Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Help Preservation LEED the Way!

Preservationists are well aware of the confusing disconnect between green building and historic preservation.  For some of us, this is a no-brainer: if you are reusing an existing building, that saves our natural resources, keeps building materials from the landfill, and often maintains some pretty significant environmental design principles like building orientation, wind breaks, energy efficient solid brick walls, and other features.  Unfortunately, many of those in the green building world see old buildings as the enemy that must be eradicated!  New technology is best!  Tear it down!  Build it new!  It can't possibly be energy efficient unless its new!

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an international building and construction rating system being used in many states and localities to develop green buildings.  In LEED's earliest forms, it gave very few points for building or material reuse unless the materials were bought elsewhere.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been diligently working with the U.S. Green Building Council to improve the LEED standards.  The most recent LEED draft is out with a comment period through January 14th.  Check out the National Trust's blog posting to learn more about how you can comment on the new standards.

A great project in our area that brings together historic preservation and LEED principles is the Blacksburg Motor Company building.  This 1920's Art Deco building was built as an automobile showroom and service station.  When Blacksburg needed more space for its Planning and Engineering Department, the Motor Company building next door was a good location.  After restoration and environmental remediation, the building has improved the streetscape while keeping the offices in the walkable downtown, a geothermal heat pump conditions the building, and many historic features of the building were maintained including the tin ceilings and large showroom windows.  The town received  state and federal historic tax credits while achieving a LEED Platinum rating for the building.

Make your voice heard and help preservation LEED the way with more great projects like the Blacksburg Motor Company building by commenting on the new LEED guidelines!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Feel their pane. SaveTheWindows!

Dear Friend,

Cast aside...Rejected...

Craving your attention as you look RIGHT THROUGH THEM!

What did beautiful, old windows ever do to deserve such heartless treatment?

As you read this, homeowners across America are ripping innocent, unsuspecting, character-rich, older and historic windows out of their homes; casting them aside for new models.

Their despair is clear. But the real tragedy is this: The sparkly allure of these new windows is short-lived. Most window manufacturers don't want homeowners to know it, but repairing old windows can actually be cheaper and more energy efficient in the long run. And, greener. 

Before you decide to replace your windows, get the facts. You have a choice.

For too long your windows have suffered in silence. It's time to heed their cries:

Watch SaveTheWindows today and then learn more about how you can save money while saving your windows:

You won't be sorry.
(Today's blog post courtesy of Preservation Nation.) 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Tale of an "Asbestos-Plagued" Home (not ours!)

One thing that really raises my preservationist hackles is when uninformed people make up reasons to tear down or otherwise ruin the character of an old building without consulting an expert.  By the time they've spouted off their opinion, all of the other uninformed people have formed a sympathetic opinion and it is too late for preservationists and experts to enter with the voice of reason.

 My latest hackle-raising had to do with an article in my hometown newspaper that described a house "plagued by asbestos."  Clearly that hits a hot button with most people.  Danger!  That stuff will kill you!  The article continues on about the "environmental problems" of this building and how "something has to be done" and that "the building is a hazard."  

Now, I don't really know anything about this building other than the photograph in the paper and the description in the article, but from what I do see and read, these guys are way off base!  Turns out the asbestos problems is that it has asbestos siding.  Now as far as asbestos problems go, this is one of the easiest to remedy.  Either leave the siding as is or take the dang siding off! 

Asbsestos siding was used from the 1920s through the 1970s and was made by adding asbestos into Portland cement and pressing it into a shingle shape and profile.  Essentially, it was the precursor of today's fiber cement board siding.  Because asbestos siding is durable and encapsulated in the cement, there is very little chance of the asbestos fiber coming free and floating through the air.  The danger comes from breathing the asbestos fibers.  According to the asbestos siding facts website, the siding can be safely removed by taking the precaution of wetting the siding so that no fibers will become airborne, wearing a respirator  and disposable clothing in case any fibers do become free, and disposing of the siding in double bagged and sealed trash bags.  The even more radical plan is to leave the siding be - unless it's damaged, it is not causing any harm, even if you touch it, and it will probably last longer than some of today's alternatives.

It sounds to me like the town really wants this property to augment the nearby playground and has found a way to use EPA funding to clean up an "environmental problem" rather than allowing someone to rehabilitate the property back into a single family home.  Of course tearing down this early 20th century house will change the character of the "center of town" where it is said to be located and, ironically, could cause the asbestos siding to become a n airborne hazard depending on how they choose to demolish the building.  Unfortunately, it's likely an uphill battle for preservationists and the voice of reason at this point.