Reducing Water Consumption in Historic Buildings

Posted on: October 16th, 2007 by Barbara Campagna


  1. Plant Only Native Plants - Naturescaping
    Native plantings typically reduce maintenance costs over their lifetime by minimizing inputs of fertilizers, pesticides and water. Whenever you are planting flowers or vegetation in non-historic landscapes, utilize native plantings - this is called “naturescaping”. Contact your local nursery or go to Have you heard about Xeriscaping? It’s a comprehensive approach to planting and gardening. See
  2. Evaluate Your Irrigation System
    Install low-volume micro-irrigation for gardens, trees and shrubs. Micro-irrigation includes drip (also known as trickle), micro spray jets, micro-sprinklers, or bubbler irrigation to irrigate slowly and minimize evaporation, runoff, and overspray. Ensure that there are no leaks in your irrigation equipment.
  3. Evaluate Your Fountains
    Do not install or use ornamental water features unless they recycle the water. Use signs to show the public that water is recycled. Do not operate during a drought.
    ... Read More →

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.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at

Vinyl Angst

Posted on: October 10th, 2007 by Patrice Frey


Blissfully, this morning the Trust’s e-mail is down. (Not that I don’t enjoy each of the 150 messages I get every day, but it’s good to get away from it.) So I’ll take this opportunity to skip the Morning Roundup – since much of my news comes from Google Alerts dumped in my inbox -- and talk about something that’s really bothering me and still very relevant to discussions about green building: vinyl, and specifically the vinyl I now own.

I just bought a teeny tiny condo in a historic building. I adore it. The problem? My closet doors are made of vinyl – that nasty substance made from PVC, or poly vinyl chloride that is sometimes referred to as the “poison plastic.” PVC is a derived from fossil fuel – usually oil or natural gas -- and chlorine. The PVC manufacturing process produces highly toxic (read carcinogenic) chemicals, especially dioxins. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving because at the end of its life cycle, PVCs release even more dioxins if they are incinerated. According to the US Green Building Council, burning PVCs in landfills may now be the single largest source of dioxin release in the United States.

There are claims that PVC has been linked to cancer and birth defects, though not everyone agrees there is conclusive evidence of its toxicity. For example, vinyl manufacturers insist that the manufacturing of vinyl is highly-regulated and well controlled process, and does not present a public health hazard in the manufacturing, use, or disposal stages of it life cycle. I trust them, don’t you?

PVC is the material of choice for window manufacturers – witness those vinyl windows you see everywhere. Some green building advocates sing the praises of these windows because of their thermal resistance, while others have smartened-up about vinyl's enormous life cycle costs. For a thoughtful commentary on the choice between vinyl and wood windows – see the House In Progress Diary, a blog on the renovation of a 1900 bungalow.

So back to my problem – vinyl closet doors. They mock me and my environmental sensibilities, and I long to replace them with some wood doors – even a curtain would be better. But instead, I'm stuck with them. Because being stuck with them -- forever -- is the most environmentally responsible thing to do, since there isn't anywhere dispose of them safely. And that’s exactly the problem with Vinyl.

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.

Greening Sprawl? Why the Context of Buildings Matters

Posted on: October 9th, 2007 by Patrice Frey 2 Comments


Last week’s conference in St. Paul featured a presentation by Mike Jackson of the Illinois Historic Preservation.  Among preservationists, Mike is known as an Energy Guru on the subject of the energy embodied in historic buildings, and on the operational efficiency of historic buildings.   During his presentation, Mike referenced a recent article by that found that commuting by office workers can account for far more energy use than building operations.  According to BuildingGreen calculations, commuting “accounts for 30% more energy than the building itself uses.”  As building efficiency goes up, the proportion of energy used for transportation is even more significant. “For an average new office building built to code, transportation accounts for more than twice as much energy use as building operation.”

So what does the mean?  While new green buildings – such as those certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards -- may be energy efficient, the context in which they are located isn’t necessarily sustainable.   I’m reminded of an excellent piece I ran across recently in Greener Buildings in which Shari Shapiro discusses "green sprawl,"  -- development in which green buildings are located in unsustainable contexts.   Under most green building standards, buildings are certified as “green” because they incorporate energy efficient features, provide adequate daylighting, – and meet a host of other criteria.  While these standards may encourage development in existing urban areas, they do not require it.   

I’ve done a bit of research that seems to substantiate concerns about “green sprawl.” About 19% of LEED-NC (New Construction) projects have earned a credit for being located in a densely developed area – that means 81% of LEED-NC certified buildings don’t meet the USGBC’s requirement for dense development. Though a relatively small number of historic buildings have been LEED certified (about 35 out of more than 400), more than 50% of historic projects have earned the credit for dense development. Furthermore, over 90% of LEED-NC certified historic projects earned a credit for providing access to mass transit, as compared to about 60% of newly constructed projects.   

The research bears out expectations that many historic buildings are located in sustainable contexts – and location matters.   Rehabbing and re-using these buildings allows us to capitalize on existing infrastructure – including mass transit -- reducing those gas guzzling commutes. 

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.

Beyond Green Building: Morning Round-Up

Posted on: October 9th, 2007 by Patrice Frey


I'm back from St. Paul -- -and here are couple of articles that caught my eye this morning.

For Energy Consumption, There's No Place Like Home – ENN. According to a survey commissioned by the Johns Manville company (a leading manufacturer of an extensive line of energy-efficient building products, such as insulation materials) most Americans think that the transportation sector (cars, trucks, buses, etc) is the number one user of energy in the country. But the family car is not the number one energy hog, it’s the family home. (Since most homes are energized by fossil fuels, American homes are also responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions.) Tool Helps Businesses Compare Their Buildings' Carbon Emissions to Others in Same Region - ENN. Portfolio Manager is an online tool that helps buildings take control of their energy to increase energy efficiency and help protect our environment. Organizations have used Portfolio Manager to benchmark the energy performance for billions of square feet of office buildings, schools, hotels, and other buildings across the country and thousands of buildings have earned the Energy Star for superior energy efficiency.

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.

Green and Affordable Historic Housing

Posted on: October 5th, 2007 by Patrice Frey 1 Comment


Hello from St. Paul! Friday’s conference line-up includes several panels on integrating green building practices and historic preservation. Our panel this morning on "Green Affordable Housing in Historic Buildings" featured three experts from the private and non-profit sector. The overall message: historic buildings can be excellent vehicles for developing green and affordable housing – though these projects are certainly not without their challenges.

The panelists discussed a number of green features that they incorporate into their buildings, such as solar panels, upgraded HVAC systems and low VOC paint. In many instances, high-tech green features can be incorporated sensitively into these projects (for example, high parapets on commercial buildings can serve as visual shield for solar panels.) But the session also included a frank discussion about the trade-offs that are sometimes needed in affordable and green rehabilitation projects – such as replacing historic windows with new windows because newer windows can be easier to operate and are maintenance-free. Lead-based paint on historic windows can also be costly to abate – especially on tight construction budgets.

See more details about all of our panelists below – and look for links to their power points soon.... Read More →

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.