10 on Tuesday

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Green Your Historic Home

Posted on: August 14th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi 8 Comments


Job Corps students help restore Grey Towers National Historic Site to make it a more sustainable facility.

We walked you through 10 easy ways to weatherize your historic home a couple weeks ago. Now we want to help you take it a step further with these simple approaches to making your home more sustainable.

But what exactly do we mean when we say “sustainable,” at least in the context of historic preservation? Well, we’re talking about using what we already have -- in this case, buildings, and the features and materials that make them unique and historic. Many older homes were constructed with energy efficiency in mind (when home owners once had no choice, because things like central AC weren’t an option), so their “environmental friendliness quotient” is already high.

Today it’s up to us, the current caretakers, to continue retrofitting and reusing these places in ways that both honor their original construction and also reduce their environmental footprint in a modern world.

So let’s not waste any more energy -- here are 10 tips for greening your historic home.

1.    Keep original windows intact. Studies show that older windows can perform as well as vinyl replacements. Weatherstrip them so that they seal tightly, caulk the exterior trim, and repair cracked glazing or putty around glass panels. You'll reduce landfill waste and the demand for vinyl, a non-biodegradable material that gives off toxic byproducts when it's made.

2.    Use light paint colors for your house's exterior. Lighter colors reflect heat better than darker ones. Many older homes were typically painted with light-reflecting finishes, so you can be sustainable and accurate in one fell swoop.

3.    Insulate the attic, basement, and crawl space. About 20 percent of energy costs come from heat loss in those areas. Just take care to avoid materials that can damage historic fabric.

4.    Reuse old materials such as brick, stone, glass, and slate when making home improvements. You can also scour local salvage shops to find contemporaneous materials (and save it from going to a landfill).

5.    Plant trees. Evergreen trees on the north and west sides of your house can block winter winds, and leafy trees on the east, west, and northwest provide shade from the summer sun. Use old photos of your house to try to match the historic landscaping. (Don’t have photos? See our tips on researching your home’s history!)

Example of a well-shaded wraparound porch on a historic home in Oxford, North Carolina.

6.    When appropriate, open the windows and use fans and dehumidifiers, which consume less energy than air-conditioning. Many old houses were designed with good cross-ventilation; take advantage of your home's layout. Ceiling fans lower the perceived temperature in summer, lessening reliance on air conditioning and saving energy. And in the winter, they draw warm air down from the ceiling, saving on heating costs. So again, double benefit for one change.

7.    Keep doors airtight by weatherstripping, caulking, and painting them regularly. Recent studies suggest that installing a storm door is not necessarily cost-effective. Better to keep your doors in fighting shape -- and ideally in keeping with the character of the house.

8.    Install fireplace draft stoppers, attic door covers, and dryer vent seals that open only when your dryer is in use. An open dampener in a fireplace can increase energy costs by 30 percent, and attic doors and dryer vent ducts are notorious energy sieves.

9.    Restore porches and awnings. Porches, awnings, and shutters were intended for shade and insulation, plus they add a lot of personality to your home. To further save energy, draw shades on winter nights and summer days.

10.    Inspecting, maintaining, and repairing your existing roof is the best way to "go green" by using what you already have. Depending on the materials, installation, and ongoing maintenance, some roofs will last longer than others. We hope to present more info on solar-powered roof systems in future 10 on Tuesday posts -- stay tuned!

And as we mentioned in our weatherizing post, an energy audit is the best place to start. It will help you determine what you need to do now and exactly how much you’re likely to save.

Happy greening!

Want a ballpark estimate on the cost of going green? Check out our Green Guide to get a sense of how long it might take to recover the dollars you invest.

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 director of 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.


Credit: stevendepolo, Flickr

It seems like everybody and their mother (well, not my mother) uses social media: babies arrive on Facebook within minutes of their birth, drool-worthy recipes are pinned and re-pinned endlessly on Pinterest, and news breaks on Twitter far faster than NBC can get around to showing it on television.

It’s no different for preservation activists and organizations. A social presence is close to a requirement -- potentially daunting for those of us who love all things historical more than all things technological.

The good news is, doing a little bit of planning now can pay dividends for your cause later. Over the coming months, we’ll have tips and tools for using a variety of different social sites to advance your preservation goals. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, here are 10 things to think about before you start using social media to help save places.

First, some questions to ask:

1. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you advocating to save a single building? Are you trying to raise awareness of a historic neighborhood? Are you trying to influence local (or national) policy? Knowing what you want to do will help you decide which social sites to use.

2. What does success look like? Having a clear, measurable goal from the outset will guide the choices you make and let you know when your social program is officially working. Not sure where to start? Here’s a handy primer.

3. Where is your audience? The old saying “different strokes for different folks” applies in social networking, just as it does in other areas of life. Knowing who uses what can steer you towards the right social channels to meet your goals. A great resource for demographics is the Pew Internet and American Life project.

4. What’s your budget? There’s a common misconception that social media is free. It’s not. While Facebook, Twitter, etc., are free sites, they come with options (such as Facebook ads) that are not. In addition, don’t forget the human resources cost, because having an effective social media program requires staff time.

5. How much time do you have? It’s possible to have an effective social media program with an hour a day or less, but it does require a consistent, daily commitment. And, of course, the bigger your goals, the bigger the time commitment required, so plan accordingly.

6. What kind of content -- and content creators -- do you have? If there’s one thing social media requires, it is content, so know what you have at your disposal before you start. This will help you select what social media sites to use as well as plan your posting schedule. Some questions to think about: Do you have a blog or website with stories you can share? Are you comfortable finding and sharing stories from local or national news outlets? Does your team have someone with a particular talent for photography or video? Play to your strengths!

7. Do you need a social media policy? If you’re working on your own to save a place, probably not, but if you’re part of an organization -- even a casual or ad hoc one -- having some ground rules can be helpful (so long as they’re not overly restrictive). Your colleagues who are using social media already can be the best ambassadors for your cause if you let them. Not sure how to get started? The Policy Tool for Social Media offers a step-by-step wizard to create a customized policy that meets your organization’s needs.

And now, a few things to think about:

8. Don’t default to the intern. But don’t disregard the intern, either. It’s a common cliché that interns handle social media, because as “digital natives” they understand it better. What many interns don’t know, however, is your organization and its culture, which can make it hard to find the right voice online -- or a consistent one, as internships tend to be finite. Social media can be an ideal opportunity for two-way mentoring, with newer and more experienced staff working together to build an online presence.

9. Don’t forget the offline world. It can be exciting to think of connecting with supporters online, but it’s unlikely that all your stakeholders will be online. Don’t use social media as an excuse to abandon your tried-and-true offline engagement.

10. Don’t feel like you have to be everywhere. With so many options available, it’s easy to feel like you need to have a presence everywhere, when in reality, it’s far better to have one or two vibrant social communities than a bunch of haphazard ones.

Are you using social media to save places? Tell us how it's working for you!

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.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the National Trust's social media strategist. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Research Your Home's History

Posted on: July 31st, 2012 by Emily Potter 6 Comments


When we make friends we like to learn about them -- we ask them where they grew up, where they went to school, and when they were born.

Our homes are a lot like that. We spend time with them, value them, and take care of them. So it makes sense that we want to know more about them -- who lived there before, how it’s changed over time, and when it was built.

If only walls could talk, right? Instead, here are 10 ways to uncover the story behind your older or historic home (or any other building you’re interested in):

1. Look closely at your house. Exposed rafters in the attic and bricks in the basement can tell you a lot about how old your house might be. You might find dates or stamps left by the builder; different-sized bricks will tell you that the house was built in different construction cycles.

Tip: Closets are great places to uncover clues like old wallpaper or paint -- certain paper patterns or color-schemes can be traced back to a popular period style.

2. Be your own archaeologist. Scope out your backyard the next time you’re in the garden and look carefully at buried treasure you might find, like old glass bottles or children’s toys. Items like that can tell you a lot about who lived in the house and when.

3. Talk to people. Talk to your neighbors, local business owners, even the mailman. They might be able to tell you who lived in the house before you and remember if any changes have been made to it over time.

4. Explore the neighborhood. Are there other older buildings that look similar? How does your house fit in -- for example, does your house face a different way? It could have been built on land that was once a farm while the rest of your neighborhood was built later.

Tip: If you live near a city, measure the distance to the city center. The farther you are from the original core, the younger your house might be.

5. Learn the history of the area. How old is the city or town you live in? Did any major events take place in the area? (For example: Was it the scene of a battle? Was your home, or any other nearby building, designed by a noted architect?) Answering these questions can offer important clues to your house’s own history.

6. Check your historic district status. If you don’t already know if your house is designated as a historic structure, you can check with your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) or other local preservation office. They will also be able to tell you whether you live in a historic district.

Tip: Look for properties in your area on the National Register of Historic Places.

7. Research land and property records. A simple deed or title search can tell you who owned the property and when and tax records can tell you how the property has changed over time. Many city or county records offices also have Sanborn fire maps, which can date back as far as the 19th or 20th centuries and show the footprint of your house and layout of the neighborhood.

8. Look up local census data. Census records can tell you more about the lives of previous owners, like the number of children in the house, cost of the home, whether the home had a radio, and more.

Also: Stop by your local public library and look for a city directory -- a precursor to the modern phone book -- which might offer more details on previous occupants.

9. Contact your local historical society and visit your public library. Ask to see old photographs they might have of your house or the surrounding land, historical maps of the area, or newspapers with specific articles that reference history of the local town.

10. Read! There are many books out there to guide you further in your research, such as Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You by David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty; or Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood by Betsey J. Green. Search your public library or local bookstore for more titles.

You don’t need a master’s degree to learn about the history of your home, public building, or any other place. All you need is a little time, your eyes, ears, and feet … and 10 helpful tips to get you started.

Bonus: Check out the University of Maryland University Library’s webpage on researching historic houses. You’ll find the information there can be applied to places nationwide.

Let us know what you find out!

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.

Emily Potter

Emily Potter is a copywriter at the National Trust. She enjoys writing about places of all kinds, the stories that make them special, and the people who love them enough to save them.

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Weatherize Your Historic Home

Posted on: July 24th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi 1 Comment


Do you live in an older or historic home? Could your energy bills use a little bit of help? Are you wondering how to lower them without affecting the unique features that give your house its character?

Today’s 10 on Tuesday guide -- a new feature on Preservation Nation that will share preservation-friendly tips, tools, and ideas -- is all about how you can increase your home’s energy performance in a way that maximizes energy savings and preserves your home’s historic character.

Most of these recommendations will work for a home of almost any age or style. In fact, many traditional homes were built with locally sourced materials and environmentally-friendly features such as thick walls, light-reflecting finishes, operable windows and shutters, vents, awnings and porches to provide shade.

So if you’re the owner of an older or historic home, you can feel good about living in a building that has served well for 50, 100, or 200 years or more. Here are 10 ways to keep it that way for another century:

1. Consider a whole-house approach. When you weatherize a home, you are equipping it with everything it needs to be more energy efficient. So look beyond just one area or component of the house, and take into account how the whole structure is working together.

2. Identify problem areas by conducting an energy audit. Local utilities and state energy agencies now frequently offer audits -- for free or at minimal cost -- to help homeowners target leaks and identify cost-effective options for sealing them.

3. Seal cracks, holes, and gaps, especially around windows, doors, and other areas with high potential for heat loss. Think small cracks don’t matter? A gap of just 1/8 of an inch under a standard door lets in as much air as having a 2.4 inch-wide hole in the wall. And remember: For every cubic foot of heated or cooled air (that you pay to condition) that leaves your house, one cubic foot of outside air enters!

4. Reduce drafts with simple steps such as closing curtains, blinds, shades, or shutters at night in cold weather; using draft “snakes” at doors (or simply a rolled towel); and closing your fireplace damper when fireplace is not being used in winter.

5. Check for proper ventilation to spaces you aren't heating or cooling to protect from the effects of condensation.

6. Repair older windows and doors with new glazing. Install storm windows where appropriate. (More on window repairs in a future 10 on Tuesday!)

7. Make sure water is properly draining away from a building through gutters and downspouts, combined with foundation waterproofing and drains.

8. Install insulation, where appropriate, around ducts, pipes, and water heaters, as well as near the foundation and sill.

9. Maintain watertight roofing and siding.

10. Establish a baseline for your energy usage so you know a) if your changes are working, and b) if you’re really saving money. One way to track your energy usage is to analyze your energy bills for the last twelve months (or longer if available).

As you can see, weatherizing your home doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be effective. You can take on plenty of low-cost DIY projects to save energy, and put those extra savings toward the fun projects (or perhaps another historic property…?).

Have you weatherized your older or historic home recently? What were some of your experiences?

Wait, there’s more! Check out these oldie-but-goodie videos from the Preservation Nation vault about weatherizing your home in summer (see below) AND winter (so you can get a head start).

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 director of 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.