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.

Edith Wharton's Prize

Posted on: October 9th, 2007 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The MountOne of the National Preservation Honor Awards, announced last week, went to The Mount, American author Edith Wharton's estate in Lenox, Mass. Since its reopening in 2002, it has become one of the most renowned literary landmarks in the country, drawing 30,000 visitors annually.

Wharton purchased the property in 1902 and renovated it according to her own design. "This place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth," Wharton once wrote in a letter. At The Mount, Wharton wrote The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome and entertained fellow literary stars such as Henry James. After a scandalous divorce in 1911, she left The Mount and moved to France, where she lived until her death in 1937.

The year after Wharton left The Mount, her ex-husband sold the property. After several other owners, a brief stint as a school, and a long period of neglect, the nonprofit group Edith Wharton Restoration, Inc. purchased The Mount in 1980 to restore the property.... 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.

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.

Can the Junk, Save the Town

Posted on: October 9th, 2007 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

(This post was written as part of PreservationNation's coverage of the National Preservation Conference, October 2-6, 2007.)

How do you keep your town looking, feeling, acting, and even preserving as your town and not some other burg up the pike or across the country? That question -- how to hold on to community character (and what benefits accrue when you do) -- informed a special speech by Ed McMahon. This was an early-morning Saturday event, not the primest of times to attract those on the down slope of a long and busy conference. But preservation types are nothing if not enthusiastic and indefatigable, as they proved by showing up in huge numbers for McMahon, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute.

He really delivered. Flawlessly mixing humor and truth -- and showing plenty of slides, that beloved mode of making a good point -- McMahon illustrated the often-ignored fact that good design really pays off, not just in dollars but also with social and environmental benefits. He set the stage with the sad observation that “special and unique character has been disappearing faster than ever” but went on to show that communities can and have made U-turns toward saving their individuality.

“The problem is not development but the pattern of development,” McMahon said, flashing us a good slide/bad slide combo of, first, a well-preserved Civil War battlefield building in Virginia (beautiful!), then a high-dreck strip shopping center right next door (phooey!). Guess what, he said. Communities can choose whether or not they want this sort of thing. They can plan against such mistakes. And in the cases where development will happen anyway, they can tell developers and fast-food folks a big-fat “no” to business-as-usual design – then get the much better model. Images of McDonald’s in exquisitely local-appropriate buildings, some of them hard to distinguish from historic structures, proved this beyond a doubt.

... 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.

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.

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 BuildingGreen.com 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.