Tips for Being Green
In your Historic House
This article was written by Michael May, Executive Director of the Nantucket Preservation Trust, and appears on its website where you can download it in .pdf format. Thank you, Michael, for sharing your knowledge of preservation with us. (Photo credit: Julia Raysman)
Tips For Being Green
We think the green movement is on the right track. Why replace building material when the best is already in place? The tips highlighted below are adapted for Nantucket from an article in Preservation News, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
1. The greenest house is the house that is already built. Think about it. The energy needed to manufacture and import new materials is tremendous, especially on Nantucket, where all new materials must be shipped from the mainland. Even the most sustainable materials add to global warming when they all need to be processed and transported long distances. Restoring an old house, limiting the use of new materials, and recycling the old ones—which tend to be better-quality materials anyway—makes a lot of sense.
2. Preserving and reusing old materials reduces landfill waste. Recycling has been shown to not only reduce debris in landfills but also to decrease the demand for new materials such as vinyl (which unfortunately is becoming the product of choice, at least in America). Vinyl is nonbiodegradable and gives off by-products when it is made.
3. Keep original and older windows in place. Studies show that older windows can perform as well as replacements. Historic windows were made to be replaced in part and can be easily repaired. Weather-stripping windows to make them seal tightly and caulking exterior trim around them as well as repairing cracked glazing and putty around the glass will improve efficiency. Reuse other old materials as well—including brick, stone, glass, wood, and slate—when making home improvements. On Nantucket, the reuse of materials has been a commonplace for centuries, so why not continue this tradition?
4. Consider light colors when painting the exterior. Light colors reflect heat better than darker ones. This is also true with roofing materials—although if visible from the ground the historic appearance of the roof should not be sacrificed.
5. Conduct an energy audit to pinpoint problem areas and measure energy savings after you improve your home’s efficiency.
6. Keep doors airtight by weatherstripping, caulking, and painting them regularly. Surprisingly, recent studies suggest that installing a storm door is not necessarily cost-effective.
7. Insulate the attic (below the floor), basement, and crawl space. About 20% of energy costs come from heat loss in these areas.
8. Install fireplace draft stoppers, attic-door covers, and dryer-vent sleeves that open only when the dryer is in use. An open damper in a fireplace can increase energy costs by 30%, and attic doors and dryer-vent ducts are notorious energy losers.
9. Plant trees in your yard away from the foundation of the house. Evergreen trees on the northern and western sides of your property can block winter winds, and deciduous trees on the south and west provide shade from summer sun. Using old photographs of your historic home can assist you in restoring the historic landscape.
10. In summer, open the windows and use fans and dehumidifiers. They consume less energy than air-conditioning, which really is not needed for much of the summer on Nantucket. Many older houses were designed with good cross ventilation, so take advantage of your home’s layout. Restore porches and awnings, where appropriate. Porches, awnings, and operable shutters were intended for shade and ventilation. To save energy, draw shades on winter nights and summer days.