The two don’t always pair well, especially if maintaining the home’s historical and architectural integrity are important. Add the rules and regulations imposed by a historic district into the soup and the result can be one huge headache.
“Not necessarily,” said LEED certified architect Juana Gómez of Lawrence and Gómez Architects. She insists it is possible to achieve both successfully, but it has to be done with care and consideration, weighing what makes sense for the home and the owner’s wallet.
“Energy efficiency is a big part of greening up an older home, and the best value is in insulation,” she said. Historic homes – even those that were built mid-century – are far less insulated that newly built homes and can leak a lot of heated air into the great outdoors during the cold winter months. According to a report by the National Trust for Historic Homes, a properly installed blanket of attic insulation can reduce energy costs by as much as 50 percent.
It’s important to look at other factors before adding insulation. Without proper ventilation and vapor barriers in place, insulation can retain moisture. Damp insulation can become a breeding ground for mold and loses its effectiveness at mitigating heat loss. The Department of Energy provides important information about moisture control and ventilation when embarking on any insulation project.
Windows can be a real bugaboo, especially when a home is located in a designated historic district. Because they are so integral to the architectural integrity of a historic home, windows often cannot be altered. The frames must stay intact. Even the aged and wavy glass can have a permanent home in historic windows.
“The appearance of historic windows are a huge deal. But more window manufacturers are making windows that are period appropriate. Every project can be negotiated to some degree with historic districts,” said Gómez. “If the original windows are in poor shape and it makes more sense to replace them, you may be able to get permission to switch them out.”
And if not? Is the homeowner relegated to living with the wind whistling through the house?
“If you absolutely cannot replace the windows (because of their historic value), one of the strategies is to install interior storm windows for added insulation. But that’s with the very strictest regulations,” said Gómez. “Old windows are tricky. Double-hung windows have a weight system built into the frame, and that creates an open shaft of cold air.”
Just as window manufacturers are making windows to match many architectural styles, lighting manufacturers are designing energy-efficient lights that fit into practically any décor. Gómez recommends thumbing through a copy of Rejuvenation Lighting’s catalog. It features reproductions from eras ranging from colonial through mid-century modern, all of which can accommodate today’s more efficient light bulbs.
Gómez also recommends installing dimmer switches, which also can hearken back to bygone eras. Schoolhouse Electric & Supply as well as Rejuvenation sell them; homeowners don’t have to introduce a sleek modern dimmer switch into their era-specific design theme.
“And daylighting,” said Gómez. “Look at ways to bring natural light into your home. It’s one of the easiest ways to make a home more sustainable. In the winter, natural light can help heat the interior of your home, which reduces its carbon footprint because you’re using less heat. Use natural light whenever possible to light rooms so you don’t have to turn on lamps. This small step can go a long, long way to greening up a house.”
Historic homes do pose more challenges when the owner wants to increase its sustainability. But it is doable. With forethought and consideration, you can have your house and green it, too.