Earlier this week I wrote about why historic preservation should be included in the City’s Climate Action Plan. Today I want to follow up on that with a resource list of quotes that help to tie together the relationship between historic preservation and good stewardship of our natural resources.

Historic Preservation Is Inherently a Sustainable Building Practice

A commonly quoted phrase, “the greenest building is the one that’s already built,” succinctly expresses the relationship between preservation and sustainability. The repair and retrofitting of existing and historic buildings is considered by many to be the ultimate recycling project, and focusing on historic buildings has added benefits for the larger community.
National Park Service website

1. Sustainable development is crucial for economic competitiveness.
2. Sustainable development has more elements than just environmental responsibility.
3. “Green buildings” and sustainable development are not synonyms.
4. Historic preservation is, in and of itself, sustainable development.
5. Development without a historic preservation component is not sustainable.
— Donovan D. Rypkema in his presentation, “Sustainability, Smart Growth and Historic Preservation“, given at the Historic Districts Council Annual Conference in New York City, on March 10, 2007.

Sustainable development is about, but not limited to, environmental sustainability. There is far more to sustainable development than green buildings such as:
• Repairing and rebuilding historic wood windows would mean that the dollars are spent locally instead of at a distant window manufacturing plant. That’s economic sustainability, also part of sustainable development.
• Maintaining as much of the original fabric as possible is maintaining the character of the historic neighborhood. That’s cultural sustainability, also part of sustainable development.
— Donovan D. Rypkema in his presentation, “Sustainability, Smart Growth and Historic Preservation“, given at the Historic Districts Council Annual Conference in New York City, on March 10, 2007.

Stewardship of Resources

Razing historic buildings results in a triple hit on scarce resources. First, we are throwing away thousands of dollars of embodied energy. Second, we are replacing it with materials vastly more consumptive of energy. What are most historic houses built from? Brick, plaster, concrete and timber. What are among the least energy consumptive of materials? Brick, plaster, concrete and timber. What are major components of new buildings? Plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum. What are among the most energy consumptive of materials? Plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum. Third, recurring embodied energy savings increase dramatically as a building life stretches over fifty years. You’re a fool or a fraud if you say you are an environmentally conscious builder and yet are throwing away historic buildings, and their components.
— Donovan D. Rypkema in his presentation, “Sustainability, Smart Growth and Historic Preservation“, given at the Historic Districts Council Annual Conference in New York City, on March 10, 2007.

It is often alleged that historic building are energy hogs, and therefore should be demolished rather than rehabilitated. In fact, some historic buildings are more energy efficient than more recently constructed buildings. While some historic buildings may indeed perform poorly, data suggests that many outperform modern buildings. Numerous green rehabilitations of historic buildings also prove that where building energy performance is lacking, it can be improved in a way that is sensitive to historic
fabric.
— Patrice Frey, “Making the Case: Historic Preservation as Sustainable Development (pdf).”

Early American homes were designed with the empirical knowledge gained from thousands of trials and errors. Energy features were so important that they helped to determine what we call regional styles of houses. The resulting forms are distinct responses to achieving comfort in different climates.
— John A. Burns, “Energy Conserving Features Inherent in Older Homes (pdf).”

For many developers, real estate owners, architects, and city officials, the response to functional obsolescence is demolition. But the alternative environmentally responsible response is adaptive reuse.
— Donovan D. Rypkema in his presentation, “Sustainability, Smart Growth and Historic Preservation“, given at the Historic Districts Council Annual Conference in New York City, on March 10, 2007.

Historic preservation is a responsibility movement rather than rights movement. It is a movement that urges us toward the responsibility of stewardship, not merely the right of ownership. … Sustainability means stewardship. There can be no sustainable development without a central role for historic preservation.
— Donovan D. Rypkema in his presentation, “Sustainability, Smart Growth and Historic Preservation“, given at the Historic Districts Council Annual Conference in New York City, on March 10, 2007.

Reduction of Waste

Early homes had many energy conserving features out of necessity because of the inefficiency of heating with fireplaces and the lack of artificial cooling.
— John A. Burns, “Energy Conserving Features Inherent in Older Homes (pdf).”

It takes a lot of energy to construct a building – for example, building a 50,000 square foot commercial building requires the same amount of energy needed to drive a car 20,000 miles a year for 730 years.
— Jaye MacAskill, “Historic Preservation & Environmental Conservation.”

It will take as much energy to demolish and reconstruct 82 billion square feet of space (as predicted by the Brookings study) as it would to power the entire state of California – the 10th largest economy in the world with a population of about 36 million people – for 10 years.
— Jaye MacAskill, “Historic Preservation & Environmental Conservation.”

The average embodied energy in existing buildings is five to 15 gallons of gasoline per square foot. The average embodied energy in a 250,000 square-foot office building is 3.75 million gallons of gasoline.
— Jaye MacAskill, “Historic Preservation & Environmental Conservation.”

Tremendous waste is generated as a result of building demolition. The EPA estimates that 136 million tons of building-related construction and demolition (C & D) debris was generated in the United States in 1996. By 2003, C & D waste was estimated to be 325 million tons – almost a 250% increase in just seven years. Annual construction and demolition debris accounts for roughly 24% of the municipal solid waste stream. The EPA estimates that 115 lbs of waste is generated per square foot for residential demolition, and the demolition of non-residential buildings results in approximately 155 lbs of waste per square foot. Thus, the demolition of a 2000 square foot home would result in 230,000 lbs of waste. Since approximately 245,000 homes are demolished each year, it is estimated that 19.7 million tons of waste is generated by the demolition of these homes. The EPA estimates that the demolition of commercial buildings generated 45.1 million tons of waste in 1994.
— Patrice Frey, “Making the Case: Historic Preservation as Sustainable Development (pdf).”

Other Interesting Tidbits

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.
— Patrice Frey, “Making the Case: Historic Preservation as Sustainable Development (pdf).”

Historic Preservation spurs economic development. Numerous studies indicate that preservation serves as a catalyst for additional investment in communities.
— Patrice Frey, “Making the Case: Historic Preservation as Sustainable Development (pdf).”

Dollar for dollar, preservation creates more jobs than new construction. Several studies and an economic input-output model developed by Carnegie Mellon University demonstrate that preservation activities create more jobs than new construction.
— Patrice Frey, “Making the Case: Historic Preservation as Sustainable Development (pdf).”

Additional Resources

There are links to several articles connecting Historic Preservation and Sustainable Development on this page by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Several studies on energy use and windows can be found on this National Park Service web page.