How Would You Like More Green to Go Green?

Posted on: January 29th, 2009 by Jason Clement 2 Comments



Take our new survey to indicate which green projects – from buying new appliances to repainting – you would most likely complete if stronger tax incentives were in place.

I watch a lot of really dumb stuff on TV.

How dumb? Chances are, if a show involves a) dancing, b) following the life of someone who shouldn't be famous, or c) someone who shouldn't be famous learning how to dance, I can probably give you an episode-by-episode summary.

Apart from CNN (an obsession that I've already fessed up to on this blog), the only other deviations from this formula are the many DIY home improvement programs that I flood my DVR with.

A couple of weeks ago, I caught a show focused on greening a house that was, by all accounts, an energy-consuming monster. Everything had to go, and by the time the seemingly overly-caffeinated crew was ready for the big reveal, the house was - from the roof down to the lawn - a shining portrait of eco-friendly perfection.

Though I don't remember all of the bells and whistles (sometimes I get distracted by my nearby computer and, therefore, blogs about people who shouldn't be famous), these stuck with me: a solar power system, furniture made from reclaimed lumber, cork office flooring, Earth-friendly quartz countertops, toilets that use water recycled from roof runoff, and synthetic turf for the yard.

When it was all over and the owners stopped jumping up and down and crying like Ed McMahon was at the front door, I had two thoughts: 1) a synthetic lawn sounds like a one-way ticket to rug burn, and 2) how much did all of this cost?

As a homeowner, this is a dilemma that I find myself in all the time, usually in the aisles of my neighborhood Home Depot. "Do I spend extra on the fancy light bulbs knowing that I'll save down the road, or do I buy the dinosaurs knowing that I'll have more coins in my pocket when I leave today?"

Sadly, given today's tough economy, I assume that I'm not alone in this boat. This doesn't mean that Mother Nature isn't worth it or cutting my carbon footprint isn't important to me. It's just that I have a bottom line and, when the belt needs to get tightened, things innocently fall by the wayside.

This is precisely why the National Trust for Historic Preservation is on a mission on Capitol Hill. Realizing that it takes some green to actually go green, we have proposed that the federal Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit – which currently allows taxpayers a 10% credit capped at $500 for energy-saving products – be significantly expanded for owners of historic and older homes to 20% with an annual maximum limit of $5,000.

However, as we work our idea through Washington, we need your help in informing the process. Take a minute today to participate in our new survey, How Green Could You Be? And when you're done, leave a comment with your thoughts on becoming more eco-friendly in an anything-but-friendly economy.

And as for me, no more blogs about TV. Promise.

Take the Poll: How Green Could You Be?

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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

Video: Saving Architectural Onomatopoeia

Posted on: January 28th, 2009 by Sarah Heffern 4 Comments


It's a gray, icy day here in Washington, DC, so I thought it was a good time to share a video of a cheery, bright preservation success story -- a former gas station in North Carolina that is now the home of the northwest regional office of our statewide partner, Preservation North Carolina. This may not sound all that exciting, but it's a gas station that's the building equivalent of onomatopoeia -- a Shell station shaped like a shell. (My officemate, who has been in the preservation game a few years longer than I have, says this is called a "duck" in the architectural world. Is that true?)

Learn more about our Statewide & Local Partners program.

Learn more about preserving Modernism + the Recent Past.

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.

Saving Heat, Money, AND Your Wood Windows

Posted on: January 27th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments


These days, “Go Green” is everywhere. Car manufacturers, cleaning product companies, the building industry, clothing, shoes — it seems like everyone is taking stock of their carbon footprint. As reported in Thursday's New York Times, even PepsiCo just completed a study that calculated how ‘green’ its orange juice is. (That’s 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per each half-gallon carton if you’re counting.) And as Bob Yapp recently pointed out in a guest column in the Des Moines Register, an April 2008 Gallup poll found that 83% of Americans have made changes — small and big — in how they live in order to help protect the environment.

Here in the Northeast, heating costs in winter are always an issue. Increasingly, we are concerned about not only how much we spend on heating our homes but the carbon footprint of staying warm. Last weekend as I shoveled snow off my driveway and into a pile that was taller than I am, I started to wonder if Mother Nature was trying to get our attention by dumping over 18 inches of snow on the area in two days. I also had plenty of time to contemplate where my own energy dollars were going.

One easy way for people to better manage their energy dollars and their carbon footprints is to have an energy audit done for their home. Many cities, state agencies, utility companies, and other organizations offer programs that enable homeowners to have an audit done for free or at a reduced rate.

In Jura Konicus’ recent Washington Post article “I Need an Energy Audit, Stat!”, the author walks the reader through the energy audit of her Washington D.C. 1937 brick Colonial.

Like many older houses, the primary areas where heat loss was happening in the Konicus’ house were in the basement and attic. Any place where air escapes, heat goes out too. Typical culprits for air leaks are gaps and holes in foundations where utility services come in, gaps around pipes under sinks, access areas to attics and basements, leaks around electric outlets and switches, leaks around recessed lighting fixtures, and up chimneys that don’t have properly fitted dampers.

Many of these areas can be tightened up by the resident for a modest investment. Using caulk and expandable foam insulation to seal leaks around plumbing, heating and cooling pipes, and utility access areas, weatherstripping doors and windows, adding door sweeps, beefing up attic insulation, making sure the fireplace damper properly fits, and adding foam gaskets to outlets and switches will make a noticeable difference in your comfort and your wallet. The company that did the Koncius’ energy audit reported that investing $150 in caulk would save their family about $300 annually.

One recommendation that appeared in the Koncius’ report that is particularly noteworthy was that replacing their original wood windows was not the best place for them to start in order to improve the energy efficiency of their home. This is supported by an ever-increasing body of research that has found that a properly maintained wood window with a storm window can be just as energy efficient as a new replacement window. The easiest wood window maintenance tip? Make sure that the sash lock is tight. Not just for security, the sash lock helps seal out leaks where the top and bottom sash meet.

The Konicus’ windows had already served the house well for over 70 years. Typically, wood windows made before about 1940 — like the Konicus’ — are built with old growth wood. The tight grain of old growth wood makes them far more durable and rot resistant than newer wood. The energy audit company estimated that if they spent $12,000 replacing their windows, they would save $600 a year. However, that means it would be 20 years before they started to recoup what they spent to replace the windows. And chances are, in 20 years or less, those new windows would need to be replaced by new windows. Some calculations have shown that it can take as much as 240 years to recoup in energy saving what was spent on installing new windows. Weatherproofing the original windows is a much better — and much greener — approach. For more tips on wood window maintenance and for links to articles and studies on improving the energy efficiency of historic wood windows, click here for a tip sheet. And if you don’t want to repair your wood windows yourself, you can feel added pride in supporting your local economy by hiring a trades person to do the tune up for you.

Simple actions such as switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, turning down the thermostat on water heaters to 130 or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, installing Energy Star-rated appliances, making sure your furnace’s filter is clean, and using insulated curtains on your windows will help lower your energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint.

More information:

-- Rebecca Williams

Rebecca Williams is a field representative at the Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Boston, Massachusetts.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Take Your Seats: Welcome to Teaching Preservation

Posted on: January 27th, 2009 by Guest Writer


Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue and his innovative Research History class.

How much do you remember about your days as a high school senior? Chances are, an image that comes quickly to mind is one of you staring out a classroom window wishing you were doing anything but taking notes while someone like me droned on in the background. Don’t worry, my feelings aren’t hurt.

My name is Paul LaRue, and I’m a senior-level social studies teacher at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. If you’re not sure where that is, try this: take out a map and find Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton. Now, place your finger in what would be the center of all three of those points. That’s us.

We are a small town with a population of about 13,500, with our high school pulling in about 600 students. Our community is not affluent, and our school district and its campuses always seem to be facing some degree of funding constraints.


Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio

In addition to economics (applied, micro and macro if you want all the specifics), I teach a class that I developed in 1998 called Research History. Back then, our district was using blocked scheduling. As a result, my principal asked the faculty to create several new course offerings. I suggested a class where students could use primary-source material and work collaboratively on a single project. In my mind, this would give them experience with “hands-on history,” which I enjoy very much. It would also give them a chance to get out of the classroom, which I knew they would enjoy very much.

The class was approved as an elective offering and has been a success ever since. I have come to realize and embrace that what my students do each year is service learning. I see us as preservationists and as public historians. As for the students, the class is something fun that gets them out (a key word) into the community, which usually always includes getting doughnuts and snacks. (Note: I am not bound by Jared’s Law, though we are trying to be a bit healthier with our snacking.)

Good Hope Cemetery

Over the years, several of our projects have focused on partnerships with cemeteries in our local community, as they are great venues for research. The project we just started is a partnership with the Wayne Township Trustees. We will be helping to document and preserve the Good Hope Cemetery, which is in a rural, unincorporated community. The cemetery technically falls under the responsibility of the Wayne Township Trustees, but given the current economic climate, their resources are stretched extremely too thin.

Enter my class.

Four of my students and I traveled to a trustees meeting in December, where we pitched our proposed partnership. It was well received by the Trustees, and my students (fresh from winter vacation) are already at work creating a database of burials in the cemetery and researching some of the key citizens buried there. Some of the other projects we’d like to tackle are getting funding for a historic marker and helping to locate unmarked graves.

Now, if all of this has you hankering for the days of field trips and class projects (and maybe even doughnuts), you’re in luck. My students will be documenting the entire project here on the PreservationNation blog each week leading up to Memorial Day, which is when they will graduate.

Additionally, I’ll be sharing lesson plans and other tips of the trade that I’ve developed over the years. And no, the goal is not to bore you to death (I know that high school image is still fresh in your mind). I just want to prove that even with time and funding constraints, preservation is possible and has an important place in our country’s high school classrooms.

I hope you’ll stay tuned.

- Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue teaches Research History at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. The ultimate "hands-on" classroom experience, his course takes students into the field to learn about preservation and community service. Stay tuned this semester as Paul and his students document their project at Good Hope Cemetery here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream.

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


12 Amazing Stadium Designs: Sports stadiums are perfect examples of places that act as containers of memory and culture. Found in practically every major city across the world, few people are without experience when it comes to these giant structures. [Listicles]

Preserving Historic Airports: If you saw Valkyrie, you may recall the scenes where the reserve troops are lined up in a huge, high-walled courtyard. That courtyard is part of Berlin's Tempelhof airport, a nazi-era Flughafen that Sir Norman Foster once called, "the mother of all airports." Tempelhof ceased operations in October and now the decision over what to do with it. Suggestions for the structure include: apartment complexes, athletic facilities, even a fancy new red-light district. [Spiegel Online]

Celebrate the Lincoln Bicentennial at Lincoln's Cottage: It's Lincoln Bicentennial time at the President's historic D.C. vacation home and the Cottage's new exhibit, My Abraham Lincoln, is adding to the celebrations. [President Lincoln's Cottage]

Wade in Manhattan: "For her thesis project at Rice, Amanda Chin proposed ten "waterscrapers" that would slice across the urban space of Manhattan, cutting through buildings, through parks, and through the urban grid itself, forming strange aquatic intersections with the city." [BLDGBLOG]

West 59th St Sea Creatures: [Scouting New York]

The Legibility of Destruction: " If a building calls attention to itself when it has ceased to exist, is there a middle ground, an intermediate representational stage that not only forecasts a language of destruction, but that also evokes the purely conceptual urgings that inspired the design of the building in the first place?" [a456]

Happy Birthday Macintosh: Preserving historic computers? That may be a stretch, but Preservodome would be amiss to not mention that it was 25 years ago this week that Apple debuted the Mac. Some people are probably more than excited than others. [ReadWriteWeb]

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.


Preservation-friendly site plan for Charity Hospital. (RMJM Hillier)

Preservation-friendly site plan for Charity Hospital. (RMJM Hillier)

It was really remarkable that the Louisiana House Committee on Appropriations devoted an entire day this past week to a hearing about Charity Hospital and LSU’s and VA’s plans for new medical centers in New Orleans. We had an attentive and polite group of lawmakers, whom we thanked repeatedly for holding essentially the first real public hearing on these major plans. I presented the National Trust for Historic Preservation's email petition signed by more than 650 people to the committee chairman, Representative James Fannin.

The presentation by RJMJ Hillier’s Colin Mosher and Steve McDaniel on their feasibility study for the building’s reuse; resident Bobbi Rogers’ passionate statement about the neighborhood; attorney Laura Tuggle’s cautions about the costs and challenges of expropriation and relocation; National Trust Community Investment Corporation’s Kirk Carrison’s tax credit work sheet; Sandra Stokes’ overview; my observations on the plan and preservation’s role — all of these pieces came together to paint a picture designed to show legislators what was at stake and what was possible in New Orleans. It was at this meeting that we presented an alternative to the over-powering and destructive LSU-VA scheme. The image at the top of this post, created by RMJM Hillier shows our proposal, in which Charity is back in play, thereby enabling the new VA medical center to be built on a portion of what would have been the LSU site, saving the majority of Lower Mid-City's historic homes and cultural landmarks.

What was also remarkable was how little information LSU officials could provide in response to repeated questions about the financing of the proposed $1.2 billion plan. The state is already beginning the process of acquiring the properties on the preferred LSU site — yet no more than about $300 million dollars is committed so far by the legislature for the new hospital. State officials are pinning their hopes on an appeal to President Obama's FEMA and receiving an award of nearly $500 million for the damages to the Charity Hospital building. Without this sum, the financing plan falls apart.

The night before the committee hearing, we spoke about these issues before a packed meeting hosted by Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, the French Quarter's oldest neighborhood group. The meeting attracted a variety of people from all over town -- not just French Quarter types, and it showed that all neighborhoods need to be worried when bad planning like this happens. Here we presented a new flyer summing up the situation.

We are up against some serious opposition. As is so common in these cases, we are accused of delaying progress when we start raising questions or presenting alternatives. But the week was full of good press -- print and TV.

On Friday, I was the guest on (yet another) call-in radio show. It was clear that my point of view on good planning and re-use of existing buildings fell flat with my host. He focused on the bad condition of the Mid-City neighborhood, and the need to build something new. A caller said that I was being inflexible, that before Katrina the neighborhood was dangerous, that the houses on the site could be moved to one of the former public housing sites. Another caller, the leader of the movement to create the biosciences district, once again disparaged the Hillier report, and said it was time to move on and plan for the new hospitals.

I took a look at the preliminary designs for the new hospitals for the proposed sites which were released on Thursday. How depressing that was. The massing schemes didn’t even begin to deal with any of the measures we suggested in our December 31 comments as consulting parties to the Programmatic Agreement. Furthermore, there was no evidence that any elements of the two hospital plans had any relationship to one another—putting the lie to the oft-stated argument that the LSU and VA facilities would achieve certain efficiencies through shared facilities.

The designs portend the future of Mid-City if these plans are realized. The rest of the historic district is clearly at risk of further obliteration.

See for yourself what may be on the horizon (click images to enlarge):

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.