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Making Historical Buildings More Energy Efficient

Historical buildings that need restorations or energy updates have an added concern when trying to adhere to environmental considerations, since conserving the customary aspects of the space is also important.

Preserving and operating antique sites can be costly, and renovating them can be even more so.

However, as pointed out by South Carolina’s Preservation Society of Charleston, existing historic buildings are generally already green in nature, making them ideal for an efficiency overhaul. When compared to the financing and energy consumption required to replicate a new structure on the same scale, redesigning or performing energy audits to update problem areas is most often a better option than rebuilding portions or entire structures.

Most preservation worthy buildings were constructed with durable, local materials from the time period in which they were built. Also, design techniques with an understanding and consideration of natural heating and cooling sources, like sun and wind tendencies, were normally resourcefully incorporated in the layout.

Since new construction is responsible for 40% of the raw materials used annually, maintaining features and materials as well as preserving quality work is normally the most sustainable option. Many historical sites have earned their enduring spot due to the skillful assembly that have made the building last over the years.

Looking at construction from this point of view applies the model of embodied energy. Emerging in the 1970’s when energy consumption was at crisis level and being scrutinized, the embodied energy notion brought attention to the already expended energy, both industrial and human, that was put into a current structure. Inspecting materials for solidity as well as lasting environmental impacts helps create a more sustainable design.

One way to make an older structure more energy efficient is to perform periodic energy audits, which are usually done professionally on this scale. Simple solutions like locating and fixing leaks, updating windows and incorporating renewable resources like solar energy, can be applied to drastically reduce energy use.

The city of Boulder, Colorado has two pdfs available with information on preserving historic buildings. Volume 1 looks into principles and design approaches into making a historic structure more efficient. Volume 2 deals with the technical aspects of energy efficiency.

Providing past representation while adhering to current ecologically conscious designs is a way to significantly reduce energy consumption and ensure historic buildings will be around for many more years of appreciation.

Image Source: Preservation Society of Charleston

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