Written by Matthew Pelz
Galveston Historical Foundation is gearing up for our annual Historic Homes Tour event during the first two weekends of May. The event provides visitors an opportunity to see the interiors of houses usually closed to the public, and each year we select one of our ongoing Revolving Fund projects to feature as an in-progress project. It allows people to experience a restoration process instead of a result that, while an effective promotion for benefits of preservation, is limited in its potential to educate homeowners on the decisions they might face should they choose to take on a preservation project of their own.
The Preservation-in-Progress house has played this role as part of our Homes Tour for several years, but this year we have expanded the endeavor and raised our goals. Whereas we normally focus our efforts on stabilizing a structure before selling it to buyer interested in continuing the build-out, this year we are featuring a house (damaged in September 2008 by Hurricane Ike and moved 17 blocks by GHF in February 2010) that we will finish ourselves as part of our Green Revival program. It gives us a much larger set of preservation issues and potential decisions to underline for our visitors. We can address topics as large as heating and cooling systems and structural reinforcements and as small as cleaning products and paint stripper options. The expansion of goals means that more work and greater preparation is required. The greatest challenge we have given ourselves, however, is to rehab the 1891 house to meet the Platinum level of the LEED for Homes rating system.
If we had to name the primary goal of the project, it would be to show that sustainability and preservation are not mutually exclusive. We have studied sustainable preservation, which seeks to find common ground in the two distinct movements. As much as we have relied on experts in this movement, the redundancy belies the awkward attempts to force new links between to concepts that are, by definition, virtually indistinguishable. As shown in life cycle assessments, any sustainable project that fails to preserve usable buildings and teach basic maintenance has failed to meet its own criteria of limiting environmental impact through conserving material and minimizing waste. Similarly, preservationists can restore houses or revitalize neighborhoods, but if we leave no room for technological advances then we limit the usable lifespan of any building we protect.
Sustainablility and preservation really are two versions of the same thing. Therefore, to recast historic preservation as environmentally responsible, the biggest step is to continue efforts to educate people on what preservationists have been doing for years. For GHF, our biggest yearly opportunity in that effort is in the Preservation-in-Progress house of the Historic Homes Tour. Given the scope of the Green Revival project, this year’s opportunity is one of the biggest we have had.
Matthew Pelz is a Preservation Services Project Coordinator, Level II at the Galveston Historical Foundation.