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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.

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Basic Principles for Rehabbing the Right Way

Posted on: September 25th, 2012 by Emily Potter

 

New feature: The 10 on Tuesday slideshow! Feel free to post it, link it, email it, embed it, and otherwise share it with the world.

A couple weeks ago we defined the preservation term rehabilitate as: “To repair a structure and make it usable again while preserving those portions or features of the property that are historically and culturally significant.”

To successfully rehabilitate a historic building, though, it’s important to know more than just the definition. So this week we’re bringing you 10 basic principles to keep in mind when undertaking a rehabilitation project.

Of course, every project is different and will have different needs and solutions. But this handy reference guide is a great way to get you started.

1. Make every effort to use the building for its original purpose, when possible. But, if you can’t, make sure the new use requires minimal change to the original historic features.

Tip: You might also want to think about ways to recognize, or memorialize, the building’s original function (ex. a special plaque, framed historic photographs, or a small informational sign).

2. Do not destroy distinctive original features. Identify those unique and historic elements that define the building’s character, and make every effort to preserve and protect them. Avoid removing or altering elements that are critical to maintaining the original historic fabric of the building.

3. Recognize all buildings are physical products of their own time and tell a unique story about the people, places, and things surrounding them when they were built. Avoid changes that may create a false sense of historical development.

4. Recognize and respect changes that have taken place over time. Like a patina that is acquired over time, historic properties may change in ways that add to their historic value. Respect and retain those changes to the property that have occurred over time and have gained historic significance in their own right.

5. Treat and preserve distinctive stylistic features or examples of skilled craft work sensitively. Carefully save and preserve the materials, features, finishes, and examples of craftsmanship that characterize the property.

6. Repair rather than replace worn architectural features, whenever possible. And when replacement is necessary, new materials should match the old in design, composition, and color.

Tip: When constructing a replacement, look for physical evidence in and around the property or research historical documents to find out what the original feature looked like.

7. Clean façades using the gentlest methods possible. Avoid sandblasting and other damaging methods. Be especially cautious when using chemical or physical treatments, and always test the materials first.

8. Protect and preserve archeological resources. Keep surrounding archeological areas intact; however, if an area must be disturbed, take every step necessary to mitigate any harm done.

9. Compatible contemporary alterations are acceptable if they do not destroy significant historical or architectural fabric. When making a significant alteration (like a new addition, exterior alteration, or other new construction), be aware of how it will impact the look and feel of the property.

Tip: Find a way to differentiate the new alteration from the old structure, while using compatible and historically accurate materials as much as possible.

10. Build new additions so they can be removed without impairing the underlying structure. This way, if they are removed in the future, the essential historic structure will remain intact.

This may seem like a long list, and trying to follow them all -- or even just a few -- a little (more than a little?) daunting, but they’re intended to help you rehabilitate a historic property in the most accurate and appropriate way possible.

Plus, there are many professionals available to assist you during every phase of your project, from architects and landscapers to researchers and librarians. You can also check with your local or state preservation office for more help.

Tell us about a rehabilitation project you’ve worked on. What were the toughest things to accomplish? How did you solve problems you came up against?

Bonus: For a more detailed list of recommendations, check out the Secretary of Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings.

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.

[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.

 

Written by Robert Verrier, FAIA, NCARB

For more than 30 years, historic preservation tax incentives have been helping architects, builders, and private citizens transform historic buildings for new uses, preserving architectural heritage, and benefiting communities all over the country.  I should know, because using tax credit incentives has been key to my business for just as many years, allowing me and one of my partners Mike Binette to save clients money while restoring more than 150 historic commercial,  industrial, and educational structures -- many of which can be found on the National Register of Historic Places.

We are proud of what we’ve achieved in and around Boston -- an American city rich in history and beautiful old buildings -- but we’re also excited about how these incentives have helped Boston and cities like it all over the country.


Bourne Mill, one of America's oldest cotton gins, in Tiverton, Rhode Island.

The recent debate over historic preservation tax incentives is long on political orthodoxy but short on common sense. The benefits of these tax credits are indisputable. By redeveloping historic buildings, tax credits save our architectural heritage and spur new private investment, create construction jobs, and set the stage for new economic activities, such as tourism.

There’s nothing like a broken window to scare off businesses. Any savvy investor will agree that commercial activity gets a bump when abandoned buildings are brought back to life, or derelict properties are restored to their former grandeur. 

But there’s much more. Many historic buildings serve as the visual gateway to entire towns and neighborhoods. They anchor their communities, and often had a central role in making them happen. Examples are everywhere -- churches, town halls, first settler homesteads, factories, schools, mills, lighthouses, and office and institutional buildings. Our architecture firm has spent four decades restoring and adapting old mills and other historic structures throughout New England and along the East Coast -- each of which has precipitated in some way the rebirth and growth of the community.


St. Aidan's Catholic Church in Brookline, Massachusetts, where John F. Kennedy was baptized.

Why does this matter? First, these landmarks are part of the fabric and collective memory of their communities. Generations of families made their living inside those factories, connecting the old stone walls with their family history. They root us to the place.

More so, these old buildings have great bones and can reinvigorate their neighborhoods once again. Many adapted mills have taken on new lives, such as commercial, hospitality, community centers and a wide array of residential type uses. In this way, these historic structures have brought their towns and neighborhoods back to life.

Preservation is also the greenest thing we can do. For example, in Dorchester, Mass., the 1765 Baker Chocolate Factory grew to employ hundreds. After shuttering in 1969, it sat mute and untended until its conversion to a community of apartments, assisted living, and more. The work took decades to complete and recycled tons of brick, granite block and many hundreds of massive wood beams and deck.

Today, Dorchester Lower Mills not only has hundreds of new residents, it has become a vibrant downtown with cafés, boutiques, and a bustling grocery store. People visit for fun, ambiance -- and history. In this way, historic tax credits create a valuable commodity: hope.


Baker Chocolate Factory (side view) in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Proof of old and historic buildings' attraction and economic value is everywhere. And many of our friends and clients -- mayors, real estate developers, bankers, and residents -- will vouch that the same results never would have been accomplished without historic federal and state tax credits.

Our country’s history deserves better than a wrecking ball. If you believe in America’s past -- and our chances for a better collective future -- historic tax credits are something you can and must believe in, too.

Robert Verrier, FAIA, NCARB and Michael Binette, AIA, NCARB, are partners at The Architectural Team, Inc., a Boston-based architecture firm specializing in master planning, hospitality, mixed-use, multi-family housing, and historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to raising awareness of the importance of the historic tax credit and advocating for a few strategic improvements that would expand its already impressive track record of saving places, creating jobs and revitalizing communities. You can help! Visit SaveHistoricCredit.org.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Twitter Terms Explained, Preservation-Style

Posted on: September 18th, 2012 by Sarah Heffern

 

“I don’t read your tweets. Everything on Twitter looks like it’s written in some sort of code that only the cool kids understand.”

This statement, made not too long ago by my younger sister, is one I’ve heard echoed by many others, including many colleagues in preservation. Since I’ve spent a couple of weeks making lists of why social media is important to our work and how to find the time to do it, I thought a quick primer on Twitter might be a great next step.

Bonus: This is actually two lists of 10 wrapped into one. Each explanation comes with an example from a local preservationist or preservation organization that’s worth following on your own account!

1. Feed:  The main item you see when you’re logged into your Twitter account. The feed is made up of the latest tweets from the people you follow. The feed for @PresNation looks like this:

@PresNation Twitter Feed


2. Following:
The users whose tweets you have chosen to see. A good way to find new people or organizations is to look at who other preservationists are following; for example, check out who @FHLouisiana (Foundation for Historical Louisiana) tracks on Twitter. You don’t have to follow everyone, of course, but it’s a helpful way to discover like-minded folks.

3. Followers: The people who follow you. There is no requirement to follow everyone who follows you, but if someone looks interesting, by all means, follow them back! Here’s an example of a list of followers from our @PresNationLive account.

4. Tweet:  The message you send out. The maximum length is 140 characters, including links to websites or images. Twitter automatically shortens any link to 20 characters (no matter how long it is!) and you can upload photos from either the Twitter website or its mobile applications.


5. RT:
Short for retweet, which is the term used for sharing a tweet created by someone else. Retweets can be done two ways:

  • Using the retweet button, which sends the entire tweet in its original format to your followers.
  • Using the quote tweet option (alas, only available on mobile applications), which allows you to add a comment before or after before sending.

You may also see MT, rather than RT. This stands for modified tweet, and is used when editing someone else’s tweet: 

 6. @mention: Using someone’s Twitter handle in a tweet so it links back to their account.


7. @reply:
Replying to a person’s question/comment; others' @replies show up in your feed only if you follow both the sender and the receiver. If you'd like your @replies to be visible to all, add a period before the @.


8. #hashtag:
Using a “#” before a word makes it a clickable search term in Twitter. We often use #preservation, #savingplaces, #PresConf, and #builtheritage. If you’re planning a campaign that uses Twitter, such as #SavePrentice, it’s a great idea to come up with a hashtag in advance and do a quick search on Twitter to see if anyone else is using it.

If a hashtag or other term becomes wildly popular, it is said to be trending -- and appears in a box on your main page, to the left of the feed.

Additional note about hashtags: they are also often used to denote a side comment or sarcasm. So, if you see a hashtag like #nerdswithcameras, it’s not really meant to be a search term.

9. Direct message: Twitter’s non-public communication channel. It can be found via the envelope icon on most mobile apps or in the same drop-down menu as settings on the Twitter website. You can only send direct messages to people that follow you.

@PresNation direct message

10. Twitter chat/Tweet chat. A designated time for folks to discuss a topic, using a hashtag to gather all the conversation together. We host one monthly on the #builtheritage hashtag, and @JennWelborn, a public historian, has pulled together a list of other history-related chats on her blog.

Did I miss anything you find incomprehensible about Twitter? Let me know in the comments, and I'll follow up.

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 social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. 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.