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The Greenest Building: An Earth Day Homage to the Sustainability of Historic Preservation

April 22, 2013

It’s Earth Day again- a day to put our planet first by conserving water, turning the lights off whenGreen_HP_logo_web we leave a room, and reducing the amount of trash we create. Every year, millions of people worldwide celebrate Earth Day, which is a great thing. But as the old saying goes, Earth Day really should be every day. And more sustainable, environmentally-conscious living should encompass all aspects of our lives- especially our buildings.

Sustainability is the nature of historic preservation. While preservationists still have a lot of work to do helping the general public, and in many cases, even building professionals, to “get” just how “green” preservation really is, it’s only common sense that historic preservation is the ultimate form of recycling. Rehabilitating old buildings not only reuses materials and keeps them out of landfills, but eliminates a majority of the energy consumption that the process of demolition, landfilling, the production of new materials, and new construction necessitates.

Not to mention that older buildings were often designed and sited to take advantage of environmental factors such as sun, breezes, and elevation, all of which can still be useful in reducing energy consumption in today’s world of modern conveniences.

There’s no question: the greenest building really is the one that’s already built. So as you recycle, reduce, and reuse this Earth Day, consider your built environment- how are are buildings you spend your day in contributing to the environment? If you’re in an older building, chances are, you’re subconsciously celebrating Earth Day everyday, just by being there.

Here are some resources that can help you better understand (and tell the world) how historic preservation and sustainability are intertwined:

Preservation New Jersey’s sustainability webpage– PNJ has gathered links to everything from National Park Service preservation guidelines to an embodied energy calculator, all here on one webpage

The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse
– This 2012 National Trust for Historic Preservation study concludes that, when comparing buildings of equivalent size and function, building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction.

Weatherization Guide for Older and Historic Buildings
– It’s true, buildings that were built before a time of air conditioning, high-voltage electronics, and modern insulation materials often need help being efficient. Check out this guide for tips on how to help older buildings better conserve energy.

Why Saving Your Old Windows is the Most Sustainable Approach
– Old windows are the most-maligned feature of historic properties. Yet while typical instinct says that older windows need to be replaced, a constantly-growing body of evidence suggests that replacing windows is one of the least green things a property owner can do. Check out the information above, and below, to learn why.

Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement
– A 2012 study evidencing that saving historic windows saves not only energy, but money.

Visit the PNJ Facebook page and tell us what recycled historic New Jersey building you’re spending time in this Earth Day!

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