The “Energy-Saving House” That Saves History—and Maybe Our Future, Too

Posted on: December 10th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

Written by Erica Stewart

Knox Heritage, the National Trust’s citywide preservation partner in Knoxville, Tenn. is demonstrating with their latest project that preservation is not only green, but also on the cutting edge of sustainable technologies. It’s so-called “Green House” historic rehab strives to illustrate how historic preservation principles can be compatible with new energy-saving technologies, keeping preservation at the forefront of advances in building materials and systems.

Knox Heritage (KH) has a long history of acquiring and rehabbing neglected single family Victorian-era homes for re-sale in Knoxville’s historic districts. It’s most recent work is concentrated in World’s Fair Park in the Historic Fort Sanders neighborhood, which is considered an inner-city neighborhood. Here KH has worked with development partners, Cardinal Development and Kinsey Probasco Hays to rehab and sell six historic homes.

In honor of this partnership, the development firms donated a circa 1880s house to Knox Heritage for its rehab, which KH has decided to make its first LEED-for-Homes-certified historic rehabilitation. That Knox Heritage chose this house in particular to serve as a demonstration project is poignant. During the 1982 World’s Fair the house was refurbished, along with the six Victorian houses around it, to host visitors from around the globe. It was known as “The Energy Saving House” since it was designed to demonstrate the latest technology for conserving energy.

Unfortunately, retaining the home’s historic fabric was completely disregarded. Nearly all of the interior detailing was removed and the original floorplan was altered drastically. All the windows were replaced. The east and north sides of the house sprouted a metal and glass atrium and solar panels and skylights were visible on the roof. The priority was clearly new technology, not the house’s historical integrity.

Today, with funding from the City of Knoxville’s Solar America Cities program, (a U.S. Department of Energy program bestowed on 25 cities) and numerous sponsors (including the National Trust Loan Fund), volunteer experts, and supporters, the house will again be a demonstration of energy efficiency—but this time, while also respecting its historical character. In fact, great care is being taken to return historical elements to the property using salvaged materials, including historic trim, doors and flooring. Exterior siding and roofing and windows have been replaced with historically appropriate and salvaged materials.

Equally painstaking has been the selection of energy-efficient systems and solar technologies that maintain the aesthetic appeal and historic character of the property. For example, the hot water system is being installed under the roofing material to gather thermal energy, and a photovoltaic film—the same color as the traditional standing seam metal roof—will be applied to generate power that will be purchased by the regional power company. This is a solar solution that many historic homeowners can consider and is fully approved by the Knoxville Historic Zoning Commission.

Recycled materials that were manufactured within 500 miles are also being sourced for the project, such as recycled cellulose insulation. The product has a small carbon footprint, reduces heat loss and provides a useful sound buffer for its future residents. Other touches include low-flow water fixtures and CFC lighting.

But it isn’t only the future residents who will benefit from this effort. To ensure greater awareness of green technology that is compatible with preservation goals, Knox Heritage has organized educational sessions for local/regional contractors and open house events for its members and local citizens. Furthermore, the project is part of a study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to measure its energy-efficiency (Knox Heritage is hoping to demonstrate a 50% reduction in energy consumption). The Green House’s data will be compared to other homes in the study that have been rehabbed in a similar fashion: making the building more air-tight; weatherizing the attic, crawl space and windows; upgrading heating and cooling units, water heaters, appliances and lighting; and installing solar technology.

Regardless of the actual study results, the Green House stands as an opportunity for other builders, architects and homeowners to learn from and as an inspiration to incorporate its lessons.

Now that would be a green house effect to be proud of.

For a video tour of the project and the Green House’s supporting cast and star performers, watch Knox Heritage’s You Tube video below. Find Knox Heritage on Facebook, Twitter or on the web for updates.

(oh, and that gold geodesic dome visible in the video is not a rooftop installation on the Green House, but rather the “Home of the Future” built for the 1982 World’s Fair.)

Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s community revitalization department.

Editor's Note: Due to an Internet outage at National Trust headquarters, this was posted by phone. Apologies for any typos or errors with the photo or video. Links and author information will be added when the Internet is again available. Updates made December 13, 2010.

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One Response

  1. Melo

    December 14, 2010

    *(oh, and that gold geodesic dome visible in the video is not a rooftop installation on the Green House, but rather the “Home of the Future” built for the 1982 World’s Fair.)*

    Afraid not – that’s the Sunsphere – but still not attached to the building.