Historic Preservation and Green Building:
A Lasting Relationship


This summary is a shortened, condensed version of the Full Article.

Executive Summary

This article looks at numerous case studies and specific strategies for combining historic building preservation with green building practices. Although new buildings are seen as more energy efficient than older ones, the difference in efficiency between a rehabilitated historic building and a new building does not always justify the costs of starting over from scratch, if the existing building is structurally sound and well-built. Historic buildings, defined as pre-1936, may also qualify for federal tax credits if renovations meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.

Careful monitoring and computer modeling can help determine the energy performance of a building so that improvements can be targeted. Improve the building’s envelope by adding storm windows, insulation, and green roofs where they won’t detract from the building’s character, as defined by the Secretary’s Standards. Carefully consider building science, as adding insulation can harm the structure of many older buildings, particularly masonry buildings, by reducing their drying potential. Radiant heating and cooling can be both efficient and acceptable in terms of preservation standards. Investment in more efficient heating and cooling systems can pay off quickly in an older building with an inefficient envelope.

Old buildings were often designed with natural ventilation and daylighting in mind, so focusing on green building strategies can involve restoring historic design features. Inefficient plumbing and lighting fixtures should be replaced or retrofitted with efficient alternatives. Follow guidelines and regulations on remediation of hazardous materials such as lead and asbestos, and specify low-toxicity products with low levels of volatile organic compounds whenever possible to maintain good air quality.


Reader-contributed comments related to Historic Preservation and Green Building: A Lasting Relationship - EBN: 16:1. Comments are listed with newest at the top.

Embodied Energy

Posted by John Beeson on Oct 6, 2008, 11:28 AM  
Embodied Energy online calculator.

Now, this embodied energy calculator is based on the "Concept Model" presented in the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation report, ASSESSING the ENERGY CONSERVATION BENEFITS of HISTORIC PRESERVATION: Methods and Examples. Not sure if this is the one EBN examined or not.

For the report:
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Project Image: Gerding Theater at the Armory
(55,000 sq. feet) (5,100 sq. meters)
Project Image: Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center
(70,000 sq. feet) (6,500 sq. meters)
Commercial office, Restaurant, Retail
Now occupied by the Portland Center Stage theater company, the Gerding Theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Romanesque Revival building—which features narrow gun-sight windows and a 100' x 200' clear space spanned by arching Douglas fir trusses—was originally constructed in 1891 to house local units of the Oregon National Guard. To fit 55,000 ft2 of program space in a 20,000 ft2 footprint while preserving the existing roof, the project team excavated 30 feet into the ground. To seismically brace the structure and acoustically isolate two performance spaces, the team built a concrete box inside the existing shell via two 14-foot-wide doors. The immensely challenging process was likened to building a ship inside a bottle.