Discovering the other side of green

When we went into this project we had a certain perception of green. Our goal is to eventually turn the house into a zero-energy building. We subsequently focused a lot on insulation and energy issues and associated gadgets such as solar hot water and photo voltaic.

An invaluable amount of research, a healthy learning curve and a lot of hands-on time began to morph that initial perception into something new – well, sort of new.

I had many conversations in the past with colleagues in the architectural field, colleagues that have an interest in historic preservation. When talking about green building technologies they made the case that they already were working green way before it became fashionable.

I heard what they were saying. I knew what they were saying. But I only recently got to appreciate the real depth of this statement.

Think about all the resources that went into the construction of our home in 1902, and think about the carbon foot print associated with it. The good news is that the building has lasted over 100 years already. And there is no reason why it could not last another 100, 200 or even 300 years.

This is where green begins: Spreading the energy input and carbon footprint of the initial construction thinner and thinner across the years with the increased age of the building. You can feel good about your energy efficient light bulb after you started with the preservation of and tender loving care for an old building.

The challenge

The problem is that there are a thousand very easy ways to screw up an old building, which would put a sudden stop to spreading out the initial impact.

It could be as simple as the lack of or wrong type of building maintenance. Ignoring the subtleties of moisture management and movement or the appropriate type of mortar for masonry repair work can inflict lasting and sometimes irreversible damage.

Unfortunately, the expertise on how these old buildings were put together and how they work is spread thin too. But this base knowledge is critical when it comes to retrofitting the old building stock with green building technologies.

Most of the excitement, talk and focus is on new green buildings, which does not help us with the existing building stock. I hope that the focus will shift to this sleeping giant soon, bringing back the expertise and knowledge and making it easier to access information on how to retrofit existing buildings with green technologies while preserving their integrity and longevity.

About Marcus de la fleur

Marcus is a Registered Landscape Architect with a horticultural degree from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, UK. He developed a landscape based sustainable pilot project at 168 Elm Ave. in 2002, and has expanded his skill set to building science. Starting in 2009, Marcus applied the newly acquired expertise to the deep energy retrofit of his 100+ year old home in Chicago.

2 thoughts on “Discovering the other side of green

  1. Yeah. That’s sort of the point of ‘sustainability’–that forms, patterns, and things themselves are, you know, sustained, over historical timeframes, and, well, sustainable. It’s not a badly-chosen word, even though the meaning is a little fuzzier than it once was.

    In the near term, you need a way to document your decisions and process, not just on the web. If you want the building to actually last 300 years, you need a more solid way to preserve and pass along that information.

    I think at a civilization level, we need an act of constructive mythology… developing a way for people to locate their lives in the story of building a sustainable civilization.

  2. John, Cathy mentioned that she had a similar dialogue with you. I have been thinking about various methods of documenting. The information is out there, it is just hard to get to, even if you know what you are looking for. May be one day I write a book. That should qualify as “a more solid way” to preserve that information…

    Please let me know about any other ideas of comments you may have!

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