ECHB: Energy Conservation in Historic Buildings

In 2011-12, the League worked with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to provide ECHB workshops across the state.

The workshops provided training in the NYS Energy Conservation Code and taught building owners and construction professionals how to make historic buildings energy efficient while protecting their historic features.

Structures built before World War II use traditional building practices to capture winter sun and summer cross breezes. The Preservation League wants to help owners of older and historic properties maximize energy efficiency by enhancing these desirable design features with state-of-the-art technology.

The Preservation League of New York State saw a need for more information on appropriate energy conservation for historic buildings. Our technical services staff noticed a disconnect between the idea of an energy efficiency retrofit and respect for a building’s original function and practicality. Much of the research done on insulation and weatherization focused on new construction or post World War II structures, not older buildings with such features as masonry facades, lime-based plaster interior walls, and double-hung windows made with dense, old-growth wood. Concern grew within the preservation community, as well as among owners and stewards of these older buildings, regarding the dearth of information available to help them make the best decision in the interest of their building’s efficiency, longevity, and historic character.

We developed the ECHB program in partnership with NYSERDA to show that one could both respect the house’s original (and often practical) design features, while enhancing its energy efficiency. Extensive research, professional interviews, and review by a steering committee of experts in the fields of preservation and energy informed the development of our workshop curriculum.

Original characteristics of historic buildings often assist in making them energy efficient. Design for historic buildings took the site into consideration, naturally managing climatic elements before “sustainability” was a trend. Natural ventilation through maximization of transoms, windows, and sliding doors further tempered the climate. Changes that occur over time frequently mask the original building design’s intent. Uncovering and understanding these elements can be the first step to improving the building’s energy efficiency. Retaining our existing buildings and improving their performance is an effective solution for a sustainable building industry.