Retrofit 'Green'

In terms of improvements to historic buildings, we must proceed with caution, making improvements without damaging historic fabric or integrity.

"The stewardship of historic buildings, first and foremost, requires that we do no harm in safeguarding our physical heritage." - Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal for Preservation, Goody Clancy

The survival of historic buildings is only a testament to the quality of their materials, the level of craftmanship in their construction, and the love and perpetual care of their owners.

When retrofitting historic buildings, we must proceed with caution. We must recognize the value of existing original building fabric. Historic building materials and construction have stood the test of time. The repairability of these original materials, like wood windows or masonry construction, is possibly the 'greenest' quality of traditional buildings. "Life spans for new buildings are often 30-40 years vs. more than 100 years for most historic structures."- The National Trust

In historic bulidings, this maintenance cycle spans many years and usually many owners. As we work with these bulidings, we continue to repair existing original fabric, and in doing so, we extend the serviceable life of these materials. Not only is this recycling inherently green, but it also eliminates the environmental impact of the fabrication of new materials.

Over the last few decades, new synthetic building products have emerged on the markets. Vinyl, building wraps, sealants, plywood and resins have been embraced as cheap alternatives to traditional building materials, but the cut in costs also suggests a significant cut in quality, and synthetics have much shorter life spans. We must scrutinize these materials when they are marketed as 'green.'

"New green materials should be reviewed with consideration to the full cycle of extraction, production, service life and disposal. Each of these stages has environmental impacts and contributes to resource depletion, water and energy consumption, waste production and air emissions. Unfortunately, all that is called green may not be green and as historians know only too well, the miracle products of one age, such as asbestos, lead paint and pcb laden caulks, are often the problems of the next." - Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal for Preservation, Goody Clancy

Application of these new materials tends to cause problems in historic buildings. For example, an historic wooden frame house "breaths" by the materials expanding and contracting, allowing necessary air flow. Application of synthetic materials over these natural materials seals off air, traps moisture, and totally disguises the damage that may be occuring underneath. Thus, the use of synthetics should be limited.

As owners, builders, architects, designers, and occupants, we must be extremely cognicent of just how we intervene.

Responsible Retrofits

Solar panels provide the perfect photo-op for 'green', but in traditional buildings, sometimes green is not as easily identifiable. In many ways, going 'green' in an historic home is all about relearning old lessons. Instead of focusing on all of the green gizmo's, from solar panels to light sensors and fancy mechanical systems, retrofits in historic homes are all about re-awakening the potential of the existing building fabric and passive mode design features. It is about taking the building back to how it was originally intended to function.

Learn your building.

The design intent of retrofit project must respect the unique historic character that the house has acquired over time.

Honor Quality Materials

Understand and appreciate the durability and quality of existing original fabric. Let this guide the retrofit design.

Research Best Practices

Where repairs or replacement may be necessary, always consider reversibility when introducing new technology and materials.

Practice Preservation

Our evolution in terms of materials, construction and technology sometimes simply do not fit with historic buildings. Preservation celebrates the longetivity of these buildings, and thus, each modification or change requires professional input, scrutiny and considerate application.

In terms of improvements to historic buildings, we must proceed with caution, making improvements without damaging historic fabric or integrity.

“Want to do something good for Planet Earth by reducing your carbon footprint? The best place to start – and to get real bang for your buck – is where you hang your hat.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation