I have a confession to make: I am a preservationist.
I'm nuts about old houses with stories to tell and atmosphere to spare, a passion that may seem at odds with my green leanings. Give me Newport, Rhode Island, with its Anglo-estate-envy or Cape May, with her painted Victorian "ladies." My dad owned a huge three story "summer cottage" when I was growing up in New Jersey that had eight different heating zones. Every time I drive by the old place, my heart skips a beat when I see it's still safely standing. Neighboring mansions haven't been so lucky. It always seemed so wasteful to knock them down.
Fortunately, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, champion of saving residential, commercial and public buildings that have informed the U.S. heritage, is getting its act together when it comes to supporting efforts that make these national treasures more eco-friendly without tampering with their historical value. The fact is, as the trust rightly points out, most of the green building coverage and focus has been on new construction and not on how to convert older properties in a historically, aesthetically relevant way.
The latest issue of the National Trust's mouthpiece magazine, Preservation, is all about green. Plus the organization has offered up some additional resources online.
According to one of the articles, the National Trust has teamed up with the American Institute of Architects, the Association for Preservation Technology International, the National Park Service, the General Services Administration and the National Conference of State Historical Officers to work with the U.S. Green Building Council. Their intention is to figure out how the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principles can be applied to historic buildings. After all, why should you knock down an old building that has stood the test of time and create new materials to replace it? Another question: Is ripping out those old windows really the most energy-efficient option?
If you want a clearer picture of how green technology can be applied to historic structures, take a trek up the Hudson River to Kykuit, one of the old Rockefeller estates. Apparently, the caretakers are purchasing all the electricity from an alternative supplier harnessing wind turbines and other plans are under way to make the property more green-conscious.
Preservation also reports that the Cambridge City Hall Annex up Boston way is the oldest building to earn a Gold rating under the LEED guidelines. The LEED system grants points for various work in certain areas such as energy-efficiency, the types of materials used in construction and reconstruction, and access to sunlight. Here's the great field report on the project.