Embodied Energy Calculator Goes Live

Posted on: January 25th, 2008 by Patrice Frey 5 Comments


Earlier this week, a group out of Highland Park, Illinois (the May T. Watts Appreciation Society) went live with a fantastic website that provides an embodied energy calculator. Check out the calculator at www.thegreenestbuilding.org – and the associated blog.

With minimal information – the size of a building and the building type – users can generate an estimate of the amount of embodied energy in any building, and calculate the total energy wasted by demolishing a building and constructing another structure in its place.

Bravo to the Watts Appreciation Society for taking on this task! This will make it easier for preservationists everywhere to help build a convincing case for the environmental benefits of building reuse.

The work can’t stop here though. Embodied energy only tells us part of the story. While knowing the embodied energy in a building enables us to understand how building construction and demolition compares to other energy intensive activities, such as auto use, it doesn’t help with much else. It doesn’t tell us anything about toxins that are released as a byproducts of extraction, manufacturing, construction and demolition – or the natural resources consumed in the process.

The National Trust is developing a research agenda to help quantifying the other negative environmental impacts associated with building demolition and construction. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) provides a means to do just this. LCA quantifies the energy and materials usage and environmental releases at each stage of a product’s life cycle, including extraction of resources, manufacturing of goods, construction, use and disposal.

LCA is in its infancy – and unfortunately doesn’t lend itself very well to a handy calculator of the variety the Watts Appreciation Society has created. But the Trust is committed to harnessing LCA to help articulate the benefits of building preservation. Stay tuned to the blog for as the details of our research agenda are finalized.

In the meantime – congrats to the folks in Highland Park, and happy embodied energy calculating to the rest of us.

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.


I attended a meeting convened by Councilwoman Stacy Head about a proposed 86-unit residence in the Central Business District that would house renters with incomes at or below 60 percent of the average median income along with the formerly homeless. Most of the group at the meeting was made up of nearby business owners or developers of condo projects in the vicinity.

Several issues arose: the new building as proposed would require the demolition of two 19th century buildings, which have been neglected and altered over the years; the CBD is awash with surface parking lots which could accommodate the structure elsewhere; the businesses and developers didn’t want a facility of this type in their backyards. The councilwoman agreed to reopen the search for a site after developers offered to help provide possible locations which could still make the numbers work.

The city has a chronic shortage of housing and services for the homeless. This project would address only a fraction of the need, but would be the first of its kind in the city. Unity for the Homeless, an umbrella group of service providers, has estimated that the number of homeless people in New Orleans stands at 12,000 -- twice the number pre-Katrina.

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.

Post Office May Sell Historic Washington Branch

Posted on: January 24th, 2008 by Preservation magazine 1 Comment


Port Townsend, Wash.The appearance of the Port Townsend, Wash., Post Office has changed very little since it opened in 1893. While standing in line today, locals still enjoy the unevenly worn marble floors, carved sandstone exterior and an unobstructed view of Port Townsend Bay.

Now the U.S. Postal Service wants to sell the building, a popular gathering place, and buy or build a new facility.

The oldest federally constructed post office in Washington state, and the only example of Richardson Romanesque design in a federal building in Washington, it was constructed as the "Customs House" and intended to monitor shipping traffic. Today, the U.S. Customs Service still maintains an office there, even though the ports of Seattle and Tacoma have long since eclipsed Port Townsend, population 8,500.

The post office has undergone several modifications in its 115 years, but it has never been made accessible to people with disabilities. ... 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.


I appeared along with representatives of the Preservation Resource Center and the Mid-City Neighborhood Association to testify before Councilwoman Stacy Head’s Housing and Human Needs Committee about proposed revisions to the ordinance governing the Housing Conservation District Review Committee (HCDRC)—which is to be rechristened the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee.

This is the committee which must consider demolition applications outside of the local historic districts, but within a portion of the city containing the National Register districts and other older neighborhoods. The ordinance is to be introduced at the January 24 City Council meeting. Several improvements are being made:

  • the number of community representatives is bumped up from two to five, so that each of the council districts can be represented;
  • the department of safety and permits will not sit on the committee, but rather serve as staff assigned to the committee;
  • all National Register districts will be under this committee—including those which could be added in the future;
  • the meetings will move to the City Council chambers allowing the meetings to be seen on cable access;
  • anyone aggrieved by a decision of the committee will now be able to appeal the decision to the City Council (currently, only the applicant may appeal); and
  • the troublesome “70 percent rule” will be eliminated.

... 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.

Students Take on Neighborhood Sustainability and Preservation

Posted on: January 24th, 2008 by Patrice Frey


The National Trust and the University of Pennsylvania’s program in historic preservation (my alma mater!) are partnering to offer a Seminar on Sustainability, Planning and Historic Preservation. The class met for the first time last Wednesday – we started out with a great conversation about how the concept of “sustainable development” emerged and has evolved over the last 20 years or so.

The class project is focused on LEED for Neighborhood Development standards, which have been released by the US Green Building Council. I think this marks an important shift for the USGBC – away from the one-dimensional focus on the environmental aspects of building – to thinking more holistically about the components of a sustainable community, including the social dimensions.

LEED-ND is in its pilot phase, which provides a fantastic opportunity to take the standards for a test drive. Students will apply LEED-ND to several different neighborhood typologies, including historic neighborhoods in urban neighborhoods and close-in suburbs. The process should inform our understanding of the sustainable characteristics of historic neighborhood -- i.e. what can we learn about different types of historic neighborhood when we evaluate them in a systematic way using sustainability criteria? At the same time, evaluating historic neighborhoods will also inform our understanding of these new sustainability standards -- i.e. what can historic neighborhoods teach us about sustainability and LEED for Neighborhood Development?

My colleague Rhonda Sincavage from State and Local Policy and I will be co-teaching the course along with Randall Mason, an Associate Professor in Penn’s historic preservation program. We’re thrilled that 20 or so students are enrolled – and that there is such a strong interest in this subject among students.

Check out the course blog at hspvcpln742.blogspot.com. Students have posted entries this week with their response to National Trust President Richard Moe’s speech on the sustainability-preservation nexus. Their posts provide some great food for thought. You can see Richard Moe’s speech on sustainability and preservation at www.nationaltrust.org/Magazine/current/moe.htm.

Look forward to more posts on the class blog in the coming weeks.

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 Park Service Moves Toward Nominating UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Posted on: January 23rd, 2008 by Margaret Foster


The United States has 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and that number hasn't increased in 13 years. But that's about to change, thanks to the National Park Service, which yesterday announced the formation of a "tentative list" of 14 sites it wants to nominate as World Heritage Sites, the world's highest distinction.

"It's kind of like the Nobel Prize," says Stephen Morris, National Park Service spokesman. "It's huge."

Although UNESCO designated Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in 1995, the park service hasn't compiled a list like this in nearly three decades. Places must be on a "tentative list" for at least a year before countries can nominate them—but only two per year—to the international list, which provides prestige but little protection. (Current sites include Mesa Verde, Yellowstone National Park, and Independence Hall.)... 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.