustainable than a house that lasts much longer than the trees that went into it.” The 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1110 square foot home is about 70% done, and will go on the market for somewhere around $500,000. Check out the video of News 8 Austin’s coverage of the story.
A 1915 Queen Anne-style home sits proudly in the Hampton Heights National Register historic district near Spartanburg, South Carolina. What may not be obvious from the outside is that the house may become the first historic home in South Carolina to be LEED-certified. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a set of nationwide standards that gives green buildings a score for energy efficiency and savings in carbon emissions. Structures get points for using local materials, incorporating alternative energy systems, reusing building components, and even for using landscape plans that cut down on the need for fertilizers. Some level of LEED certification is becoming common for industrial and commercial buildings, but it is just starting to filter into the residential home sector.
Matt Johnston and Kim Rostan are in the middle of a complete remodel of the property. They’ve gutted most of it, but have carefully sorted all of the material into piles so as to reuse as much of it as possible (and score extra LEED points for that). They figure on resuing about 70% of the original material, and are adding new windows, extra insulation, and a rainwater collection system for use in irrigation. Their green upgrades should save them almost $1700 a year in energy costs. And, when it comes time to sell, they’ll have the best of both worlds to offer- the historic character of a beautiful Queen Anne in a historic district, and the energy efficiency of a brand-new home !
If you’re interested in what you can do to improve your historic home’s energy efficiency, check out the National Trust’s 10 Green Home Tips, which also includes links to other National Trust articles on energy-efficient windows and other recommendations. Also, check out “Green Restorations for Historic Homes” on SmartHomeOwner. And if you’re selling your property, even using a few of these tips might give you something worth marketing to a growing audience of green buyers out there.