Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Do you normally associate Earth Day and historic preservation? By now you’ve probably heard the buzzword combination of sustainability + historic preservation. The greenest building is one that’s already built. (This is credited to Carl Elefante, if you’re wondering.) Read his article  in the Summer 2007 National Trust Forum.

Think about it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that an existing structure does not demolition, removal of materials, manufacturing and delivery of new materials. That’s why an existing building is a money saver, generally.

Would you like to proof for yourself or to convince others of this? Check out The Greenest Building created by the May T. Watts Appreciation Society.  On this site you can use an energy calculator to determine the embodied energy in a building and the energy used and lost by demolition. Compare existing energy v. new energy.

Also check out the May T. Watts blog, The Greenest Building is the one Already Built, which has relevant information, despite its lack of updates. The blog talks mostly about embodied energy and how to calculate it.

“Preservation saves energy by taking advantage of the nonrecoverable energy embodied in an existing building and extending the use of it.”

– ASSESSING the ENERGY CONSERVATION BENEFITS of HISTORIC PRESERVATION: Methods and Examples, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Have you read the National Trust’s position on sustainability? In a nutshell it is this:

Historic preservation can – and should – be an important component of any effort to promote sustainable development. The conservation and improvement of our existing built resources, including re-use of historic and older buildings, greening the existing building stock, and reinvestment in older and historic communities, is crucial to combating climate change.

Browse through the National Trust’s Flickr set called Reuse It! — some images are more heartbreaking than others (like an abandoned school in Montana or an abandoned train depot in Texas), but some are fun (art deco buildings in Iowa). A lot of pictures show buildings just dying for a new use; they are in still sound and in cities and just need a vision.

Aside from the actual building materials, existing structures are already sited with infrastructure and opting for new development means new roads, utility lines, further trips for emergency services and so much more.

Earth Day is about making the earth a better, healthier planet and taking care of our environment. Historic preservation wants to do the same thing. While the environmental and preservation approaches may have differences, they share the overall vision. So this combined movement of sustainability and preservation may be complicated in instances when “green” methods interfere with historic features, but it’s a learning process and we’re on the right track. Like all of the best ideas, it’s a combined effort to see it through.


Let’s not keep repeating the fate of Land’s End.


Old? Green? Wasteful?

By now most preservationists and many more have probably read This Old Wasteful House, the April 5, 2009 Op-Ed piece in The New York Times written by Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Perhaps I am out of the loop lately, but I’ve heard little discussion about the piece. What does everyone think about it, preservationists and non-preservationists?

Let’s take a look at the first and last paragraphs:

NEVER before has America had so many compelling reasons to preserve the homes in its older residential neighborhoods. We need to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. We want to create jobs, and revitalize the neighborhoods where millions of Americans live. All of this could be accomplished by making older homes more energy-efficient.

Before demolishing an old building to make way for a new one, consider the amount of energy required to manufacture, transport and assemble the pieces of that building. With the destruction of the building, all that energy is utterly wasted. Then think about the additional energy required for the demolition itself, not to mention for new construction. Preserving a building is the ultimate act of recycling.

Good stuff, right? It’s the perfect combination of historic preservation and sustainability.  It seems very positive and encouraging for historic homes, as Moe explains that all houses can be just as energy efficient and green as new houses.  He writes that by improving these older homes, wages stay local, homeowners receive tax incentives, and overall the carbon emissions reduction is equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil (saved). 

One would imagine that because the messages of the first and last paragraphs place preservation in such a good light, that the body paragraphs would be just as encouraging. However, upon further reading, Richard Moe states outright that “older homes are particularly wasteful.”  What? Isn’t “wasteful” a word that the opponents of preservation throw at us all of the time? People are often convinced, whether justified or not, that older homes will always cost more money in terms of heating and cooling and upgrades and repairs.  But, does Moe mean “older” as in a few decades and not “historic” as in over 50 years old? A home built 20 years ago is entirely different than one built 90 years ago.  

To Moe’s credit, he does explain that older homes can easily catch up to being as green as the new homes and how it is actually cheaper to “go green”.  Still, while he is promoting the ease of it all, it seems to be too much of a slight towards older homes. Many people would rather have a new home with nothing to think about in terms of energy efficiency. 

On a similar line of thought, read EL Malvaney’s blog post, Green = Energy Efficient?, at Preservation in Mississippi, in response to Moe’s op-ed piece. Interpreting the piece in an insightful manner, he questions the depth and definition of “energy efficiency” while considering that being energy efficient is still consuming energy. Will anyone open a window rather than turn on the air-conditioning?  EL Malvaney also ponders the correlation between historic preservation and this new energy-efficiency/green fad: does being green mean that preservation standards are relaxed? Are preservationists wincing less at the multitudes of new developments if they are “green” building?  It’s a good piece to read and a good angle to consider, one that I had not looked at previously.

Overall, it’s a complicated matter – the balance between preservation and green building. Both going green and being a preservationist require a strong commitment and people who truly care about their natural and built environment.  It is a long process to prove to people that both are affordable, cost-effective measures.  While Moe had the best of intentions, this is probably not the piece that will change the minds of those against historic and/or older homes. It is fitting for those who understand, but I fear someone pulling “older homes are particularly wasteful” out of context.  All homes are wasteful if you neglect maintenance and choose to live with windows closed all year and lights on all day long. Perhaps, we preservationists should remember to highlight the benefits of historic homes (character, details, craftsmanship, established neighborhoods, etc.) while we are promoting the “green” factor.  Together they make a much stronger case for each other, preservation and environmentalism, than they would alone.

Earth Hour Reminder

Saturday March 28, 2009 – tomorrow – turn off your lights from 8:30 – 9:30 pm (your local time) as part of the international initiative, Earth Hour, to take a collective stand against Global Warming.  As the website says, your light switch is your vote. By switching off the light for one hour it represents that you care about the climate and want to see changes and make changes.  Join international landmarks, cities, and people across the world as they speak up for global sustainability.  See last Friday’s post about Earth Hour for more details.


Change is Inevitable. Ugliness is Not.

Scenic America is the only national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated solely to preserving and enhancing the visual character of America’s communities and countryside (quoted from the “About Us” on Scenic America).

Have you noticed that some highways and interstates are more littered with billboards than others? Or that the older highways meandering through the country are being rerouted or dotted with new billboards and developments that seem to disrespect the scenic view? What about the new cell phone towers or windmills – what are they doing to our natural environment and views, or what is left of them?


Issues (click above) such as these are what Scenic America cares about and works to solve and educate the public through advocacy, publications, workshops, and an online resource center. Read Scenic America’s mission statement and its principles and you will understand that they fit in with the rest of us preservationists and environmentalists and planners. Succinctly, (adapted from the Principles page) Scenic America hopes to protect the distinctive character of existing communities, foster respectful new development, encourage regulatory approaches for scenic protection, improve transportation systems aesthetically and environmentally, prevent mass marketing such as billboards, educate the younger population, and engage other entities to promote a more scenic America.

I had never heard of Scenic America until I was perusing the links on PreserveNet, and I’m surprised to learn that pieces of this organization have been around for over a decade (under a different name in the beginning). And it addresses some of the exact issues that many of us discuss time and time again. Scenic America identifies the tangible and intangible aspects of why some people prefer the old meandering highways than interstates and why some places are more eye appealing than others.

And as for “Change is inevitable. Ugliness is not.” – it is the catch-phrase of the organization. The brutal honesty is just what we need. Scenic America is not tiptoeing around its goals. Keep your eyes open for Scenic America in the news. I look forward to hearing of their success. Read long range plans here.

Rain for Rent

Rain for Rent = bottled water, but different? Maybe.


While home on Long Island around Christmastime, my sisters and I noticed a large, blue industrial looking truck with the words “Rain for Rent” on the side. What is it? How does it work?  As it turns out, the idea of renting rainwater goes beyond borrowing big blue trucks filled with water, which coincidentally was the first imaged my mind conjured, however comical it may be.  So it’s a bit more complex than bottled water.  Still, being able to bring water to places that need irrigation? It’s a good idea.

I am not certain that the truck I saw on the Long Island Expressway was from this New Jersey based company, but I would assume that, if not the same, the ideas are similar. According the Rain for Rent website, the company began in 1934 and defines themselves as “setting the performance standard for complete liquid handling solutions”.  After some brief exploring on the site, you’ll see that the company is about moving rainwater and other liquids, whether it is to or from a location.  Projects range from irrigation to storm water cleanup to spill containment and many more. (See here to read about their solutions and projects). Focus areas of work include agricultural, bypass, construction, environmental, filtration, mining, oil & gas industry, oil & water septic, pipeline, pumping, refining, spill containment, and tank.  The company mission focuses on environmentally friendly solutions.

Has anyone heard of this company before?  Similar companies? If they are environmentally friendly, are they perhaps protecting (by default) our cultural and landscape resources (due to things such as their trenchless technology or “no dig” efforts)?  Should this be something considered by additional divisions of industry and technology?

What do you think? Yes? No?  As brilliant as bottled water (depending on how you look at it)?

[image from www.rainforrent.com]

Continued Concrete vs. Asphalt Discussion

A reply written by Jen Gaugler to Concrete vs. Asphalt, one that I did not want to get lost in the comments section. Following the reply is another short discussion, inspired by a reader comment.


Economics and durability aside, I agree that the environmental factors of choosing asphalt vs. concrete are very important to take into consideration. You are right about the heat absorption properties of the two materials being very different. The “heat island effect” is the tendency of paved areas and building rooftops to absorb the sun’s energy and result in the microclimate of that area being several degrees warmer than it would be otherwise. Believe it or not, this can have a big negative impact on the surrounding ecosystem. The albedo, or solar reflectance, of a material is its ability to reflect the visible, infrared, and ultraviolet wavelengths of sunlight. Concrete has a significantly higher albedo and therefore it is definitely better to use it in warm, sunny climates to mitigate the heat island effect. It may be more acceptable to use asphalt in northern climates (like Alaska) where it may help with snow and ice, as you suggested. But I think for most of the continental U.S. it is probably more environmentally sound to use concrete.

However, there are also systems available which are similar to dirt parking lots but slightly more durable (important in some places, for example where erosion may be a factor) and they consist of open-cell concrete systems (to form a grid pattern) with grass in between. This absorbs less heat AND allows storm water to be re-absorbed into the ground to recharge underwater aquifers. Pervious concrete – made with extra large aggregate and little or no sand, to make a very water-permeable paving substance – is another good compromise between durability and sustainability.

And of course the most important factor in decreasing the heat island effect – shade, a.k.a. trees! So lining our streets with mature trees is the way to go!

-Jen Gaugler


See also, an article from The Boston Globe on December 7, 2008, Architect Finds Beauty in the Asphalt Jungle. An assistant professor of landscape architecture  from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design is taking another look at asphalt and our the public views it, since it is our most commonly used landscape. This professor and her students are taking a new look at the “jungle” without vilifying it. One of the projects include “Steamroller Printing.” It’s something that most preservationists, including me, would have never considered; but, to step and work with the existing environment is possibly just as important as our other endeavors. Regardless of opinions, it’s something neat to explore and ponder. See also the onasphalt website. Thank you to reader, Melsiel, for adding a comment with the article.


Bicycle Adventures: Mail, Coffee & the ATM

Hurricane Ike, gas prices, downward economy – there just isn’t a lot of good news lately.  Since I can’t control the news or the weather or the economy, I am at least trying to control how much of my income goes to fueling my car.  Thankfully, I have the option of a flex schedule, which means nine hour workdays, but every other Friday off, translating into 60 miles less per two weeks. It may not sound like a lot, but it does all add up and make a difference, especially when I’m driving around 275 miles per week.  Instead of filling up my car’s gas tank every week, I can go every eight days or so. 

I’ve decided to ride my bicycle whenever possible.  Sadly, this is not possible for the grocery store because I do not own one of those buggies for children that attach to the bike.  (Someday I will!) However, I can easily ride my bike to the coffee shop, post office, and the bank.  And I have been.  For the record, I could walk, but I’m not a fan of walking; it’s either running or biking for me.  And once again, the environment and preservation go hand in hand.

Mail: Riding to the post office is a much better option than driving for many reasons.  1) It takes the same amount of time due to the speed limit downtown, yield signs and trying to find a parking spot; hence it’s quick and easy.  2) I can just park on the sidewalk and lock my bike.  Yes, I lock it because I’m paranoid that someone will steal it even though I’m in the building for about two minutes.  Yet,  on Friday, as I’m locking up my bike, someone parks his car, leaves it running and dashes into the post office.  No one else was in the car. Huh? That was one of those I live in a small town moments.  I’m still locking my bike.

Coffee:  After the post office, I got back on my bike and headed to the coffee shop.  Feeling extra environmentally friendly, I brought along my travel coffee mug.  Once before I had seen a fellow customer fill up his mug rather than use the store bought cup.  I figured that I could at least ask.  To my surprise, the coffee shop worker was more than happy to allow me to fill up my travel mug. And an even better surprise: it only cost me $1.00 for a large 16oz coffee (my travel mug is 16oz.)  Normally, coffee is $1.25 for a 12oz and $1.50 for a 16oz.  This happens to be the cheapest and the best tasting coffee in town.   I’m not sure how much it would cost if my mug were more than 16oz, but I’m sure it would still be cheaper than buying coffee and a cup.

The other exciting part about this coffee discovery was the fact that my coffee mug handle fits perfectly over the handlebars on my bike and it will not spill a drop because it is the superwoman of coffee mugs (it’s pink, by the way.)  This convenience allows for my coffee to stay warm longer, for me to save money and trees, and for me to ride my bike rather than walking to the coffee shop.  (Also, I don’t look like a dangerous fool trying to hold my coffee mug and steer my bicycle without dying.)  Moral of this adventure: bring your own coffee mug and get one that fits over handlebars or in your water bottle holder!

ATM: Today I decided that after riding to the post office, I would continue the extra .75 miles to the bank so I could deposit a check. If it were during business hours, I probably would have gone inside the bank, but rarely do I make it there before 5pm.  Thus, I figured that I could use the ATM.  I got in line behind two cars and waited my turn, thinking about how much gas I was saving, how much pollution I may have inadvertently breathed in, and how I felt slightly awkward at a drive through ATM on my bike.  But really, close enough. Motorcycles can go to ATMs, so why not bicycles.  I continued to feel awkward as someone pulled in behind me, but this person was gracious enough to keep his car at fair distance.  When it was my turn I rode up to the ATM and went about the usual business.  It was nothing out of the ordinary.  I think I’ll do that more often and get over the weirdness, which has to be just a societal construction anyway.

Biking notes: Saturday I repeated the mail-coffee routine but added in the farmer’s market.  My best advice is to ride with some form of backpack so there isn’t anything swinging at your wheels. Most importantly, I obey traffic laws as if I were driving a car and pay extra attention since I know that people aren’t expecting me to be in certain places. Granted, I do have the advantage of living in a small town with a 25-35 mph speed limit downtown, one way streets, and a cycling population, but I still have to be careful.  Not everyone has the luxury of being able to bike places, but if you do, you should try it.  One more thing, I ride a mountain bike around town, not a road bike because I’m not confident enough to clip in and out of pedals whenever necessary.  Being able to put my feet on the ground at a moment’s notice and not fall off my bike is much more comforting.

Here’s to using my bicycle for errands!  I’ll see what I can come up with next.

Learning New Tricks

I’ve always considered myself to be an environmentally conscientious and respectful person, but I also know that there are always things I could/should be doing better.  With gas prices so incredibly high, I have been taking the advice of eco-activitists and considering how to plan my errands.  I’ve started carpooling to work, even though it takes away from my country music singing time (believe me, no one else wants to hear my singing.)   I have reusable grocery bags and sometimes I do remember to bring them to the store – when I do I feel a strong sense of accomplishment.  Look at me and my green bags, I’m helping the environment. I recycle. I’ll always opt for fans over air conditioning and if I could walk to the bookstore, coffee shop, and post office, I would.

But, these revelations beg the question: if it weren’t for the dramatic increase in gas prices, would I be so concerned?  If it’s in response to general well being for the environment like saving trees and preventing pollution, then yes.  However, in terms of carpooling and trying to save gas in ever possible way?  Honestly, maybe not.  I’ve even taken to the point of not touching the gas pedal and just coasting down the 1/2 mile decline to my house.  (It’s gradual – the highest speed I reach is 15mph, the lowest is 8mph. Fyi, I live down a private dirt road, so I’m not causing a traffic jam.)

Despite the annoying rise in gas prices, perhaps this is a good thing.  Maybe more and more people will think of creative ways to save money and gas.  (This is a similar conversation to one of our field school van ride talks.)  Will people move to more walkable neighborhoods eventually?  Will people buy more fuel efficient cars?  How far can we carry this to improve our lifestyles?  It is not going to be an easy change.  I have a hard enough time trying to remember my green grocery bags, but with enough practice and thought, all things become easy in time.

How is this connected to historic preservation?  Stay tuned for the next issue of Preservation in Pink. It is all about living as a preservationist, which will be tied to the going green movement.  We all have so much to learn.  Please share what you are doing.

(For the record, in one month I will be able to walk to coffee shop, farmers market, library, bookstore, and post office.  I’m very excited.)