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Energy-Efficient Upgrades for Preservationists


It’s not always easy to upgrade a house that’s being preserved: you may be limited in the actions you can take on both the interior and exterior of the building. Interior upgrades must preserve the look and feel of the building, while exterior upgrades may be governed by historical societies or the board of trustees of the organization that owns the building. Luckily, there are several ways to preserve the look and feel of a building while reducing its energy consumption.

Swap Out Lightbulbs

It might seem trivial, but swapping out a few lightbulbs can make a huge difference in energy efficiency. CFL bulbs provide a 75 percent reduction in energy usage compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs provide nearly an 80 percent reduction in costs over traditional incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs also provide a longer life than either incandescent bulbs or compact fluorescents, lasting 25 and 10 times as long, respectively.

If the shape of the bulbs – for example, candelabra bulbs – provides a challenge, LEDs are available in nearly every size, style and configuration. If you’re having trouble finding LEDs that work for a building’s lighting, adapters can be bought to change the base shape or size of standard bulbs.

Update Windows, Doors and Roofs

Replacing a building’s fenestration –the windows, doors and roofs of the building – can provide a significant reduction in energy consumption. Look for accurate period reproductions in restoration catalogs and supply houses. The best energy savings come from those rated by the National Fenestration Rating Council, although Energy Star ratings also apply.

Even if an NFRC- or Energy Star-compliant component isn’t available, simply replacing architectural fixtures with newer, more solid reproductions can improve the comfort and quality of a building.

Add Insulation

The interior of the walls is probably just about the only place preservationists don’t worry about looking period-accurate. If you have the permission of the owner or governing board of the building, blow in some insulation to keep the heat where it belongs – inside in the building in the winter and outside in the summer.

If replacing doors and windows with accurate, yet energy efficient reproductions isn’t within the realm of possibility or budget, add insulation around the doors or windows. Weather stripping can be an invisible addition around drafty window and door frames. If you still can’t make the insulation around doors or windows period-accurate, consider adding heavier textiles like draperies in front of windows or rugs near doors to block out drafts and keep energy costs down.

Replace Appliances

If the building has been modernized with heating and cooling, look for products rated with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star rating as replacements. Modernized historical buildings usually have heating and cooling, as well as any hot water tanks, hidden in a basement or closet, making their appearance a non-issue.

It’s not just appliances that must be more efficient – insulating pipes can cut down on energy usage, too. Heating water accounts for nearly 18 percent of the average home’s energy consumption, so wrapping pipes to ensure hot water makes it to its destination with minimal heat loss is imperative.

As a preservationist, you have certain limitations you must work within, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take many little steps to reduce a home or building’s overall energy usage. Making a building more energy efficient saves money, improves comfort and adds to the overall value and durability of the structure.

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