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Windows are the most visible, yet most commonly underappreciated, components of older and historic homes and buildings.

In addition to adding beauty and character, original windows serve a great purpose -- they connect the outside of the building to the inside and, as an integral part of the architecture, offer invaluable clues to a building's history.

Despite this value, however, historic windows often get the blame for a building’s energy loss. Most often, people jump to replace their historic windows because a) companies promise that their replacement windows will save clients time and money, and b) it’s promoted as the "green" thing to do. In fact, a thriving industry has grown around this perceived need to replace rather than restore.

The latest report from our Preservation Green Lab in Seattle, Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement, tackles this unfortunate perception head-on. The study examines multiple ways you can retrofit (read: modify) your historic windows for better performance, and outlines each option’s energy, carbon, and cost savings across a variety of climates.

The heartening result: Retrofits for historic windows perform comparably to new replacement windows, and almost every retrofit option offers a better return on investment (at a fraction of the cost).

For more facts and figures, we encourage you to read the full Preservation Green Lab report. In the meantime, check out the top 10 things you should know about retrofitting your historic windows.

1. Include retrofitting in your cost-benefit analysis.

As you’ll see throughout these tips, retrofitting historic or older windows has numerous, measurable benefits. Still, not every old window needs to be saved, so it can help property owners to ask these questions as part of their initial cost-benefit analysis:

  • Are my windows an important architectural or defining feature of my building?
  • Are there ways I can retrofit my windows to achieve greater energy efficiency?
  • Will replacement windows last as long as my originals?
  • Are there more cost-effective approaches available other than replacement windows?
  • Will replacement windows fit the character of my property or detract from it?

2. Tackle other energy-efficiency measures first.

Just as windows are a part of your whole house, so should they be part of a whole-house solution to cutting back on energy use. As we discussed in a previous 10 on Tuesday, first do an energy audit of your house, preferably with an experienced professional. They can help you evaluate energy-saving solutions, the proper order for implementing them, and estimated costs. Then consider what additional efficiency gains or energy savings retrofitting your windows can offer.

3. Retrofits have better returns on investments than replacement windows.

Window retrofits such as cellular shades, storm windows, and insulating shades can achieve energy savings comparable to replacements at a much lower cost. Interior storm windows also reduce potential exposure to lead-based paint, while exterior storm windows help extend the useful life of historic windows by offering protection from the elements.

In comparison, replacement windows may offer high energy performance improvement, but the upfront costs are substantial and are not rapidly recovered through savings in energy bills.

4. The range of energy performance for retrofit options varies significantly.

The highest performing retrofits include interior window panels, exterior storm windows, and combining insulating shades with exterior storm windows. The performance of these measures varies significantly depending on the climate in which they are installed (see next tip).

Weather stripping was found to have the lowest energy cost savings and a low average ROI relative to other window improvements. However, the study determined that when homeowners install the weather-stripping themselves, it produces a higher return than any of the other window options studied.

5. Take climate into consideration.

The best retrofit option for Phoenix may not be right for Chicago, given the difference in their heating and cooling needs. For example, in places like Chicago that rely more on heating, insulating cellular shades helped reduce heat loss (even more so if the window also had exterior storm windows).

Meanwhile, if you’re in a place that relies more on cooling systems, like Phoenix, consider whether exterior shading, such as overhangs, trees, or nearby buildings, is present. If these elements are already shading the windows -- or if windows are not oriented toward the sun -- the windows will receive minimal or no cooling benefit from a retrofit.

6. Take matters into your own hands.

Perform high-return, do-it-yourself installations first, where possible. Weather stripping (good for old, drafty windows) and interior surface film (good for homes with big cooling bills) generate immediate savings at a low cost and don’t prevent you from adding other cost-saving retrofits later.

Taking a phased approach to window upgrades -- focusing on the highest returns first and using savings to pay for future improvements -- can eventually lead to long-term savings of money, energy, and carbon emissions for older homes, even for households that are on a tight budget.

7. Saving existing windows is greener than producing new windows.

Keeping existing windows saves the energy and resources needed to create new windows. Like any product, the production of replacement windows requires materials, and these materials generate CO2 and other environmental hazards from the extraction, manufacture, transport, and disposal processes. Retrofit measures also require materials, but are often less materials-intensive and so impact the environment less than an entire window replacement.

8. Saving windows preserves a home’s character.

Historic windows were custom fit to their original openings and often have sizes and shapes not found today. Replacing them usually requires changing the size and/or shape of the opening. So while standard-sized new windows might save on operational costs, they’ll com¬promise the character and historic integrity of a home with smaller windows, less light, distorted proportions, and trim that doesn't match the opening.

Moreover, changing the opening’s size or shape decreases the chance that new stock replacement windows will fit well. The resulting gaps around the windows will be just as (if not more) drafty as the historic windows they’re replacing.

Tip: The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and The Secretary of the Interior’s Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings can guide you on how best to approach the preservation of windows in historically designated homes, or homes that may be eligible for listing.

9. Older windows are built with high-quality materials.

Wood windows made prior to the 1940s are likely to be made from old growth wood -- a stable, dense wood that mills well, holds paint and stain well, is not as attractive to insects, and has natural rot resistance. Also, the wood was most likely harvested locally, making it better suited for local climate conditions.

10.    Older windows can be repaired.

Traditional windows are made from individual parts. Each piece -- the rails, stiles, muntins, stops, sill, stool, jamb, etc. -- can be individually repaired or replaced in kind. Vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, and composite windows are manufactured as a unit, and the components generally cannot be repaired. When a part fails, or the insulated glass seal breaks, or the vinyl warps, the entire unit must be replaced.

Bonus benefit of older windows: Repairing and increasing the energy performance of existing wood windows is good for the local economy, as hiring a window repair specialist to refurbish windows creates skilled local jobs.

So, as you can see, historic windows have a lot going for them, and the more you understand what options are available for improving them, the better you can protect your building’s character -- and your wallet’s health. Read the Preservation Green Lab report to learn more.

For a more detailed report summary, check out Preservation Leadership Forum's post Old Windows Are Worth It.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

A Fresh Start for Pittsburgh's Bakery Square

Posted on: September 26th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Bakery Square in Pittsburgh, PA is having a sweet second act. Thanks to a preservation-minded redesign by firm Strada LLC, this former Nabisco factory has traded baked cookies for browser cookies and become the LEED-certified home for several technology tenants, including Google's regional office.

We chatted with John Martine, founding principal and lead design partner at Strada (not to mention a preservationist), about striking the balance between preserving a building's heritage and adapting it for modern use.

The exterior of Bakery Square as it appears today.

Tell me about Bakery Square’s history. What was the building’s former function?

It was built in 1917-1918 as a bakery factory for National Biscuit Company, later known as Nabisco. Crackers and cookies were made at this particular Nabisco plant until it closed in 1998. The building was then purchased by the Atlantic Baking Company in 2001, which continued to operate it as a bakery until 2004. The smell of baking cookies was a sweetly memorable landmark in the East End neighborhoods surrounding the factory for many years.

What is it now?

The building is now the major office building and anchor of a mixed-use complex of offices, retail, hotel and a parking garage known as Bakery Square.

What was your role in transforming Bakery Square into the office and retail hub that it is today?

Strada's primary role has been to transform most of the Nabisco building into office space for a variety of technology companies. Initially, Strada was commissioned by Google to design the two uppermost floors, six and seven (which is partially a mezzanine), into offices for their growing Pittsburgh staff. This effort was quickly followed by Phase 2, with additional designs for Google’s expansion on the fifth floor.

In addition, we are completing interior architecture for other technology tenants including University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Technology Development Center and Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute. The building is now 100% leased by technology companies.


The 6th floor of the Nabisco Building before construction.

What were the benefits (and drawbacks) to adapting the cookie factory into spaces for technology companies?

There were many benefits in adapting this factory space for contemporary office use. Users like Google are drawn to the open floor plans, natural light and materials, and aged character of historic structures -- they fell in love with the scratched and worn wood floors that show the patina of 90 years of industrial use.

There is abundant natural light because of the expansive fenestration already in place, which helped to achieve LEED for Interiors Gold certification. And unusually generous floor to ceiling heights allow for a greater feeling of openness and provide ample space for the necessary mechanical systems so they didn’t become a visual distraction. In summary, there were far greater benefits than drawbacks.


The same view of the 6th floor after completion. In the foreground is a cluster of workstations with steel and brick conference towers beyond.

What were the challenges you faced in preserving some of the building’s original features while making the space tech-friendly for its new tenants? How did you overcome any of these challenges?

For the most part, we stripped the building's interior spaces bare of equipment, exposing the bones of the industrial floor plates and the structure. The design team devised a strategy that took full advantage of the existing post-industrial space with its high ceilings, amazing natural light, and quirky features.

The existing 60’ wide x 200’ long x 30’ high open space, with its trussed ceiling, lent itself well to forming the foundation of a one-of-a-kind “wow” factor. The team placed several large architectural elements within the vast space to enhance the visual and spatial experience of it. Elements included a curved lecture hall with viewing gallery, several one- and two-story conference towers, a giant cargo net hammock, and a bamboo forest with 10’-high cascading water walls.


This open-circle seating area on the 5th floor, known as the Think Pit, provides an ideal space for collaboration or relaxation.

However, salvaging all of these elements created obvious challenges -- for example,  auspending a 20’ x 20’ cargo net hammock from an existing concrete truss spanning 60’, and reinforcing 5’-deep beams to support an exterior roof deck.

What will the building’s rebirth mean for the neighborhood and the city today?

The project has been a huge success for the developer with the attraction of immensely desirable tenants like Google, and the building is now fully leased. Bakery Square has also become an important anchor in the revitalization of the East Liberty section of the city that was historically the second largest commercial center in Pittsburgh, but suffered badly from the effects of urban renewal in the 1960’s. It -- and other projects like it throughout the city -- are a testament to the enduring economic, aesthetic, and social value of historic structures.


The flooring material of this 5th floor cafe is made using scraps left over from the furniture industry.

What’s the next chapter in Bakery Square’s story? Has it inspired other preservation or development stories nearby?

As luck would have it, a major development site has come available directly across the street from the Nabisco building in the form of a decommissioned middle school built in the 1970s. The developer of Bakery Square is in the process of acquiring this 13-acre site for the next phase of development, Bakery Square 2.0. Although this will be new construction, it will expand the mixed-use character of Bakery Square by adding residences, as well as new office buildings, to the project. Strada is the master planner and urban designer for this next phase.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

[Interview] Morgan Devlin, Preserve Rhode Island: Rhody Rules the Roost

Posted on: September 21st, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Morgan Devlin's favorite new colleague is ... a rooster.

As marketing manager for the Historic Sites Coalition of Rhode Island, Preserve Rhode Island, Devlin is part of the team behind a colorful, cartoon rooster named Rhody the Rambler, the mascot for the coalition's Rhody Ramble program.


Rhody and a new friend participate in "Learning Colonial Games and Crafts" at Smith-Appleby House in Smithfield, RI.

This new effort, designed to connect families with historic places in Rhode Island, launched over the summer with a coalition of 21 historic sites ranging from working farms to waterfront mansions. The program focused on events for children 5-12 and their families, with activities ranging from concerts to treasure hunts to specialty kids tours. The core concept: create opportunities for families to have quality time together at Rhode Island’s unique places.

Devlin says of Rhody Ramble: "The scope of our project is local, but our goal is to create a program which can have a much broader impact on how historic sites interact with families. Our sites range from small, volunteer-run sites to those with a professional staff. We believe that the chance for wonderful encounters with historic places is possible, no matter the size of your budget."

We caught up with Devlin, a 10-year resident of Rhode Island, recently to see how the families, the sites, and the rooster are faring so far.

What’s your elevator pitch for Rhody Ramble?

The Rhody Ramble is a family adventure to explore Rhode Island’s unique and historic places. It is a great way for kids and parents to interact with local history, even for those who do not consider themselves history lovers. It includes a wide variety of events: concerts, scavenger hunts, festivals and hands-on activities. So there truly is something for everyone.

What burst of insight inspired you to create Rhody the Rambler?

Rhody was a natural ambassador for the program. He was born during a brainstorming session among the staff at Preserve Rhode Island. Once we thought of him, it was clear that he was a perfect representative for our historic sites, as he is a heritage breed Rhode Island Red Rooster.

We also wanted to make sure the graphics spoke to kids and immediately conveyed that this was a program for them. Animals have a universal appeal, so parents connect with him too! We were fortunate to work with talented local graphic designers who brought him to life. At one point, I had several possible Rhodys hanging on my office walls, but he quickly became the favorite.

We are all very fond of Rhody, including our partners who immediately embraced him. We even purchase a stuffed animal rooster to travel around the state to various events and photographed him participating in the activities, as you can see in the photos. Rhody helped us to share the fun nature of the program and the family-friendly side of the historic sites, which can sometimes be a challenge to convey.


Rhody enjoys some traditional RI johnnycakes at Windmill Wednesday at Prescott Farm in Middletown, RI.

How did the Rhody Ramble help existing historic sites show off different sides of themselves?

By bringing together 21 sites under the umbrella of the Rhody Ramble program, we were able to highlight the fact that family programming is an important part of many historic sites. Since people often do not associate historic places with kids’ activities, creating a summer passport filled with events for families was in itself revealing a different side of many places.

In some cases, it inspired the sites to create new programs for families. A couple examples were the Fly a Kite Day at Watson Farm, a property of Historic New England, and the Explore RI History tour at Smith’s Castle.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for other organizations who are interested in doing something similar in their communities?

Understand your audience. If you wish to draw families to your historic site, think about what will attract them. Review your current programming and see what may be appropriate for children. If you are creating a new event, understand that it doesn’t need to be complex. An outdoor concert, an open house with kids’ activities, a scavenger hunt or even a story hour could be simple ways to draw in family visitors.

Consider pricing that will make it easy for families to attend such as free admission for kids or a ‘per family’ rate. See if there is an opportunity to partner with other attractions for families nearby and create a half-day or full-day experience in your community.

Also, make sure to communicate with families through channels they use. We were fortunate to work with a local family blogger who featured several of our events. Look for the resources that are being used by families in your area. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask someone with kids for suggestions.


Rhody listens to the band at the Concert Under the Elms at the John Brown House in Providence, RI.

Why is it important to expose kids to history and preservation? How does a program like Rhody Ramble reinforce those lessons?

History is exciting. It is the story of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. I love historic places because they embody the lives of people who lived in our towns and cities before we did -- it is the closest we can come to meeting them!

The big misconception is that history is a bunch of dry, dull facts. However, a historic place can bring that history to life with activities like grinding corn, carrying a yoke and buckets, dressing up in costumes or playing traditional games like graces. By introducing children to their history in an engaging way, we can help to build future stewards of our historic places.

I believe the strength of a program like the Rhody Ramble is its ability to reach out to new audiences of families. Many historic sites are run with limited staff and volunteers. Their time is stretched between many different activities. The Rhody Ramble is focused on marketing the great work that they do every day.

If we can help to attract kids and parents to explore a place they have never visited, it may inspire them to return. It may help them to better relate the history they learn in school to their community. It opens the door for many great possibilities!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Go In-Depth with the Preservation Leadership Forum Blog

Posted on: September 7th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Knowledge is power. And in the field of preservation, more knowledge can mean more places saved.

For all our readers who want to deepen their understanding of the latest preservation research, tools, and trends, you  have a terrific new resource at your disposal: the Preservation Leadership Forum Blog.

The Forum Blog is the latest benefit from Preservation Leadership Forum, a network of preservation leaders -- professionals, students, volunteers, activists, experts -- who share the latest ideas, information, and advice, and have access to in-depth materials and training. (Learn about all Forum benefits here.)

Where Preservation Nation goes broad, spotlighting a wide variety of people and places around the U.S., the Forum Blog goes deep with rich, timely content that's "just a little wonky." In its own words:

Our goal is to be your filter -- providing well-researched articles, preservation news and analysis, advocacy information, and links to important stories.  The blog is also a place for you to share your viewpoints and hear from colleagues across the country.   We hope it will spur discussion and inspire solutions to critical preservation challenges.

We encourage you to check it out, comment, and share it as a resource with others doing the good work of preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

 

I enter the [Cooper-Molera] estate and get lost in the archives for what seems to have passed in just a couple of minutes but has elapsed over hours. By midday the sun has evaporated the marine layer and the quaint recreation of a sunny Victorian garden replete with adobe horno and artesian well beckons curious glances from a few lost Japanese tourists. But the house remains locked, and the curious painted plaster volumes of various geometric shapes that together form the homes of three families over three generations remains unseen, untouched, inaccessible. I’m about the only one with a key, alone inside and left to sort through this bric-a-brac. As quiet as a tomb ...

So writes Christian Larsen, a Bard Graduate Center student who worked as the National Trust’s scholar-in-residence this summer through a partnership with the Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC). In particular, he spent time at Cooper-Molera Adobe, a National Trust Historic Site that preserves life from the era when Monterey was part of Mexico to the beginnings of California statehood.

The three-acre site in Monterey, Calif. -- which includes a house built by several generations of the Cooper and Molera families, historic barns, vegetable and flower gardens, and an extensive museum store -- tells the story of ship captain John Rogers Cooper, who immigrated to California in the early 19th century and married into a prominent Mexican family.

But equally important are the stories of his wife Encarnación Vallejo de Cooper; the Diaz family, who owned a portion of the property and had their own home and dry goods store; and the broader hybridization of families, cultures, and styles.


This showpiece saddle from Mexico (c. 1880) is decorated with silver thread embroidery, silver mounts, and intricate stamped leather designs. It was exhibited at the New Orleans World’s Fair (Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition) in 1884-5 and the Paris Exposition Universelle 1889.

Larsen’s assignment at Cooper-Molera was to help catalog the materials that have accumulated since the 1820s when Captain Cooper first moved to the property. He ended up sorting through thousands of articles in the collection. “It was a big puzzle for me to sort out what’s what, from when, and date things, identify the manufacturer, and give them more backstory,” Larsen says.

Before Larsen wrapped up his residency, we sat down with him at National Trust headquarters and asked him about his experiences, discoveries, and hopes for the site.

How did this project come about?

This project comes out of the National Trust’s attempts to uncover stories that have not been told at their sites. They realize that a lot of the sites have had a traditional and/or static story line going on, and that there are sites and objects related to Latino culture they should probably be telling. And the best way to find those story lines is through objects and collections, because they do have intimate connections to Latino story.


These manufacturer markings help identify the saddle.

What did you hope to achieve through the cataloging process?

The National Trust sent me out there to identify what objects in the collection had any relevance -- what was made locally or made in Latin American countries, as well as what materials, craftsmanship, and techniques from those areas might have contributed to the objects and been part of these people’s daily lives.

I wanted to answer: How did the families express their Latino identity through the things they owned? What kinds of things would speak to that relationship of a hybrid family? And you see it in the collection itself -- Victorian-looking East Coast furniture, right next to stuff from China, right next to stuff from Mexico.

It’s a very cosmopolitan, global perspective … and this is in 1820s California. Most Americans think of California at that time as a western backwater, but it wasn’t at all. Even at that time, they were globally connected. This house reflects the glory days of Monterey.

Where do you even start on a project of this scale? Who helped you ‘crack the case,’ so to speak?

I worked with a number of different people, but two groups stand out. I talked to many of the volunteers; they’re the nice little old ladies from the community who sell items at the gift shop. But they have heard many stories over the years and become repositories of the history of the place. Some of it is accurate, some of it is totally mythologized, but it’s interesting to get their perspective, and their thoughts, ideas, and stories gave me leads on where I should be looking.

I also worked with California State Parks, who is the state steward and operator of the site. The rangers have been working with the collection for decades. They don’t necessarily know all the objects’ histories, but they know the conservation history and they have inklings about where to start.


The biombo folding screen is an artistic and decorative form that originated in Japan but took root in Latin America. That the Cooper or Molera families would have such a screen in their collection speaks of continued cultural ties to Mexican traditions and a much more marked taste for oriental wares in California than seen in other regional American households at the time.

You focus mainly on objects and material cultures. How do objects relate to the places they reside?

While we occupy houses, they’re more the repository for our experiences and the things that we live with. But they’re all part and parcel. I don’t distinguish that much between the building and the things in it; I think the building is equally important, and I look at it as a whole, as a complete experience. They all reflect changing tastes and styles change over time.

What do you hope visitors to Cooper-Molera will learn?

I would love visitors to understand the history of 19th century California -- this really crazy time when there are a few different sets of governments, who’s in power, what’s going on, and what daily life was like. It was really different.

You have to make history come alive. You can intellectualize it all you want, but the best way to reach people is through visceral sense. And that’s what sites do for you: You’re in the space, encountering it visually and through all your other senses. How can we give them the smells, the music, the dances? A place should evoke that feeling and give the visitor an intuitive sense of what it was like to live there.

Now the National Trust is re-imagining how to make the site more vibrant and more of a living place with better access to visitors and programming that keeps people coming back. If they can convey a sense of what daily life at that time was like, that would be the biggest takeaway.

Read more about Larsen's work on NBC Latino.


The archeological dig in the Diaz privy/trash pit uncovered shards of this British transfer-printed earthenware. This English Staffordshire ceramic pattern was produced between 1845-51 by Thomas Walker at the Lion Works in Tunstall.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.