The Emerson School Project: A Historic Building Goes Green

Posted by Steve Kleber on Sep 14, 2011

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When it comes to green building, it’s not all about new construction. The topic of green construction is popping up in unexpected places, including greening a historic school – a challenge that many wouldn’t attempt. The truth is that making updates to buildings made of brick and brownstone have far more impact on our total footprint than new construction. And these updates won’t compromise the historic character and integrity of older buildings. What is there to lose?

Scot Horst of the U.S. Green Building Council pointed out that energy saved by improving the performance of our existing building stock by just one percent would equal the savings that would be achieved if all new buildings constructed in the U.S. during a given year were “netzero.” Others agree, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They believe that energy efficiency in older buildings can be improved by far more than one percent by tightening exterior envelopes, restoring original passive design features and adding modern improvements. By adding these improvements, they believe that older structures can meet or exceed the highest standards for energy performance and sustainable design. Surprisingly, they say they can do it at a reasonable cost.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation plans to demonstrate how to make improvements to older buildings through work on a property recently donated in Denver. The Emerson School is a two-story masonry structure built in 1885. Like many historic buildings, it needs a lot of help. Spending $2.1 million in hard building costs like installing a geothermal HVAC system, repairing original wood windows, and replacing inefficient light fixtures, they plan to convert the Emerson School to a center for historic preservation groups and other nonprofits. They also plan to open up the interior to restore passive ventilation and natural lighting schemes lost over time.

As a result of these planned improvements, energy models suggest that energy consumption at the Emerson School should be more than 40 percent below the ASHRAE 90.1 baseline. Ultimately, the National Trust for Historic Preservation would like to reduce energy use even more and have agreed to target the “netzero” resource consumption model at the Emerson School by 2030.

The good news is that many can learn and model their own work after this project. The Emerson School is similar to thousands of other historic schools and institutional buildings found across the United States: timber-frame construction, thick masonry walls, large windows and high ceilings.

To learn more about the National Trust for Historic Preservation and how it will reach its goals for the Emerson School, click here.

This entry was posted by Steve Kleber on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 at 9:11 am and is filed under Home Building & Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.