By Richard Moe | From Preservation | September/October 2009
Concern over climate change and high energy costs is causing many people to think seriously about ways to make their homes more energy efficient. That's a good thing. Unfortunately, many well-meaning homeowners—including owners of older and historic houses—assume that one of the first things they must do is replace their wood windows. It's not hard to see where they get that idea, given the avalanche of advertisements insisting that the only way to keep a house from being an energy hog is to replace old windows with new ones that are "better," "smarter," "greener."
It's a compelling sales pitch, but not always accurate. In fact, studies show that well-maintained wooden windows can be as energy efficient as vinyl replacements. New weatherstripping may be needed to ensure a tight seal between sash and frame, exterior trim may require recaulking, and damaged panes and putty may need renewal—but these minor measures are sure to be less costly than total replacement. What's more, retaining original wood windows limits the demand for non-biodegradable vinyl, reduces the amount of bulky construction waste being added to our already-crowded landfills, and preserves the distinctive character that makes older homes appealing.
Property owners sometimes need guidance in making wise choices about greening their homes, and the National Trust is doing several things to give them the tools and information they deserve. On Capitol Hill, for example, we're working with our partners to secure passage of legislation that provides grants to help homeowners save money on window repair and other energy-saving upgrades. And at National Trust Historic Sites in New York and Texas, we've launched a year-long project to gather data on how historic windows perform in different climates.
Obviously, improving energy efficiency involves much more than keeping windows in good shape—which is why we've prepared a comprehensive guide to weatherization for owners of older houses and older buildings. After discussing the built-in green features that these structures incorporate—like covered porches to reduce solar gain and big, operable windows to provide natural light and ventilation—the guide presents common-sense suggestions for dealing with insulation and air leaks, roofing and mechanical systems (and, of course, windows) so that they function with maximum efficiency. The guide is available at PreservationNation.org/weatherization, and I urge you to check it out.
As we pursue a way of living that will conserve our environmental, economic, and social resources, we must keep two important points in mind. First, addressing the challenges of climate change and sustainability isn't the sole province of big corporations with high-tech solutions; we all have a role to play, and small steps can make a difference. Second, we don't have to choose between preserving our past and creating a sustainable future. We can do both—and the National Trust for Historic Preservation wants to make sure everyone knows it.
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