Posts Tagged ‘LEED’

A New LEED for Preservation?

December 6, 2011

Four years ago the National Trust for Historic Preservation jumped firmly into the sustainability fray with then-President Dick Moe’s speech at the National Building Museum. (Here is my blog from that time.)

The Trust will continue its leadership in this arena next month under Stephanie Meeks when it reveals the Life Cycle Analysis of historic buildings undertaken by the Preservation Green Lab in Seattle. This provides a perfect complement to the Life Cycle Analysis of new buildings recently undertaken by the American Institute of Architects, and one of my own initiatives of late is to try to bring the AIA and National Trust together on these complementary initiatives.

Life cycle analysis takes us into REAL sustainability because it asks the straightforward question: how long does an investment in a building last? My classic replacement window conundrum is a good example. If a restored wood window costs 3 times as much as a cheap plastic replacement window but last 5 times as long, it is cheaper over the life cycle of the building.

The same is often true of other elements from historic buildings, like tight-grained old growth wood, high clay content bricks, real terra cotta, dimension stone, and wall construction with natural thermal properties.

On the face of it, sustainability in preservation is obvious: what could be more sustainable than keeping a building in place rather than dumping it in a landfill and hauling a new one in from the forest? The greenest building is the one already built, as we say.

Shedd Park fieldhouse, William Drummond

But there is a problem in that historic preservation (more properly called heritage conservation) has long been defined in a regulatory way. Trust President Stephanie Meeks has been outspoken in trying to move historic preservation out of the “those who say no” category and I have previously blogged about this issue here and here.

A new angle has emerged, however, courtesy of my longtime friend Mike Jackson, Chief Architect for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which is our State Historic Preservation Office. Mike has also been a leader in talking about sustainability in preservation.

old bank building, Savanna, Illinois

So I lectured to Mike’s class at University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana a few weeks ago and afterwards we talked about Mike’s latest idea. He said I could blog about it, but it is his idea (I like to pretend that there are still viable protections regarding intellectual property or privacy or any of those things. I know! How quaint!)

Mike’s sustainability lectures go on at great length about LEED and the US Green Building Council. But this time he focused on an interesting aspect of LEED. It is not regulatory. USGBC is a private organization. Yet everyone but everyone HAS to be LEED certified and every new building has to get its LEED ratings. This thing has appeared and become dominant in less than 12 years, which is like iPods or iPads or zoning. And none of its is regulatory.

Mike suggested the Trust adopt a voluntary listing program for owners of historic buildings. As precedent, he cited the Texas Historical Commission plaque program, whereby owners voluntarily complete detailed nomination forms for their properties, get certified, and then purchase and display a THC plaque on their building. The cost of the plaque funds the program. There is little protection beyond a 90-day demolition delay, but it is popular and successful.

Hotel Cortez, El Paso, and its THC plaque

This is basically how LEED works: building owners and their architects complete a nomination form, get LEED certified, and then put a USGBC plaque on their buildings. It is a private organization (like the Trust) but everyone wants in on the action. It is a marketing challenge – to create a cachet that everyone wants to buy into – but so is every aspect of the preservation/conservation field.

Every year thousands pay $90 to stand in long lines at Wright Plus, so why not?

The smart thing about this idea is that it allows a non-profit preservation/conservation organization to do what it is supposed to do – save buildings – without mistakenly being seen as a regulator, as often happens with both the Trust and statewide groups like Landmarks Illinois (where I am also on the Board).

Altgelt, King William District, San Antonio. And its THC plaque.

Because we aren’t the ones who say no. We are the ones who offer creative solutions. We are the ones who offer more sustainability than is possible in a new buildings. We are the ones who help communities retain their identity and attractiveness, which leads to reinvestment and thus economic sustainability.

Window replacement numbers

October 31, 2009

Pharmaceutical use in the United States has increased threefold in the last ten years, not because there has been a threefold increase in disease or diagnoses but simply because in 1999 pharmaceutical advertising was deregulated.

I don’t know the exact numbers, but window replacement has gone up dramatically in the same period, and for the same reason. Advertising.
windiw mailers
When my wife and I bought a single-family home in 1996 I received AT LEAST three mailers and one phone call each week urging me to buy replacement windows and siding. I always responded “I don’t believe in that” which threw the telemarketers right off their script. But just as countless television ads for drugs have convinced people that they need them, today every American gets out of bed in the morning convinced that they must replace their windows.
depsto window clsS
The recent economic stimulus that gave tax breaks for replacement windows along with other, more sustainable things didn’t help. It followed the marketing bandwagon, which promotes waste.
depsto window detS
The irony here is MASSIVE. I am concerned about global warming so I throw out all of my windows and put in plastic ones that will be in a landfill in 15 years. Do you know how PVC is manufactured? Do you know how it burns in case of fire? Do you know how it degrades in landfills? The landfills you already stuffed with your historic windows?
stack of wdws
Let’s look at some numbers. First, a radical thermodynamic principle as it applies to the planet Earth:
HEAT RISES. Sure, it is obvious, but you would think heat goes sideways with all the concern for replacement windows. Once you have insulated your attic, you have saved 80% of all the energy bills you are going to save. Thoroughly caulk your window and door frames and you save the next 10%. Replace your windows with brick walls and you still only have a 10% savings possibility. Besides, many new windows – tight as they are – are not installed properly, so the heating or cooling just squirts around the window FRAME. The homebuilders themselves admit that over 20% of windows and doors in NEW houses are installed in such a way that air infiltration still happens through the FRAME.

Now, let’s look at cost, which is another reason people choose plastic replacement windows. Some joker in Geneva sued the city for his right to put in vinyl-clad replacement windows in the historic district. He spent $70,000 on the lawsuit, but more importantly he spent $18,000 on replacement windows. I can guarantee you those windows will not last long enough to save $18,000 on heating and cooling.

The cost differential between a cheap plastic window and a rehabbed window (with insulated glass installed) can be a factor of 3. So, if you are DITCHING your house soon to another buyer or whatever, it is cheaper. If a retrofitted window costs $1500 and a replacement costs $500, well, replacements SEEM cheaper. But in the long run, it isn’t. Those replacements will be funky in 10 years and likely need to be replaced (why do you think they call them REPLACEMENT windows?) in 15, which is when the warranty for the glass unit (forget the sash) runs out. So they cost $33.34 per year. My retrofitted windows will be good for 50-75 years, which means that they cost $20-$30 per year. Plus no hassle of replacement every 15 years.

Now, the guy in Geneva with the lawsuit hobby is 79, so he will be about 94 when he has to worry about re-replacement. He won his suit, simply because Geneva’s Building Department – like a lot of Building Departments across the country inundated with requests for replacement windows – wasn’t requiring building permits for replacement windows.

It is like the doctors being lobbied by their patients for drugs – it is hard to say NO when a trickle becomes a flood. Geneva – like the doctor who learned to JUST SAY NO – has fixed its problem, but Mr. Nothing-Else-To-Do is trying to get the whole landmarks ordinance thrown out, just like that lawsuit enthusiast in Chicago. Given that landmarks laws like zoning laws have been upheld by conservatives who recognized their importance in maintaining property values, I am confident the enthusiasts will lose and have to find a new hobby, but these things take their time getting through the court system.

Heck, it could drag out for years – years measured by the warping, yellowing and offgassing of plastic windows.

the greenest building is the one already built

September 2, 2009

Guess who is finally saying what I and others in preservation have been saying for a while – LEED certification is not a great measure of environmental impact? Actually, it is coming from the horse’s mouth – the certifiers themselves, who found – shockingly – that many of the new green designs did not PERFORM as they were designed. From the New York Times a few days ago:

“But in its own study last year of 121 new buildings certified through 2006, the Green Building Council found that more than half — 53 percent — did not qualify for the Energy Star label and 15 percent scored below 30 in that program, meaning they used more energy per square foot than at least 70 percent of comparable buildings in the existing national stock.”

One of the disadvantages of the LEED system compared to the other systems is that it is a voluntary program that – until now – had no certification process. If your architect or engineer said your system would use 50% less electricity, then you wrote that down and got credit for it. You got credit and you advertised it as a LEED certified building whether or not you ever remembered to turn out the lights. Or look at the electric bill.

There are other systems out there. Canada uses Green Globes, which is more focused on energy use, and both Green Globes and LEED are based on the earlier British BREEAM system. Dunno why, but like television, we get all our good ideas from the Brits. At any rate, LEED focused initially on materials and production, not operations. Which is of course where all the action – pollution and waste – is.

But there is a problem in the focus on use, too. I have often written about the irrationality of the replacement window. I first addressed this issue back in 2001 and have presented on it in numerous venues (Chicago, Joliet, Plainfield, Elgin, to name a few). My conclusion for the last eight years has been the same: window replacement is driven by marketing, not energy efficiency.

It is ironic that the “green” and “sustainable” concern of the last decade has been used primarily to sell tons and tons of mostly plastic products. Energy efficiency in individual products and buildings has improved dramatically, but buildings also got bigger and one is tempted to believe we got a whole lot of Jevon’s paradox – increased fuel efficiency at the micro level leads to increased use at the macro level. Like highways – more lanes means more use and congestion, not less. Jevon figured this out over a century and a half ago.

Plus the hegemony of green marketing has created a massive disconnect between data and interpretation. I was struck by the March issue of National Geographic, which featured a thermographic image of “an older house in Connecticut.” The roof and eaves were red and orange, indicating heat loss. The window panes were blue, indicating little heat loss, and the caption announced the installation of new double-paned windows. The walls were green, indicating some thermal loss, and they were yellow-orange just outside of the window panes – on the window frames.
nat geo mar09s
How was this data interpreted? The caption indicates that the new windows were blue and noted that heating could account for half the energy costs for a house. This is wrong on a whole bunch of levels. First, the thermographic image with the glowing red roof shows the obvious: HEAT RISES. It doesn’t travel sideways. 80% of it goes up, regardless of your windows. There is no way window replacement can save more than 20% of heating costs. What the image showed was that the owners of the house didn’t insulate the attic properly.

Second, the image actually illustrates the biggest fault of window replacement: poor installation. The window frames were glowing yellow and even RED in one portion. This meant that the new tight replacement windows were not preventing thermal loss but pushing it away from the pane and into the frame. Exactly what I said in 2001 and every year since – unless you address the window frame, a super tight window may simply push the thermal loss AROUND the window pane and through the frame. Did they caulk???

What would have been useful would have been a thermographic image of the same house BEFORE they changed the windows. Then we could understand the impact – and skill – of the installation. Why didn’t they address the big issue, the roof?? I’m not surprised that a big time mag like NG goofed this up, because the marketing of replacement windows has inoculated us against a lot of common sense facts we learned about thermodynamics back in grade school. But come on – how can you draw conclusions without a baseline?

The government noted that the peformance of its pre-1930 buildings exceeded the energy efficiency of their buildings built 1930-2000. And those older buildings can be made even more efficient with a little insulation and caulk.

I am glad that LEED is improving – it is coming up with a better list of criteria to account for the embodied energy of existing buildings and fabric. It is now starting to look at performance rather than design. But we all have a ways to go.

HISTORICAL NOTE: I am now in the 4th year of this blog. 248 posts. Read them all here.

Getting the LEED out

February 28, 2009

Reusing an existing building saves 35 tons of CO2 production –

“We can’t consume our way to sustainability” – Carl Elefante, AIA

“Confronting energy reduction with technology in lieu of conservation is short-sighted-
-the problem is conservation is not very sexy and difficult to package and sell. “
Neal Vogel, Restoric LLC

Neal is a longtime friend and colleague and one of several experts who have seen the limitations of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which was introduced this century by the U.S. Green Building Council and has made new buildings more energy efficient. The problem is that LEED at the beginning virtually ignored old buildings, despite the fact that an old building’s carbon footprint is always less than a new one. Much of the “Green Building” industry was driven by marketing efforts to push new products.
Of course this makes sense, because you can get sponsors for LEED if it is focused on flogging new products. What the marketing needs to do is distract your attention from the fact that each green product must be manufactured, packaged, stored and transported by fossil fuels. But the market for those products was enough to drive not simply an industry but a professional training and rating system that certifies both professionals and buildings. LEED has become shorthand for Green in a nation where Green has gone all trendy.
Historic buildings are full of components that don’t require energy for manufacture and distribution but initially LEED gave a mere 3 points out of 69 for inherent conservation. The number for a green neighborhood starts even lower.

Thanks to the efforts of professionals like Barbara Campagna of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Mike Jackson of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, they are coming around to the obvious: it takes less energy to leave something where it is. The greenest building is the one already built. Soon, we hope, LEED will reflect that fact, despite marketing efforts to hide it.
There is a lot of concern nowadays about insulating older buildings as part of the economic stimulus. As I noted a few posts ago, once you insulate your ceilings, you have achieved 4/5 of all the energy savings you are going to achieve. Because heat rises. That is simple and straightforward, but a good marketing effort can still confuse the issue.

A lot of people are looking at insulating walls. Again, there is nothing wrong with the impulse, and in some situations it makes sense. But mostly -like window replacement – it confuses the issue and gets people to focus on 20 percent of the problem. Let me quote Neal at length here:

“You will need to be careful with studying wall assemblies–construction has evolved to compensate for our on-tap energy addiction. I think a good starting point would be load-bearing masonry construction versus veneer construction today. Look at assemblies that are considered too expensive to build today, or only for the very, very affluent. If you look at energy as a stand alone criteria, a historic frame house does not stand a chance against a modern wall assembly in pure R-value. You have to consider the broader perspective, like the fact that plaster can retain 70% of its volume in moisture without being destroyed while drywall can only handle 5%. Issues related to indoor air quality, the growing epidemic of asthma, energy required for packaging, transporting, storing new materials, energy required for demolition and processing debris, etc. As it stands, I try to downplay LEED every chance I get because their narrow view of energy and what’s beneficial for the future essentially requires impractical alterations and replacement of historic materials.

I don’t know of anyone who has gathered enough data of residential building types for comparison. My thought on this at one time was to approach the Historic Bungalow Initiative of Chicago–a building type that I think would perform very favorably with relative minor and practical retrofits–to produce energy data on enough houses to be statistically defendable. I think they compared energy improvements to a few houses over a year but I would like to see them expand the study into a much larger group and then compare the data with a typical modest house built today for the same money and in the same climate. Seems like the Trust could get a lot of good PR in our heavy heating dominant climate with this kind of partnership.”
Rock on, brother. I had an 1872 frame house for a dozen years that performed remarkably well in winter and summer because it had real plaster walls. My current house has real brick walls which kick the crud out of the fanciest fiberglass at Home Depot. But Neal’s point is important: If you only measure one variable, a product manufactured with that one variable in mind (and ignoring all the variables of its manufacture and distribution) will outperform the older technology. But looking at one variable is liking buying a new green product that has to be shipped 13,000 miles: you are ignoring other important variables.

You don’t learn to run fast simply by buying a great running shoe.

You need to look at the entire system by doing an energy audit. You don’t answer the question of how green your building is by adding up all the green stuff you bought and stuck in it. You determine how your building is functioning and how you can continually make it more sustainable.
If the USGBC existed from 1880 to 1930 and watched the construction of Victorian and Progressive Era America they would have been passing out medals with a crop duster to keep up with the brick cavity walls, plaster, dutch biscuits and storm windows. Commercial buildings built before 1920 used 80,127 BTUs per square foot. That number climbed steadily to over 100,000 in the 1980s. Only after 2000 did it come down to the level it was at in 1920.

Neal is right – that quality of construction is cost prohibitive today. But you have to remember that the carbon emissions that came with that construction were released into the atmosphere before the Model T.
Without time travel, a new building can’t compete with that.

NEXT DAY UPDATE: Hey I just got my heating bill – I was on the budget plan based on previous owner – $442 a month. Now? $158. Did I replace my windows? No. I closed them. And I insulated the attic. 110 year old windows with triple tracks. Real brick house with real plaster walls. Historic buildings ROCK!


February 18, 2008

Friday I gave my first Powerpoint lecture on Barry Byrne, although I have given lectures on the only Prairie School architect to build in Europe for 10 years – it was all slides until a couple of years ago. Great audience for the break-the-box lecture series at Unity Temple and kudos to new UTRF Executive Director Emily Roth! Saturday, sold the house. Tomorrow, discussing The Modern with SAIC colleagues, then off to DC to meet with AIA on putting preservation into architectural curricula.

It is amazing how resistant some architects are to preservation. They see it as stifling creativity. Huh? Do you define creativity by how blank your slate is when you start? By how much you get to twist and reshape the world without input from others? Is that dumb or what? Isn’t it harder and MORE creative to devise an architectural solution in the midst of existing conditions? Aren’t there always existing conditions? I don’t get it, but maybe that is because I don’t mind formal and discursive oppositions taken by new architectural interventions into existing fabric. Plus, if blank slates are better for creativity, why does every bit of exurban landscape LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME? I suppose one answer is that architects weren’t involved, but that just begs the question Why Not? At any rate, many architecture schools teach no preservation even though three-quarters of all architectural commissions are for existing buildings.

This resistance is especially amazing in the new GREEN GREEN GREEN environment. How can you run out and get a LEED certification and use it to SELL NEW PRODUCT? How is selling new product sustainable? “I made it out of bamboo so it is renewable.” Yeah, well, I made it out of what was already there. “I used recycled materials” Great – how did they get there? In a fusion-powered truck? My materials WERE ALREADY THERE. Green may be the newest fashion but if architects and others want to prove that they are more than fashionistas they are going to have to embrace a sustainability you can’t buy at Home Depot. You can’t buy sustainability – you have to make it locally, ideally on-site. That’s called preservation.

There is a perception problem caused by numbers. In real estate, people value buildings and their systems and materials and finishes based on age, which makes sense for about 10 years. They talk about a new building as if it were 10 better than a building 10 years old and 100 better than a building 100 years old, but this assumes that all buildings at all times were created with the same lifespan. That is not so. In fact, buildings built before 1930 are generally designed to last for a hundred years or more, from the structure to the windows and doors. Buildings built before 1920 are also more energy efficient than buildings built between 1920 and 2000, on the whole. This actually makes sense if you study history. From 1945 to 1970 we had to build tons of buildings quickly. We had lost a generation of craftsmen, and we had gained a military industrial production system that could churn out cheap buildings quickly. These were not made to last – in fact, they were designed like other postwar consumer products, to become obsolescent so we would buy more and stimulate the economy. They were also built during a rare period in history: from 1945 to 1970 energy was cheap. Energy was not cheap in 1910 and it was not cheap in 1880. But it was cheap in 1960, so we switched from double glazing to single glazing, from plaster to drywall, from subfloors to plywood and from cavity walls to platform frames. The problem is arithmetic. Since we know that buildings 40 and 50 years old are inefficient, we think that buildings 90 or 110 years old must be more inefficient, when the opposite is true. The past does not work arithmetically. A building 100 years old can last twice as long as a building built 50 years ago. This even applies to systems. We have an older boiler heating our house right now and the heating contractor advised against upgrading it to the modern ones that operate at a low and high setting and are thus more efficient. Why did he do that? Because ours already operates on those more efficient settings! That was how they used to design boilers! Like double glazing.

Next time you try on your latest green fashion, see if the mirror isn’t reflecting more than a little history.

Huge Fact

December 14, 2007

Dick Moe, President of the National Trust made a FANTASTIC speech last night on the occasion of receiving the Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum. The basic point: “Preservation IS Sustainability” This is obvious stuff to those of us who deal with old buildings – they have embodied energy and if we want to slow down climate change, we need to save buildings. Dick had some killer statistics which again are obvious if you think about it. An excerpt from Moe’s speech:

“But according to the EPA, transportation – cars, trucks, trains, airplanes – accounts for just 27% of America‚s greenhouse gas emissions, while 48% – almost twice as much – is produced by the construction and operation of buildings. If you remember nothing else I say tonight, remember this: Nearly half of the greenhouse gases we Americans send into the atmosphere comes from our buildings. In fact, more than 10% of the entire world’s greenhouse gas emissions is produced by America’s buildings – but the current debate on climate change does not come close to reflecting that huge fact. The message is clear: Any solution to climate change must address the need to reduce emissions by being smarter about how we use our buildings and wiser about land use.”

PRESERVATION IS SUSTAINABILITY he said. BRAVO! And then Dick talked about looking at the comparative carbon footprints of old versus new buildings:

“According to a formula produced for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, about 80 billion BTUs of energy are embodied in a typical 50,000-square-foot commercial building. That‚s the equivalent of 640,000 gallons of gasoline. If you tear the building down, all of that embodied energy is wasted.”

“What’s more, demolishing that same 50,000-square-foot commercial building would create nearly 4,000 tons of waste. That’s enough debris to fill 26 railroad boxcars – that’s a train nearly a quarter of a mile long, headed for a landfill that is already almost full.”

“Once the old building is gone, putting up a new one in its place takes more energy, of course, and it also uses more natural resources and releases new pollutants and greenhouse gases into our environment. Look at all the construction cranes dotting the Washington skyline, and consider this: It is estimated that constructing a new 50,000-square-foot commercial building releases about the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as driving a car 2.8 million miles.”

“One more point: Since 70% of the energy consumed over a building‚s lifetime is used in the operation of the building, some people argue that all the energy used in demolishing an older building and replacing it is quickly recovered through the increased energy efficiency of the new building – but that’s simply not true. Recent research indicates that even if 40% of the materials are recycled, it takes approximately 65 years for a green, energy-efficient new office building to recover the energy lost in demolishing an existing building. And let’s face it: Most new buildings aren’t designed to last anywhere near 65 years. “

You build a new house and you do more environmental damage than you can undo by never driving a car again.

Then Dick goes after LEED, the admirable system designed to show how green and efficient a building is. BUT IT DOESN”T COUNT RE-USE! D-OH! Here’s what Dick said:

“This emphasis on new construction is completely wrong-headed. The statistics I cited earlier tell us clearly that buildings are the problem – but incredibly, we propose to solve the problem by constructing more and more new buildings while ignoring the ones we already have.”
“Here’s what we have to keep in mind: No matter how much green technology is employed in its design and construction, any new building represents a new impact on the environment. The bottom line is that the greenest building is one that already exists.”
and then the kicker, because the punters always whine about energy efficiency:

“It’s often alleged that historic buildings are energy hogs- but in fact, some older buildings are as energy-efficient as many recently-built ones, including new green buildings. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency suggests that buildings constructed before 1920 are actually more energy-efficient than buildings built at any time afterwards – except for those built after 2000. Furthermore, in 1999, the General Services Administration (GSA) examined its buildings inventory and found that utility costs for historic buildings were 27% less than for more modern buildings.”

This is a big no-brainer for anyone with a knowledge of history. ENERGY WAS EXPENSIVE for most of history, hence EVERY VICTORIAN BUILDING WAS DOUBLE-GLAZED. They also had operable upper sashes for cooling. Energy was only cheap for one historical period – 1945-1970 – and that was when inefficient, single-glazed buildings were built. Dick notes this because it is a real challenge for preserving the Recent Past.

Dick winds it up with emphasizing the climate devastation of sprawl, a topic he brought to historic preservation:

“For decades, national, state and local policies have facilitated – even encouraged – the development of new suburbs while leaving existing communities behind. As a result, an ongoing epidemic of sprawl ravages the countryside, devouring open space, consuming resources and demanding new infrastructure. Look at nearby Loudoun County, for example, where pro-growth supervisors have already approved thousands of new homes, and are considering the approval of thousands more, in a semi-rural area underserved by roads and public services. Meanwhile, here in Washington – and in scores of other cities – disinvestment has left viable housing stock abandoned and schools slated for closing in areas where infrastructure is already in place, already paid for.”

Bravo, Dick! This is momentous. Here is a link to the whole speech.

The wheel is in spin, folks, and historic preservation is part of the axle.


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