For historic buildings, the greatest threat is the bulldozer driven by perceived irrelevance. Those bulldozers will be out in force as energy prices rise and older buildings that aren't upgraded and are viewed as energy hogs. Many historic buildings bit the dust for this reason during the last energy crisis. The energy crisis of the seventies was nothing compared to the one we will face in the next few decades (starting now due to declining supply, growing demand, rising population, climate change, inflation due to devalued dollar, pollution, regulation . . . but check back in a week for that post). We will all soon wax nostalgic about the current cost of fuel and electricity. We need not be nostalgic about our old buildings. We can take them with us into the carbon-constrained future and they will serve us well.
It was my good fortune to work on the Greening of the White House in 1993, which encompassed not only the White House, but the adjoining Old Executive Office Building, which is the largest solid granite building in the world (which was festooned with several hundred window air conditioners at the time). This comprehensive effort brought together six federal agencies and 100 volunteer experts to look at eight areas of potential improvement ranging from building envelope to building systems to indoor air quality to irrigation and pesticides. The resulting improvements have saved taxpayers about $380,000 per year in energy savings alone and it would a challenge any of the millions of annual visitors to point out the differences (except that the window air conditioners are gone). The OEOB was originally designed to cool itself using its own honeycombed granite mass, which took advantage of natural daylight and natural stack-effect ventilation. This design serves it well today.
The Greening of the White House led to the Greening of the Pentagon and eventually led to 12 federal agencies adopting green building standards for all of their major facilities projects, including hundreds of existing building renovations, many on the National Register of Historic Places. Two federal building renovation projects here in Indianapolis, for example, are pointing toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification. It is the fiscally-responsible thing to do, it improves our energy security, reduces pollution, increases building valuation, improves employee health and productivity, etc,. But what about other, less famous old buildings?
When considering a green upgrade to an existing building, there are at least two options to look at to achieve a green building certification. I will briefly describe three case studies here and point you to their more in-depth case studies and other related resources.
Can you turn relatively new office towers, built in 1998 and 2003, green and still save money? Beginning in 2001, Adobe began to green their headquarters and they eventually certified at the highest Platinum level of LEED for Existing Buildings.
Was that a good investment for them in their relatively new building or was it all hype? Consider the numbers: $1.4 million invested in 64 projects; $384,000 in utility rebates; and here's the cool part - $1.2 million in annual operating cost savings! If you subtract the rebates, that's less than a one-year payback and a 148% return on investment. See anything wrong with that as an Adobe stockholder? If you were an Adobe employee, you would certainly notice the difference in terms of better indoor air quality, greater comfort and probably a little bump in your paycheck, or perhaps a few more employees hired because of the extra cash. Chances are they can compete for the best employees because of their state-of-the-art Platinum facility and their existing employees are more likely to show up for work, less like to use the health insurance and more likely to stick around. Workers in certified green buildings are as much as 15% more productive than workers in brown buildings. How much more do green buildings cost? Wrong question! How much more is your brown building costing you?
Gerding Theater at the Armory, Portland, Oregon - 1891 building listed on the National Register.
This 1891 55,000-square-foot Romanesque Revival Gerding Theater Building was originally constructed to house the Oregon National Guard. A major renovation project completed in 2006, which achieved the highest LEED for New Construction rating of Platinum (53 points out of a possible 69). Among the unique features of this building is its 100' by 200' clear space spanned by Douglas fir arched trusses.
In fact, this project won the coveted Massachusetts Historical Commission Award in 2006, the same year it won the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council's First Place Exemplary Sustainable Building Award. As a major renovation, they pursued LEED for New Construction rather than LEED for Existing Buildings.