Another Vinyl Tirade

Posted on: October 23rd, 2007 by Barbara Campagna 2 Comments


I have been mulling over Patrice’s vinyl sadness since last week which probably explains the violence with which I responded to a Building & Grounds Manager from one of our 29 historic sites today when he called to ask if I would approve “vinyl replacement” windows in one of our rental houses (I am the Director of Architecture for the National Trust’s 29 historic sites). “No vinyl” I said. “But vinyl lasts longer and doesn’t need any maintenance,” he responded. Why does this misperception continue in the general public and bleed over into those of us who should know better? As Mike Jackson (Chief Architect of the Illinois SHPO’s office) says, “No Maintenance required” really means “can’t be repaired” - so they end up in the landfill much sooner than say a wood window which can be repaired and repaired and repaired, or recycled. Vinyl can’t be repaired, and it can’t be recycled. So, maybe you don’t need to repaint it every 10 years, but within 20 years you will need to buy new windows yet again, and the heavy imprint on the environment starts all over.

To quote my colleague Patrice’s recent "White Paper on Sustainability": There is a common perception that windows are a major source of heat loss and gain. Yet retaining historic windows is often more environmentally friendly than replacement with new thermally resistant windows. Government data suggests that windows are responsible for only 10% of air infiltration in the average home. Furthermore, a 1996 study finds that the performance of updated historic windows is in fact comparable to new windows. Window retention also preserves embodied energy, and reduces demand for environmentally costly new windows, typically constructed of vinyl or aluminum… There is the widespread perception that air leakage through windows is responsible for the majority of heat gain or loss in historic buildings. Yet information from the U.S. Department of Energy indicates that windows are responsible for only 10% of air escape in the average American home. Floors, ceiling and walls are responsible for 31% of heat loss and gain, while ducts and fireplaces are each responsible for about 15% of heat loss and gain.

Now this assumption is only true for traditional windows, typically in buildings built before 1920. All the tables are turned when looking at buildings built after World War II, or even earlier International Style or mid-century modern buildings. Many of these windows and/or curtain wall systems were experimental, and most of the energy loss in these buildings is attributed to the curtain wall system.

So, what sage advice did I give our Building and Grounds Manager after I stopped hyperventilating? First, absolutely no vinyl. It doesn’t matter that this building is not the National Historic Landmark that the site is known for. It’s the vinyl in all the good sound background buildings that are contributing to the problems in our environment. Second, maybe the perceived energy loss is not from the windows (or the windows alone), so let’s get an energy audit first before we jump to conclusions. And third, get me options for repairing the windows or replacing with new wood. Yes, they will probably be more expensive than the vinyl, in the short term. But as stewards for the site we need to always be looking at the long term and the big picture. And so that means, NO VINYL!!

UPDATE, November 15th, 2007: The Building and Grounds Manager from the offending site called me yesterday to tell me he got prices for new wood windows that match the badly deteriorated ones, as well as prices for vinyl and clad windows. Guess what, the difference was pretty minimal, so he thanked me for the recommendation and now we'll be staying away from the 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.

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

Electric Car Factory in Buffalo Opens as Artists' Lofts

Posted on: October 23rd, 2007 by Margaret Foster


Artspace BuffaloArtists are moving into new loft-style apartments this week, thanks to the renovation of a factory built in Buffalo in 1914 to manufacture electric cars.

After Americans chose gas-powered cars over electric ones, the factory became a print shop, which closed years ago.

A Minneapolis-based nonprofit real-estate developer, Artspace, targeted the building in 2004, after Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) wrote an op-ed piece in the Buffalo News asking the city's mayor to work with the group.

"Buffalo needs reasons for hope, and this is a reason for hope," says Wendy Holmes, Artspace's vice president of consulting and resource development.... 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.

Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: October 23rd, 2007 by Walter Gallas


The Dauphine Street house in Holy Cross looked like this past week.Last week, the Traditional Building Exhibition and Conference came to New Orleans -- a couple of years later than its originally intended dates in October of 2005. The Preservation Resource Center, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s long-time local partner in New Orleans, and our base of operations, was in the spotlight this week through its Operation Comeback demonstration house at the corner of Dauphine and Jourdan in Holy Cross. The house was a centerpiece of the conference with tours delivering people to the Holy Cross neighborhood several times a day to see the work in progress.

The Dauphine Street house in Holy Cross in December 2005.During Hurricane Katrina, a 60-ton pecan tree fell on the house splitting the roof and nearly destroying the house. PRC’s Operation Comeback purchased the house and in in the final stages of its renovation as a single-family house near the Mississippi River levee. The house was also the site of the conference’s opening reception, which brought even more people to Holy Cross for a look at the neighborhood.

Walter Gallas is director of the New Orleans Field Office.

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.

1890 Amusement Park Will Stay Afloat

Posted on: October 22nd, 2007 by Margaret Foster


A historic oceanfront amusement park will reopen next year, its owners decided last week. Ocean City, Md.

Built in 1890 in Ocean City, Md., the three-block-long Trimper’s Rides almost closed last summer. Doug Trimper, vice president of the park's operator, said the company will continute to appeal its high taxes in the hopes of staying in business rather than selling to a developer.

Last spring, when the park announced last spring that it was considering shutting down because its property taxes have tripled in recent years, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley visited the park to explore its financial options, including a “historic amusement area” designation with lower taxes. Property taxes jumped from $400,000 to $900,000 this year, according to the company. ... 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.

Museum of the Confederacy Unveils New Plan

Posted on: October 19th, 2007 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Museum of the Confederacy, RichmondAlmost broke and very controversial, Virginia's Museum of the Confederacy announced a new battle plan last month for staying relevant—and in business. Formed in the 1890s, in the last decade the Richmond-based museum has teetered toward financial collapse, endangering its research archive, artifact collection, and its home, the 1818 mansion known as the White House of the Confederacy. With an emergency room as a next-door neighbor, the museum, claiming that the downtown medical complex had made its location untenable for visitors, has begun floating a plan to build a satellite system of museums at the battlegrounds of Appomattox, Chancellorsville, Fort Monroe, and a fourth naval site near Hampton, Va.

"Moving some of the museum's collection—for example, [Robert E.] Lee's boots, tent, and sword—to Appomattox, there they would be appropriate and well displayed," says Nicholas Muller, former National Trust trustee. "This may be a clever plan." Muller led a review that told the beleaguered organization it had little time and room to maneuver if it wanted to survive.

What the museum's new plan fails to address is whether its continued existence will generate controversy. ... 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.