Amalia Leifeste and Barry Stiefel, authors of Sustainable Heritage: Merging Environmental Conservation and Historic Preservation, joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss their book and information about their work in historic preservation and sustainability. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • Their respective backgrounds, as well as catalysts for their interest in the intersection of preservation and sustainability
  • How the timeless idea of looking to the past to prepare for the future also applies to sustainable heritage, referencing the establishment of National Parks as partial inspiration 
  • Their intention that sustainable design be taught and used to adapt to climate and cultural changes to improve current circumstances
  • Suggestions to reduce ecological footprints at a community and systemic level vs. relying completely on new technology and resources 
  • The fact that preservationists’ and conservationists’ value-sets often align and acknowledging this opens the door to more solutions to shared problems
  • How current world circumstances surrounding the pandemic afford the opportunity to expand on and adopt a “conserving attitude” in all aspects of life

 

Contact/Follow:

Email

Amalia Leifeste – [email protected]

Barry Stiefel – [email protected]

Other Professional Contact Information

Amalia Leifeste (here)

Barry Stiefel (here)

Buying Options:

Paperback, hardcopy, or eBook options

The authors are happy to provide consultation to sustainability preservation projects, and can be contacted for such requests at the information provided above. They are also open to organizations who might provide related internships to their students. 

Tuesday afternoon I sat in on a webinar focused on what traditional products teach us about durability and sustainability (essentially green building). I am going to pass some the information from the webinar along during this post – next week I will be back to sharing information from the Traditional Building Conference.

*In order to evaluate if a product is durable and therefore sustainable there needs to be a life-cycle assessment (LCA).
*Desirable green attributes:
-Durability
-Low Maintenance (but repairable)
-Fire Retardant
-Life cycle benefits – extending the service life
*2009 new LEED rating systems
-Point increases for urban living (density and alternative transportation)
-Life Cycle Assessment – focuses on structure/envelope assemblies
-Preservation of existing buildings adds points – traditional materials are preferable because of environmental impact
-Leed for Existing Buildings looks at accreditation without major renovations through changes in Operations and Maintenance

Traditional Materials are Sustainable:
-Masonry Walls both brick and stone
-Traditional Lime based mortar
-Roofing – slate, metal, clay tiles
-Old growth woods
-Anything that has stood the test of time and with care and attention can last another 100 plus years is a green solution

PART 3 PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES

LAST WEEK WE PRESENTED PART 2 on How to Preserve a Building. Part 3 of this series focuses on the economic benefits of preservation. If you’re reading this, you likely already know the qualitative benefits of preservation for communities – aesthetic appeal, educational opportunities, sustainability, and revitalization – but there are also proven quantitative benefits, including economic ones. Although Jane Jacobs – the innovative urbanist and activist – made statements that were not initially supported by factual data, many of her observations have since been corroborated since she first made them in the mid-twentieth century. Specifically, in her ground-breaking book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs stated regarding old houses: 

“Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”

Most writers who’ve analyzed her work and this quote agree that her point was that we rely on the past to build the future, and must refine what worked before in order to meet new needs. In another way, this idea also refers to the reality that businesses (especially newly-launching start-ups) or homeowners need older buildings for their often lower price-points and economic benefits, compared to newer (often more expensive) construction. So, the benefits of old buildings for “new ideas” is both conceptual and practical. Read on to learn more about the economic benefits of preservation.


Photo by Brandon Jean on Unsplash

 

QUANTITATIVE BENEFITS OF PRESERVATION:

The following categories are small a selection of some of the most commonly examined areas of benefit, although many other representative areas of value have been studied and described, including those listed here.

  • Real estate value. Historic designation is a ubiquitous component of preservation in cities and neighborhoods, and one of the most common means of preserving multiple dwellings or buildings. However, common negative assumptions about formally-designated historic districts abound; fear of restriction and violation of property owners’ rights – including untenable regulations and decreased property value – are concerns typically voiced by those opposed to preservation and historic designation. While many preservationist and urban experts agree that more rigorous study must continually be done to examine these concerns, valuable information has been gleaned from existing data analyses that reveals the economic benefits of preservation, and some of the findings do contradict these negative assumptions and arguments against preservation/designation. Community historic preservation has been shown to increase real estate value. Place Economics noted that repeated studies over the past 30 years refute the aforementioned arguments against historic designation and preservation in terms of impact on property value.  While they agree it is often true that increased property value equates in increased property taxes (which can be challenging for some homeowners), simultaneously, they found that the “cash flow problem is offset 40 to 67 times by the increased wealth.” Based on a 2012 study in Pennsylvania specifically, an analysis of 3 separate Pennsylvania historic districts revealed significant property value increases. Homes in designated historic districts realized greater value than homes in non-designated areas, had immediate 2% value increases compared to other homes, and appreciated at an annual rate of 1% higher than other homes. This positive effect spread to homes near the designated district, with those prices increasing 1.6% with each mile closer to the district. 

 

  • Local business promotion/New jobs. Place Economics discussed not only how small businesses are a boon to cities, but also focused on the advantages of small and local businesses housed in historic districts and historic buildings. Among those old-building benefits they point to attractive, small spaces, and competitive rent prices. They cite various cities where a large percentage of small or local businesses are located in historic districts. In some cases, those same districts account for a larger percentage of female and minority ownership. Many of these historically-located businesses are start-ups, which in and of themselves typically account for a significant percentage of new job creation in many cities. David J. Brown of the National Trust for Historic Preservation also noted the power of preservation itself for creating new jobs, including those that cannot be outsourced.

 

  • Neighborhood diversity/Affordable housing. While many still assume historically-designated neighborhoods are made up of upper-class, mostly Caucasian people – and while that is still the case in some places –  there are increasing exceptions. Place Economics shared several illustrative cases of diverse historic neighborhoods, in terms of racial, ethnic, and economic heterogeneity. A related point is that this diversity allows for more affordability in some of these districts, another contradiction to the stereotypical view of over-priced historic homes, and are credited with being part of the solution to lack of affordable housing in cities. Donovan Rypkema discusses old buildings and affordable housing in-depth.

 

  • Sustainability. We’ve discussed the sustainability benefits of preservation numerous times over the years, and recently were fortunate to discuss these things more directly during a podcast interview with Amalia Leifeste and Barry Stiefel, authors of Sustainable Heritage: Merging Environmental Conservation and Historic Preservation. Place Economics also cited several pieces of literature on the topic, in addition to Leifeste and Stiefel’s book. A summation of their cited findings indicates that compared to new construction and development (even when new construction uses allegedly “Green” or sustainable new products), historic buildings not only contribute less to pollution, waste, and use of resources including energy, they have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

 

  • Heritage tourism. Place Economics reports that “Consistent findings in both the US and internationally indicate that heritage visitors stay longer, visit more places, and spend more per day than do tourists with no interest in historic resources.” Heritage tourism as an industry contributes significantly to jobs for locals as well as revenue for the local economy, as the services these tourists consume extend beyond the heritage tourism services alone. These other services include local lodging, food and beverages, local transportation, retail purchases, and entertainment. PHMC’s economic report for Pennsylvania also examined heritage tourism, and included a review of 3 sets of locations which collectively accounted for 32 million visitors annually, as of 2011. An estimation of local expenditures from heritage tourism visitors in 2010 indicated visitor spending accounted for $1 billion annually for Pennsylvania, in the previously-mentioned service categories. 

 

This is by no means an exhaustive guide, but we hope this general overview will give you a sense of some of the most pertinent economic benefits of preservation, historic designation and adaptive reuse. We also hope it will encourage you to explore the topic further on your own. For more in-depth study, you may refer to some of the following resources:

 

Next week: PART 4 OF THIS SERIES focuses on the Substitute Materials.

Rabbit Goody, owner, designer, and master weaver of Thistle Hill Weavers, joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss information about her background in weaving, and museum curation and consultation. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • Rabbit’s interwoven skill-sets and background, starting with her intuitive skills as a teen-aged weaver, and her academic backgrounds in anthropology and museum curation and consultation
  • The inception of Thistle Hill Weavers, including saving discarded weaving machines from old mills
  • Products and services, ranging from interior fabrics for architectural firms to clothing fabric for sustainable clothing designers, as well as personal projects for private homeowners
  • The process involved in commissioning fabrics from Thistle Hill Weavers
  • Notable projects, from interior fabrics in the homes of deceased presidents to historically-accurate fabric in movies 
  • Tips for homeowners to follow their own style with interior design

 

Contact/Follow:

Phone – toll free (866) 384-2729

Emailwebsite contact form 

Website

Facebook

YouTube

Instagram

From the online shop, Rabbit recommends: Window treatment book, on sale (here), or the fabric sample pack, which includes 3 samples of every type of fabric (here). 

 

Preservation and sustainability. What does one have to do with the other? If we examine these terms more closely, we can see that older buildings are inherently “green” or sustainable because of “embodied energy” (all of the energy used to build the building that would need to be expended to build something else). In fact, the report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation “The greenest building” states:

“This study finds that it takes 10 to 80 years for a new building that is 30 percent more efficient than an average-performing existing building to overcome, through efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts related to the construction process.”

This statement about life cycle analysis indicates that the construction process is resource intensive (both in production and transportation of new materials and landfill debris – about 20%-25% of landfill waste is construction-related). Reusing an existing building is the ultimate recycling, so preservation and sustainability are often inextricably linked, and this link highlights the importance and value for sustainability inherent in preservation.  


Photo by Random Institute on Unsplash

 

PRESERVATION’S LINK TO SUSTAINABILITY

Not surprisingly, both the preservation and the “green”/sustainable initiatives have significant common ground and can work in concert with one another. This is particularly relevant in light of concerns regarding climate change and major environmental concerns. The National Trust for Historic Preservation formed the Preservation Green Lab in 2009 to strengthen the connection between preservation and sustainability, and updated the name to The Research and Policy Lab in recognition of expanded needs. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has increased focus on climate change impacts on our heritage. There is also an International Climate Heritage Network to address the intersection of climate change and other environmental disasters on arts, culture, and heritage.

However, at times in the recent past, green and preservation agendas have been at odds and there has been a bias in the sustainable building field to start over with new buildings and materials, as pointed out by Tristan Roberts, and The Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historical Preservation’s (DAHP) Sustainability and Historic Preservation Executive Summary from 2011. The Whole Building Design Guide’s Historic Preservation Subcommittee (WBDG) notes that there has also been a stigma attached to preservation and it has been (often inaccurately) labeled as inefficient and requiring overwhelming or costly procedures to retrofit energy efficient systems into old systems. Additionally, Roberts reports that certain sustainable products that are made of recycled content or other sustainable materials may not be approved by the National Park Service’s Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation simply because they disrupt a building’s character-defining appearance. However, preservation and sustainability are far from being mutually exclusive. As Roberts reports:

“Both the environment and cultural heritage suffer when buildings are treated as disposable.”

Below, we outline characteristics of preservation that lend themselves to sustainability:

  • Energy Efficiency. As noted earlier, it also takes less energy to maintain or rehabilitate an existing building than to demolish an existing building to construct a new building, even if that new building is “green.” Restoration involves less carbon emissions than new construction. Comparatively, DAHP noted in 2011 that new buildings accounted for 40% of all extracted energy sources and 68% of all consumed energy per year. DAHP also cited the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who shared data indicating that “commercial buildings constructed before 1920 actually use less energy per square foot than buildings from any other decade up until 2000.” New buildings made of new materials means one must consume energy to both create and ship those materials, and this also contributes to carbon emissions. DAHP adds that many historical buildings were designed with “passive systems,” or systems that took advantage of things like natural light, ventilation, and solar orientation when electrically-powered options did not exist. These passive system characteristics are all inherently sustainable and meet the same “green” goals of the sustainability camp. You can read more of our articles on energy efficiency in our archives here

 

  • Durability and Waste. Preserving a historical building reduces consumption of materials, and retaining old material creates less construction landfill waste. Green buildings should have materials that are both durable and repairable, whether that green building is new or old. Many new green building products are durable, but not necessarily repairable (read our repair archives here). Additionally, to build a new building with new materials, you have to create and ship the resources (both of which take energy), and often they are placed on newly cleared land which takes energy but also may be removing resources such as forest or farmland. Rehabilitating an existing or historical building eliminates a lot of these issues. Even reusing durable, salvaged materials from buildings that are torn down keeps those materials out of landfills and provides green materials for another building. However, more wasteful decisions are perpetuated, as Roberts points out that the construction industry often falls prey to “short-term thinking,” focusing on what works in-the-moment and disregarding long-term outcomes. Despite these benefits of preserving or rehabilitating older buildings, there can be challenges related to durability and waste in older buildings. Roberts notes that not all older buildings were well-built with durable material or construction, so in some cases, building damage is not due to neglect or abuse, but the way the building was constructed (e.g., some buildings with structural steel that is corroded cost a lot to repair). Further, as more modern buildings age and qualify as “historic” each year, these sometimes less durably-built structures pose new challenges for both the preservation and sustainability movements.

 

“GREENING” YOUR HISTORICAL COMMUNITY, BUILDING, OR HOME

Several efforts at the international and national level have been highlighted here for increasing connections between preservation and sustainability. WBDG’s Historic Preservation Subcommittee adds several guidelines that marry LEED guidelines for “greening” existing buildings with processes that incorporate specialization for historical buildings (here). However, there are several things individuals in and building and homeowners can do as well. On a community scale, The National Trust for Historic Preservation includes information on helping preserve your community and designating a historic place. Below are tips for owners of older buildings and homes. These are based primarily on the framework provided by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Meghan White in “8 Ways to Green Your Historic House“, listed below, as well as information from other articles and our own expertise:

  1. Conduct an energy audit. Know where energy may be leaking. White states “A popular example is the blower door test. This test involves using a high-powered fan to take the air out of the building, which depressurizes the interior. The difference in air pressure is then measured with an air pressure gauge.” The pressure difference allows outside air to come into the building via openings, which reveals areas you’ll need to seal.  
  2. Don’t replace windows (or doors, or siding, etc.). As we’ve noted several times, a big misconception is that historical windows are to blame for the drafts in homes. White reports “As the National Trust’s Research & Policy Lab (formerly known as the Preservation Green Lab) notes in their study Saving Windows, Saving Money, historic windows rarely deserve to be completely replaced. Instead, weatherstrip them or install minimally invasive storm windows so that they keep the drafts out and lower your energy bills. The study found that retrofitting windows are the most cost-efficient way to decrease a historic house’s carbon footprint. As a bonus, old growth wood found in historic windows lasts longer than modern day wood, so preserving your historic windows will keep you from having to replace them more often.” Similar points can be made for doors, siding, and many exterior home parts that separate the outside from the inside. DAHP adds that more energy is lost from plumbing openings and uninsulated ducts than windows. The key is to repair, restore, and maintain these protections from the outside elements.
  3. Insulate the attic and basement. White notes that energy escapes through uninsulated spots such as basements, crawl spaces, and attics. Insulating them can help to prevent air from escaping. They say “Cellulose is a great option because, unlike spray foam, it’s reversible.” They also caution “You should refrain from insulating walls because you’re removing the permeable vapor barrier inherent in historic structures. The walls of historic houses are made to breathe, but inhibiting movement of air and heat through and around the wall can lead to issues like trapped moisture.” This issue is closely related to our points about differences in modern mortar and historical mortar, and the inherent breathability of old wall materials. 
  4. Take advantage of your house’s natural passive heating and cooling. White says “Artificial cooling and heating methods can be some of the highest energy consumers in a historic house.” They suggest using your historical home’s shutters to cool your house naturally: open your windows and latch the shutters to allow natural air flow. The added bonus is it will shade your interior from the sun. Window awnings that are historically appropriate can also provide similar benefits. In cases where you want or need additional electric components, consider finding a preservation and sustainability-minded HVAC professional who can retrofit systems with little disturbance to your home’s historic fabric, as we discussed here
  5. Consider installing renewable energy sources. Installing solar, wind, or geothermal renewable energy sources on your historic property are also options to consider. White says “Solar panels produce electricity naturally and will help lower your bills. When connected to a utility power grid, modern wind turbines can also help create electricity using renewable resources and in a more cost-efficient manner. Read more about installing solar panels on historic properties here.” Tesla has also developed solar panels that are extremely sympathetic to the historical aesthetics of an older home, though it may be cost-prohibitive for many.
  6. Pay attention to your landscaping. Trees may help to conserve energy in your house,with deciduous trees providing shade in the summer and fallen leaves allowing sunlight to warm your house in late fall and winter. Another issue we acknowledge is environmental damage due to combined sewer systems in many cities. When it rains too much the system becomes overwhelmed and this causes untreated sewage to be dumped into streams and rivers and contaminates waterways. The EPA fines communities every time this happens. As an individual homeowner, you can prevent some of your own contribution to this problem by: creating a rain garden to divert the water away from the storm drain and also away from the foundation; installing permeable pavers laid in the traditional manner (with sand underneath instead of mortar); and you can build a drywell. Check with your local municipality to see if they have a grant to help defray the costs of to property owners who make these changes. 
  7. Change your Lightbulbs. White points out “According to the General Services Administration, High Efficiency Incandescent (HEI) lamps reduce energy by 50 to 75% and use only 25% of the energy that regular incandescent bulbs use. They also don’t alter the appearance of historic light fixtures where the bulbs are visible, like LEDs do. Otherwise, LEDs are a good option when the bulb is obscured by opaque shades or lenses.”
  8. Reuse old materials or salvage. White encourages readers renovating historical buildings to replace missing pieces with materials from salvage companies before resorting to all-new material. This helps preserve historical pieces and prevents some landfill waste. 
     

IN SUMMARY:

Preservation and sustainability have much in common, and destroying or demolishing old buildings is more wasteful than helpful, even when replacing it with a new “green building.” It is best to preserve what we do have, by repairing, restoring, and maintaining these buildings. 

Winter may soon be coming to a close, but there’s still time during the tempestuous month of March for Spring to “come in like a lion,” as the old proverb goes. The uncertainty of weather related to climate change aggravates the issues we already see at the end of Winter as well, adding to the concerns of homeowners attempting to maintain the energy efficiency and temperature of their homes. With that in mind, we’re focusing on energy efficiency for historic buildings for today’s blog post. 


Photo by Alessandro Bianchi on Unsplash

First, let’s debunk a myth about old homes and energy efficiency. A common misconception about older buildings is that they are drafty, inefficient energy hogs. The truth is that the buildings with the worst energy efficiency were built between 1940-1970. Energy was cheap and there wasn’t a big push to conserve our resources during that time-period. Buildings constructed before 1940 were made with energy savings, thermal performance, and physical comfort in mind. By maximizing natural sources of heating, lighting, and ventilation, these buildings were comfortable in all seasons.

Still concerned about energy efficiency in your historic building or home? Read on for advice on improvements that will not sacrifice the historical integrity of your space.
________________________________________________________________________

TIPS TO INCREASE ENERGY EFFICIENCY

ON YOUR OWN:

  • Change your Habits.  Install timers or motion detectors on lights, attach self-closing mechanisms on doors that might otherwise hang open, install fans and raise your thermostat temperature, use LEDs in your lights and turn off “vampire” devices that use electricity in standby mode or that use electricity in standby mode or whenever that are plugged into an outlet.
  • Remove focus from Siding. Remember our previous post on siding on historic homes. Walls themselves are not a significant source of energy loss, so replacing original siding with new synthetic siding really does not cut costs or improve energy efficiency.
  • Caulking or Weather-Stripping. The easiest tip for increasing the energy efficiency of your building is to reduce the air infiltration using caulking and/or weather-stripping. You can do a self-audit of the envelope of your building (roof; walls and wall penetrations including doors, windows; floor, and foundation) to determine if these methods are necessary. If there are places that you feel cold air coming in you can add additional weather-stripping or caulking to the area and seal the crack. In warmer months this will also stop your conditioned air from escaping to the outside.           2 points of caution:
    • Only use the spray foam against masonry penetrations – it will cause any wood it is against to rot
    • Do not make the building too tight – older buildings were built for air to move and if all air movement is stopped it will cause problems with moisture accumulation
  • Combat the Stack Effect. The method above is helpful, but it does not give you the highest return-on-investment for making your home energy efficient because of the Stack Effect. To combat the Stack Effect, insulate at the basement floor (where the air comes in) and at the attic (where the air goes out). It’s also important to determine the R-Value (measure of thermal resistance) for your area to ensure you are most effectively stopping air leaks.  You can find your recommended R-Value here.                                                                                                                                                                Options for insulation:
    • “Green” or environmentally-friendly options (natural materials like cellulose and wool)
    • Fiberglass
    • Spray foam
    • Foam board (purchases can be made at big-box stores or SIPS)

WITH PROFESSIONAL HELP:

  • Seek Professional Assistance. Review our post on hiring the best person for the job. 
  • Have a Maintenance Appraisal Performed.  If you are concerned about identifying air leaks on your own, a maintenance appraisal performed by a qualified contractor will locate any source of air leakage and provide you with a plan-of-attack to remedy the problem without damaging the historic aspects of your home.
  • Schedule an Energy Audit.  Both the maintenance appraisal and an energy audit are absolutely essential things that need to be done BEFORE you implement any energy improvement measures in a situation where you do not have enough knowledge to take care of things yourself.  The energy audit will evaluate your home’s current energy performance and identify any deficiencies in both the envelope of your home and/or mechanical systems.

FURTHER READING:

THIS IS A RE-POST OF A PODCAST INTERVIEW WE ORIGINALLY POSTED February 2019:

John Goodenberger and Lucien Swerdloff from the Clatsop Community College’s Historic Preservation and Restoration program joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss:

  • The collaborative approach their program uses to deal with the contractor storage
  • Sustainable building (viewing historic buildings as resources to be preserved)
  • Their combination of teaching both theory and hands-on preservation (very practical)

Contact info and Bios:

Clatsop College

1651 Lexington Ave

Astoria, OR 97103

The Clastop Community College Historic Preservation Program, in Astoria, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River, prepares students for work in the building trades with an emphasis on the preservation and restoration of historic and vintage residential and commerical buildings. Students gain the knowledge and skills to plan and restore structures in historically accurate ways utilizing both traditional and modern materials and methods. The program offers classes in historic preservation theory and workshops in practical hands-on skills.

John Goodenberger is a preservationist and instructor in the Historic Preservation program. Educated in architecture at University of Oregon, John has guided the restoration of commercial and residential buildings in Astoria. Working also a the City’s historic building consultant, he has analyzed the integrity and historic significance of more than 1,000 properties. John was the chair of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation and is currently a regional representative for Restore Oregon, and is on the board of Columbia Pacific Preservation, a collaborative group promoting education and economic development through historic preservation.

Lucien Swerdloff is the program coordinator and instructor in the Historic Preservation and the Computer Aided Design programs at Clatsop Community College. He earned Master of Architecture and Master of Science degrees from the State University of New York in Buffalo. He has organized numerous preservation workshops throughout Oregon and Washington and worked on the restoration of many historic structures. Lucien is on the boards of Columbia Pacific Preservation, the Lower Columbia Preservation Society, and the Astoria Ferry Group, working to preserve, protect, and operate the historic Tourist No. 2 ferry.

Resources Discussed:

National Council for Preservation Education

Historic Preservation and Energy Efficiency Guide – Pacific Power

John Goodenberger and Lucien Swerdloff from the Clatsop Community College’s Historic Preservation and Restoration program joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss:

  • The collaborative approach their program uses to deal with the contractor storage
  • Sustainable building (viewing historic buildings as resources to be preserved)
  • Their combination of teaching both theory and hands-on preservation (very practical)

Contact info and Bios:

Clatsop College

1651 Lexington Ave

Astoria, OR 97103

The Clastop Community College Historic Preservation Program, in Astoria, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River, prepares students for work in the building trades with an emphasis on the preservation and restoration of historic and vintage residential and commerical buildings. Students gain the knowledge and skills to plan and restore structures in historically accurate ways utilizing both traditional and modern materials and methods. The program offers classes in historic preservation theory and workshops in practical hands-on skills.

John Goodenberger is a preservationist and instructor in the Historic Preservation program. Educated in architecture at University of Oregon, John has guided the restoration of commerical and residential buildings in Astoria. Working also a the City’s historic building consultant, he has analyzed the integrity and historic significance of more than 1,000 properties. John was the chair of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation and is currently a regional representative for Restore Oregon, and is on the board of Columbia Pacific Preservation, a collaborative group promoting education and economic development through historic preservation.

Lucien Swerdloff is the program coordinator and instructor in the Historic Preservation and the Computer Aided Design programs at Clatsop Community College. He earned Master of Architecture and Master of Science degrees from the State University of New York in Buffalo. He has organized numerous preservation workshops throughout Oregon and Washington and worked on the restoration of many historic structures. Lucien is on the boards of Columbia Pacific Preservation, the Lower Columbia Preservation Society, and the Astoria Ferry Group, working to preserve, protect, and operate the historic Tourist No. 2 ferry.

Resources Discussed:

National Council for Preservation Education

Historic Preservation and Energy Efficiency Guide – Pacific Power

Alison Hardy from Window Woman of New England joins me to discuss the state of window restoration.  If you’d ever wondered what preservationist discuss this episode is for you.  We discuss:

  • Can your windows be saved or are they really beyond repair?
  • Repair vs. Replacement mindset
  • The education process to combat the replacement window marketing machine

Contact information for Alison plus additional resources:

Alison Hardy – Window Woman of New England

978-532-2070

https://windowpreservationalliance.org/

Bio:
Alison Hardy is owner of Window Woman of New England, Inc. Her company restores windows in the North of Boston/Merrimac Valley region. Alison has a BA from Denison University and an MBA from Boston University, only some of which is useful when scraping paint. When not restoring windows for other people she works on restoring her 1850’s farmhouse in Topsfield, MA.

Transcript:

Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning in to the Practical Preservation podcast. Please take a moment to visit our website practicalpreservationservices.com for additional information and tips to help you restore your historical home. If you’ve not yet done so, please subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher, and Sound Cloud. Also like us on Facebook.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Practical Preservation podcast hosted by Danielle Keperling. Keperling Preservation Services is a family owned business based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania dedicated to the preservation of our built architectural history for today’s use, as well as future generations. Our weekly podcast provides you with expert advice specific to the unique needs of renovating a historic home. Educating by sharing our from the trenches preservation knowledge, and our guest’s expertise balancing modern needs while maintaining the historical significance, character, and beauty of your period home.

Danielle: Thank you for joining us for the Practical Preservation podcast. Today, we have Alison Hardy. She is the owner of Window Woman of New England, Incorporated. Her company restores windows in the north of Boston Merrimack Valley region. Alison has a BA from Denison University and an MBA from Boston University, only some of which is useful when scraping paint. When not restoring windows for other people, she works on restoring her 1850s farmhouse house in Topsfield, Massachusetts. Alison, thank you for joining us.

Alison: Thank you for inviting me, Danielle.

Danielle: Thank you. I know that we have met in person a couple of times, so I’m excited to have you here to share your knowledge and expertise. How did you get started in preservation? It kind of sounds like it was a meandering road, similar to mine.

Alison: Indeed, this is about my third career. I actually trained to do textile design and costume design and did that for many years, and sold large format printers for printing textiles. Then when my husband and I bought an old house, suddenly like most people in preservation, you start looking at your old house and appreciating your old house and getting interested in old houses. It really came about from owning a wreck of a house with windows in terrible condition. I said, “This is crazy. I must be able to fix these somehow.”

Danielle: Very good. Did you start at restoring your windows yourself? Did you learn yourself or did you take some classes? How did you figure out what you needed to do?

Alison: I am self-taught. Luckily, my husband builds furniture as a hobby, so he had a wood shop which was very handy. Then I am one of those people who will just go out and research a project to death, so I read as much as I could, went to some events on preservation and talked to as many people as I could, and just started chipping away at paint and figuring out how to re-putty a window, which is daunting at first, but after you do a couple hundred you get really good at it.

Danielle: Right, we joked that people, if they’re going to try to do it their selves should start in the back of the house.

Alison: Definitely, definitely somewhere you don’t want to see. In fact, the house that we’re in now, the first windows that I did are embarrassing.

Danielle: Oh no.

Alison: They’re my walk of shame every day. I’m like, “Oh, I really should redo those,” because I just didn’t have the patience for getting all of the paint off and doing all of the repair techniques that now we do.

Danielle: Right, and the little details do matter. We try to impart that, too, to our employees. That, just because you’re scraping paint doesn’t mean that that’s not one of the most important things that you’re doing on this window.

Alison: True, and it’s funny, we just had a batch of windows come in that had been scraped by an abatement company, and my crew was horrified at how badly they were done. I’m like, “Well, that’s why we insist on being neat and tidy and doing things so that you don’t harm the window, you actually make it better.”

Danielle: Yes, yes. Important lessons. How did you get started then selling your services to the public?

Alison: Well, funny enough, a friend of ours bought an apartment building in a town not far from us and said, “It’s got a bunch of windows in horrible shape. Do you want to tackle those?” I thought, “Sure, why not? I’ll give you a hand.” Which, turned out to be a huge project. I’ve never seen so much nicotine on a window in my life. That was sort of the cutting teeth to, yes I think I can do this for other people.

Alison: Then, you know, God bless America, you can hang out a shingle and start a business. That’s pretty much what I did and started off with some projects for friends, and then those friends knew other people. The good thing about the old house world is that they all talk to each other about products and services and suppliers. Luckily the word got out quickly.

Danielle: Right, that’s one thing I’ve noticed too is that, people are very willing to share their knowledge and information, which is very helpful. You know, even contractors and crafts people, they will share the information because it’s not, even though you might be a competitor, everybody is working towards the same goal.

Alison: It seems like once you find people who cherish older houses and older buildings, we want to support those businesses and we want to let other people know that this is a contractor or somebody who gets old houses just like we do, instead of the “rip them apart and make them into planned cottages.”

Danielle: Yeah, that kind of takes us into my next question. Why do you preserve windows? What makes you passionate about this?

Alison: I do so many estimates now, and it’s always amazing to me the condition of older original windows. You know, to somebody who’s not as observant as I am about windows, they may look terrible. The paint’s peeling, the glazing’s falling off, but to me, I’m like, “But look at the corners and the joints. They’re still in really good shape. They’re still beautifully built. They’re still serving their function. They fit the building. If we just do a little bit of repairs to them, they’ll be beautiful again.” It’s exciting, because most people who call me in kind of know that in the back of their mind, so it’s a validation of saying, “I thought they looked pretty good.” I’m like, “Yes, they are really good. Let’s save them.”

Danielle: Yes, you don’t have to listen to the person that told you, you just need to get new windows.

Alison: Right, I always use the analogy, if you got a flat tire, would somebody say you had to throw out the car and get a new one? It’s the same thing. You have a broken sash, it’s not the end of the world. It can be fixed.

Danielle: Right, right, very, very true. Since you kind of have been learning as you go, what do you wish that you knew when you started that you know now?

Alison: I think if I had any idea how much time was required for doing windows, I probably would have been terrified. You have to acknowledge that it’s a very labor intensive process and there’s not many shortcuts. If you do take shortcuts, it usually ends up costing you in the long run. I think if I really had thought about how much time was involved, I probably would have had a different idea.

Danielle: Yes. That’s true, and that’s one thing that I’ve been trying to explain to people. The majority of our cost is labor. We’re paying people to do this work.

Alison: Yes, glass isn’t a big of expense, wood isn’t a big expense, it’s just the people.

Danielle: Right, right. Have you made any major mistakes that you’re willing to make a public confession about?

Alison: I think undercharging in the beginning made my life a lot more difficult. Once you start charging fairly, your life gets a little bit better.

Danielle: That is really true, and from a business standpoint, that’s I think pretty typical for people who, especially are doing the hands on work, they do undervalue the contributions that they’re making.

Alison: It’s true. It’s hard to believe that people don’t really know what kind of value and cost to assign to window repairs. They know what replacement windows cost if they’ve been shopping around, but they really don’t know, and so it’s up to us to give a fair price. That we know how much time it’s going to take and we know what we need to do to get it done right, and it’s going to cost. It’s not a cheap process. We try to be as efficient as we can, but at the end of the day it’s still labor hours.

Danielle: Right, yeah.

Alison: I have to say, yeah, the other big mistake that I am always teetering on the edge of is I got asked to look at a project and the client said, “Well, you know, I had your competitor work on my last house and I don’t want to have them back.” I get all puffed up and go, “Yes, because we’re better.” It turns out that that’s a very bad mistake, because they’re usually very bad clients. I’ve learned to not get my ego all puffed up and think that we’re better than the other guy. No, sometimes they’re just bad clients.

Danielle: Yeah, and that’s true. Sometimes you do have to kind of see those warning signs and see how the development process goes before you make a commitment to them.

Alison: Yeah.

Danielle: What is the biggest challenge that you see in preservation, or even just in your corner of preservation?

Alison: I know, my very tiny corner of windows. Really, the hard thing is awareness. I can’t tell you how many times people say, “I had no idea anybody did this type of work. I had no idea anybody did this type of work.” It’s frustrating because we don’t have the big advertising budgets of the large replacement companies. We’re very small voices out in the world and it’s hard to get the message out there. I think that’s why we’re so grateful to word of mouth, is that that’s the most efficient way we can to spread the message, but it’s slow and painful and there’s nothing worse than finding out that somebody replaced their windows unnecessarily because they just had no idea that they had an option.

Danielle: That’s very true. We’re fighting the mentality of the past 50 or 60 years of being product installers rather than crafts people too, and looking at it as something that’s repairable rather than just having to replace it. All of that has been pushed by advertising. That is a very big challenge within preservation.

Alison: I think we all sort of cringe at the TV shows that people just take sledgehammers to buildings without even stopping to think about it, or at least not on camera they stop to think about it. It’s so maddening as a preservationist. You know, “Why are they just taking it down in the most destructive way possible? You can take a cabinet off a wall without having to take a sledgehammer to it.” It just drives me crazy.

Danielle: Right, it wouldn’t be as good TV.

Alison: Yeah, right?

Danielle: Do you see any trends in preservation? Any maybe glimmers of hope?

Alison: You know, I have been doing some estimates recently for young couples who are buying their first house and I keep hearing this, “I want to do it right. I want to be real. I grew up in a house with vinyl windows, I grew up in a house with vinyl siding and I don’t want my children to grow up in that kind of house.” I think this whole makers movement, you know, people wanting to get their hands dirty and to do projects and to build things is very encouraging, because once you do get your hands on something, then you start to appreciate it more. That, to me, has been exciting to hear people talk about they want to save things instead of throwing them away. I’m like, “Thank you, finally we’re getting to that point where we understand how bad all of the debris we create is.”

Danielle: Yes, yes, and I think it is values and it’s a mentality because I’ll even take shoes to get fixed and clothes to the tailor. It is, it’s a different mentality of you don’t have to just go out and get new, you can fix what you have, especially if you have a good quality. Then it’s really not more expensive, because you’re not paying it over and over again.

Alison: Right. We’ve had great success of going to some of the green fairs, even a lot of events that focus on local and sustainable foods, because that same mentality carries forward into your house. If you don’t want to eat fake food, why do you want to have fake windows? There’s a continuum here that it all sort of makes sense. Why would you want to create acres of trash and then demolish parts of your house unnecessarily? It all kind of goes together.

Danielle: It does, yeah, that’s very true. How do you keep up with trends in preservation?

Alison: I love to go to events. I think that’s probably the hardest thing for a lot of people who are working in the trades, is that they don’t have big travel budgets and they can’t get out to things. Making an effort to go and meet with fellow preservationists, we just had a wonderful meeting in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in February with the Window Preservation Alliance. This is a trade group that was formed two, three years ago now to bring together window restorers to raise awareness of window restoration, that we actually got started because there was a preservation conference that had one of the big replacement window contractors as a sponsor.

Danielle: Oh, yes.

Alison: We said, “This is crazy. How can we represent our side of the argument when we don’t even have a seat at the table?” The Window Preservation Alliance, we’re a trade association so we now have funds so that we can sponsor events so that we have the other side of the argument, we’re at the table so that we can be part of those discussions. It’s exciting how we’re finding more events, we’re helping to sponsor events.

Alison: There’s one coming up in Cincinnati in May that I’m going to where we’re going to be restoring windows in two buildings. There is one in San Antonio coming up. Then in September in Detroit the Preservation Trade Network will be putting on an event too, so I’m excited about the number of opportunities that we have to meet with one another and talk about what we do. We’re kind of an obscure little profession here, and it’s nice to meet other people who know what you’re talking about.

Danielle: Yes, and that’s exciting that you’re going all over the country. I wouldn’t necessarily think of restoring windows in Texas. There are buildings there that have windows to be restored, so that’s going kind of off of what people would necessarily would think about would be where the historic places are.

Alison: It’s nice that they are people who do this for a living mixed in with community people, because a lot of times homeowners do want to learn how to do things, how to get involved, but they don’t necessarily want to tackle the whole project. As my colleague Steve [Coullion 00:16:23] calls it, “The pros and the Joes working together,” we get a lot more done in a short period of time.

Danielle: Yeah, very, very exciting. That also helps build awareness in the community that there are other options. I know my mom used to sit on the Historic Commission here in Lancaster City, and people would come in wanting to put vinyl windows in, and they would say, “Well, there are other options,” and people would say, “No, there aren’t.” Then it’s a whole education process. That’s a way to do it before even those decisions are being made. That is very, very exciting. Do you have a favorite resource?

Alison: Since May is preservation month, last year was the first year we tried to get all members of the Window Preservation Alliance to hold an event for preservation month. We did one called a sash revival, so we encouraged people to bring in their windows, which most of them have broken glass, and we showed them how to cut glass, fit glass, and glaze a window. It was a really fun event. My crew had a great time working with people. Most of them came from the next town over, which has a fabulous collection of old houses.

Alison: There were actually events all across the country and we’re hoping to do that again this year in May. We had everything from, they did a driveway pop up, they just put a tent in their driveway and had people work on glazing windows. Somebody had a booth at a farmer’s market talking about window repairs. Then some people like me opening up their shop to have the public come in and learn more about what we do and actually get their hands on a window. It’s really fun to have events like that to, again, trying to raise awareness of what we do.

Danielle: Yes, that sounds like fun. To tie it into the national trust, making their whole push for preservation too for that month, it helps build awareness on multiple fronts, so I think that’s really great and exciting. I’m kind of sad that I didn’t think of it.

Alison: Some days you just have, and again, a lot of times it’s just hanging out talking to our other fellow window restorers going, “How can we do this?”

Danielle: Right.

Alison: “Well, what if we just had people bring in windows?”

Danielle: We’ve even had classes before, but we never had people bring their own windows in, but that makes so much more sense. Then they leave with something that’s done. They don’t have to go back and kind of tackle it themselves.

Alison: I was trying to do the sad face/happy face as people came in and left, but I didn’t do so good at capturing my photographs. It was nice to be able to have something they accomplished in one day.

Danielle: Yes, yes, yes, and it makes it a little bit less daunting I would think for them. They know that they can at least, if a pane of glass breaks, they know that they can fix that and it doesn’t take all day.

Alison: Right. I think we’ve all had the frustrating experience of trying to get glazing putty to look neat. We’ve got a couple tips and techniques that we can show people to get them over that frustrating stage of, “It’s just all goopy and it keeps pulling up and it makes a lumpy mess.”

Danielle: Right.

Alison: I don’t know what to say. We’ll help you.

Danielle: This will make it easier.

Alison: Right.

Danielle: What do you think makes you different from other businesses that do this work?

Alison: You know, I’m finding there’s more similarities than dissimilarities in what we do. We’ve become one of the larger shops. I have 10 employees, and so we’re able to tackle bigger projects. I think we’re also fortunate that in the Boston area there are a number of window restoration shops, so if we have a really huge project, we can divvy it up and all work together. It’s very much a collaborative type of business, which is great. It makes it much more fun than being a competitor.

Danielle: Right, yeah, I definitely agree with that. Okay, well thank you so much for joining us today. Why don’t you let us know how our audience can get a hold of you.

Alison: Probably the best way is through our website, which is window-woman-ne.com. There is a contact us page which has our email address on it, or you can always call the workshop at 978-532-2070.

Danielle: Very good, thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Practical Preservation podcast. The resources discussed during this episode are on our website at practicalpreservationservices.com/podcast. If you received value from this episode and know someone else that would get value from it as well, please share it with them. Join us next week for another episode of the Practical Preservation podcast. For more information on restoring your historic home, visit us at practicalpreservationservices.com.

Last Wednesday, the Lancaster County Planning Commission hosted strongtowns.org’s “Curbside Chat” presented by Charles Marohn at the Manheim Township Public Library.

“Curbside Chat” is strongtowns.org’s program to discuss the financial realities facing our cities, towns, boroughs, and townships.  The Chat started with the history of what Marohn called the “Suburban Experiment” of new development that shifted homes and businesses outside of towns and into outlying areas.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”” quotestyle=”style02″] We often forget that the post-World War II American pattern of development is an experiment.  We assume it is the natural order because it is what we see all around us, but our own history – let alone a tour of other parts of the world – tells a different story. -Charles Marohn[/sws_blockquote_endquote]

How New Development is Financially and Economically Unsustainable

Marohn noted that the financial viability of the  “Suburban Experiment” is based on two assumptions that have not proven to be true:

1: New growth encouraged by suburban development will continue to be ever-accelerating.
2: New growth will create enough revenue to pay off debt incurred to create the infrastructure needed to support suburbanization and pay for the maintenance of that infrastructure.

He went on to present multiple case studies that established a pattern of suburban development (through the creation of infrastructure by local governments) that would take 50 to nearly 100 years to pay off – NOT including the cost of maintenance.    These case studies were not just focused on a particular neighborhood demographic, they included examples from low-density neighborhoods, medium-density neighborhoods, high-value properties, traditional neighborhoods, industrial parks, and commercial districts set in both rural and suburban areas.

Marohn followed the growth studies with a sobering chart on the long-term financial ramifications for local governments using this type of development: after just 20-25 years, the income created by suburbanization (after the expense of maintaining the infrastructure) begins to plummet much more rapidly than it increased during the initial years.  After just 35 years, the expenses of maintaining the development becomes greater than the income it produces and never again returns to a positive cash flow.

Note: The following chart is based on new growth models that include the assumption that new development will be implemented every two years.  If new development is not implemented every two years, the results look even worse than the chart below.

Cumulative Cash Flow - MP2LC

Sobering indeed, isn’t it?

Read more about this “Growth Ponzi Scheme”, including five articles delving into the details of Marohn’s presentation.

 

How Preservation is Financially and Economically Sustainable

It’s not as thought most of us didn’t already know that historic preservation supports financial and economic growth and stability, but the second part of Marohn’s “Curbside Chat” did include solid, and sometimes surprising, evidence for how that happens.

Marohn once again had a wealth of case studies to make the case that the preservation of existing development (even when its at its worst of transient occupancy and rundown buildings, in a state he called “Old & Blighted”) has consistently demonstrated a higher assessed value (that will produce more tax revenues) than what he called the “Shiny & New” big-box model of development that typically includes a single businesses on the same size development lot that traditional development houses multiple businesses and even residences on.

Using an ROI (Return on Investment) based on property taxes and the revenue stream those taxes produce, Marohn’s case studies show that even “Old & Blighted” vernacular downtown areas are valued significantly higher, almost doubled when looking at an overall average, than the “Shiny & New” big box development.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”” quotestyle=”style02″] “Our problem was not, and is not, a lack of growth. Our problem is sixty years of unproductive growth. The American pattern of development does not create real wealth; it creates the illusion of wealth. Today we are in the process of seeing that illusion destroyed and with it the prosperity we have come to take for granted.” – Curbside Chat Companion Booklet, page 5 [/sws_blockquote_endquote]

Not only that, Marohn pointed out that “Old & Blighted” development can be stimulated and improved (adding value which would increase the revenue stream) with a much lower investment than those plots that new development sits on.

Perhaps the most interesting example he gave here was an avant-garde approach used by a group of citizens in Memphis, Tennessee.  After repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, petitioning the city to paint parking spots, crosswalks, and bike lanes into a particular downtown area of small, storefront businesses to encourage the community to support those businesses – the citizens decided to take matters into their own hands.  Spending $500 on paint, they painted the parking spots, crosswalks, and bike lanes themselves. Within six months the storefronts were filled, the businesses were doing well, and one landlord reported being able to collect twice the rental fee he has previously been able to charge.  

Marohn then outlined the strategies he suggests for turning unsustainable development models into thriving economic centers that will stand up to the test of time and create a method of placemaking that yield a higher return on public investments:

STOP: Do no more “if you build it they will come” develop and instead focus on small, incremental investments in places that are already productive

TAKE STOCK: What and where is already productive?  Where is the revenue stream coming from?  What is the tax base that produces that revenue stream?  What are the tax subsidies that reduce that revenue stream?  What are the debts that impact revenue?

START TRIAGE: Ease the suffering of “most broke” development that won’t make it and isn’t sustainable and move on to treat and improve the already productive “somewhat broke” that can be sustained, saving the “least broke” development for last.

COMMIT TO ALWAYS ADDING VALUE: Adding value with placemaking strategies encourages the kind of growth that produces positive revenue streams that can be sustained, without debt.

REORIENT SYSTEMS & APPROACH TO GROWTH: Develop a capital improvements plan that takes a hard look at the scale of infrastructure inventory, maintenance obligations, when that maintenance will come due, what that maintenance will cost, and what funding sources they rely on, to create a realistic “balance sheet” of the public’s future obligations.

The “Curbside Chat” chat companion booklet is available online, and is absolutely a must-read.  As is the information, statistics, websites, and strategies for more productive growth and placemaking preservation approaches available on the strongtowns.org website.  You can also view Marohn’s presentation schedule, as well as sign up to schedule a “Curbside Chat” presentation in your town.

 

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THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

Why have we not been implementing growth based on ROI (Return on Investment)?

How can we get our cities and towns to start thinking about growth in terms of ROI (Return on Investment)?

What kinds of inexpensive changes and improvements can be made to our neighborhoods and downtowns to add value?

What “high amenity” areas offer the potential for an increased level of public investment and engagement?

How can we add value to those “high amenity” areas?

What are incremental strategies that can add value to existing development in cities and towns?

How can we articulate the ways that historic preservation continues to that value?

How can we communicate that to our towns and cities?

How does creating a sense of place with historic preservation contribute to the placemaking principles that Strong Towns advocates?

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