Historic Construction & Materials

Building with masonry dates back to the beginning of human history. The thick, load-bearing masonry walls that characterize many old structures have endured because of the high quality of the materials and the incredible strength of the construction. They also boast high thermal mass values, meaning they absorb heat and release it slowly.

Masonry construction helps to moderate and maintain relatively constant building temperatures and effectively conserve energy.

Historically, building materials were carefully chosen to accommodate the local climate, and usually these materials were usually sourced locally due to the difficulty and expense of transportation.

Materials with high thermal mass values include brick, stone, concrete, and tile, and we see many of these materials commonly used in historic buildings in Charleston. This is particularly important because the Lowcountry has a long cooling season, and these materials hold their temperature very well.

For example, as sun strikes the surface of these buildings, the building material with high thermal mass can serve as storage for this heat. This prevents temperature fluctuations, keeping the interior space cool and occupants comfortable.
The survival of historic buildings is a testament to the quality of their materials and the level of craftmanship in their construction. This resilience is possibly the 'greenest' quality of traditional buildings.

Green building standards should acknowledge the value of traditional materials & construction.

Today's standards promote synthetic building products as green alternatives to traditional materials.Mass-produced lesser-quality wood products replace traditional timber. Modern cement and bricks have taken the place of man-made bricks and lime mortar. The noticeable reduction in cost also suggest a reduction in quality, but green standards fail to award points for historic buildings already equipped with high quality and resilient materials and construction.

Historic Brick-Making

Invented in antiquity, brick is a timeless building material, used for over three thousand years. When Americans landed in the Lowcountry, they brought with them this ancient skill from Europe. We are blessed to live in a City where examples of brick buildings from many periods of history made out of locally produced brick still stand. And to truly understand and appreciate their value,it is important to recognize the time, labor and energy involved in historic brickmaking.

All over the world, we continue to build in brick – its human scale, rich colors and flexibility in construction have ensured its survival. But the process of making brick has changed-- Historically, bricks were handcrafted by men. Before railroads and before steam power, only humans and animals powered this labor-intensive process.

As early as 1682 bricks were being made in the Lowcountry. The Wando river basin was the center of brick-making activity. It was an important plantation activity, making use of suitable clay and sand.

In close proximity to the Charleston market, bricks met the demand for fireproof building materials. Brick-making was a profitable antebellum industry, and an average two-story 3,000 square foot structure required at least 100,000 bricks.

Brickmaking declined with the abolition of slavery, and the archaeological remains of historic brickyards are vulnerable to regional suburban development.

For more information see "Burning Brick and Making a Large Fortune at It Too": Landscape Archaelogy and Lowcountry Brickmaking, from Carolina's Historical landscapes, Archaelogical Perscpectives, available through the Preservation Society Book & Gift Shop.

Re-Use of Historic building Materials:
Preserving quality & Conserving energy

“According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the energy intensity of buildings constructed before 1960 is lower than post 1960, and the utility costs for historic federal buildings are 27 percent less than non-historic.”  - Jean Carroon , FAIA, LEED AP, Principal for Preservation, Goody Clancy

  “Donovan Rypkema estimates that the demolition of 10,000 square feet of old building wipes out the environmental benefit of recycling 2,688,000 aluminum cans. Yet the importance of resource conservation and reuse as a strategy has not yet permeated the green community. Under the old LEED-NC metric system, the building reuse credits were the least used of all achievable points.” -  Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal for Preservation, Goody Clancy