The Green House Effect
By Richard Moe | From Preservation | March/April 2009
This is the second special green issue of Preservation. I hope this fact gives you the impression that the National Trust is serious about fostering energy conservation and sustainable development—because we most definitely are. Read the 2008 Green Issue
The powerful connection between preservation and sustainability was brought home to me recently when I visited the historic Smiley Building, a former school in Durango, Colo. As you'll see in Arnold Berke's article "The Old School Approach" in this issue, the Smiley offers an inspiring lesson in how sensitive renovation and retrofit, coupled with an enlightened determination to make good use of original design features, can help a private property owner turn an older building into a model of energy efficiency—or maybe even put it within reach of complete energy independence.
The success of projects like this one, and the potential for others in communities across the country, underscores the importance of a legislative proposal the National Trust would like to see Congress enact into law this year. Recognizing that houses constructed before 1939 use about 50 percent more energy per square foot than those built in 2000, our proposal would expand an existing law—the Energy Policy Act of 2005—in several important ways. The legislation would provide a significant tax incentive to encourage homeowners, especially those in middle-income brackets, to increase the energy efficiency of their older properties.
Owners of older houses have always been the foundation of the preservation movement. The're also the key to the success of any sustainability effort. Making it economically viable for private owners to make their homes more energy efficient certainly helps enhance the buildings' longevity—but this legislation offers other substantial benefits as well. Recent research indicates that a quarter of America's carbon emissions comes from residences, so making homes "smarter" in their use of energy should help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming. Moreover, numerous studies have shown that rehabbing an existing building funnels more money into the local economy and creates more jobs—both temporary and permanent—than constructing a new one. This means, obviously, that by encouraging an owner to rehab and retrofit an older home, thereby conserving resources and sustaining the viability of traditional existing communities, we can not only save energy but also give our hometowns a much-needed economic shot in the arm and avoid sacrificing farmland and open space for sprawling new subdivisions.
The bottom line: Instead of wasting or destroying our resources, including existing buildings and communities, we should be saving and making wise use of them. At its core, that's what sustainability is all about. It's also what historic preservation is all about. Making that connection will help ensure a future for our heritage—and our planet.
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