Written by Jeana Wiser
One of the exciting things about our work in the Preservation Green Lab is learning about all the great work communities across the country are doing to embrace innovative approaches to greening their older and historic buildings. The latest example we came across? The Green & Main initiative in the historic Sherman Hill neighborhood of downtown Des Moines, Iowa is conducting an exciting energy efficient retrofit pilot project in a small scale, Main Street setting. This initiative is giving new life and purpose to historic buildings and neighborhoods through its holistic and sustainable approach to renovation and energy retrofits in buildings that may otherwise fall into decay.
The c. 1930’s building chosen for Green & Main’s pilot project originally served as a neighborhood grocery store and is one of the few corner store sites that still exists in this urban neighborhood. In 1979, the building was surveyed as part of the Sherman Hill Historic District National Register Nomination, but was abandoned shortly thereafter. Understanding the vital role that older buildings such as this one play in helping to create the identity for a neighborhood or town, the Green and Main team will return this historic, vacant building back into service for the community as a mixed-use, energy efficient structure that will accommodate services, education and living space. The demonstration project is following the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings, as well as the standards for LEED Platinum certification developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, demonstrating once again that green and historic preservation can and do work well together.
Aiming to achieve LEED Platinum Certification, the energy performance goals for this project are extremely ambitious:
- 75% improvement in energy efficiency
- At least a 40% reduction in water consumption
- Production of at least 15% of the building’s energy needs with on-site renewable energy
The Green & Main initiative is also using this project to serve as an opportunity for community education. Just last month, the vegetative roof was installed and the community was invited to participate, attend, and learn more about the installation on the Green & Main project blog. The initiative’s sustainable emphasis will not be over when the renovations are finished, rather it will continue as the future occupant of the building will be a local, community-minded women’s health clinic.
The leadership team is also thinking about how to leverage its work to encourage more retrofits of smaller, Main Street style buildings within and beyond the community. Currently, 73% of the United States’ existing commercial buildings are less than 10,000 square feet, not much unlike the Green & Main building, yet these buildings are greatly underserved in the energy efficiency and energy retrofit market. Not only do owners of smaller, older buildings often lack the tools or information on how to retrofit their buildings, but also the funds needed for the high up-front investment. The Green & Main initiative will help building owners overcome these obstacles by providing a set of ‘blueprints’ as to how other, similar buildings can pursue energy retrofits and renovations to drastically reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in an affordable, sustainable manner.
The Green & Main initiative is important not just because it’s serving as a replicable guide for how to go about smaller, older building energy retrofits, but because it’s helping to promote the understanding that preservation and sustainability can and do go hand in hand.
Jeana Wiser is the Research Fellow for the Preservation Green Lab at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.