Sustainable design in architecture is often only associated with wealthy individuals, high-end glossy magazines, distant locations, and famous celebrities. With green buildings still only account for less than 1% of all buildings, little attention is paid to the sustainability of the vernacular in the local suburbs of modern America.
Incorporating sustainable design for every-day American households is not a popular pursuit among most home builders and architects. However, a few are blazing the paths offering smaller homes that utilize the concept of permaculture and rely on reclaimed or sustainable materials., especially from local sources.
Urban planning is also used to enhance sustainable design by incorporating the concepts of walkable neighborhood. Green urban planning ensures community green spaces, small neighborhood markets and commercial centers, schools, and even space for community gardens and all integrated into a walkable neighborhood.
New construction certainly has the benefit of being able to incorporate the concepts of sustainable design into vernacular architecture; however, an existing building is still greener than a new building because it does not take any new resources to construct. Reusing an existing building is one of the highest forms of sustainable design.
Many of the historic buildings constructed before 1940 are sustainable and energy efficient by their very design and they simply require sustainable upkeep. Before the concept of “green building” was around, builders incorporated sustainable elements into buildings by necessity. A building was sited with the local environmental conditions in mind; local materials were used for construction; and, natural ventilation and shading were used for cooling. When historic preservation and sustainable design and rehabilitation overlap, the greenest possible buildings are the outcome.
Many buildings, especially the vernacular architecture of the post World War II Era, may require smart renovation to make it an energy efficient building. Installing smart lighting, energy efficient windows, and automated HVAC control systems are all relatively simple ways to increase the green rating of a building without compromising the historic integrity.
A more unique method to improve the sustainability of historic vernacular architecture is to install a small-scale geothermal system to heat and cool the structure. Once installed, these geothermal heat pumps ensure that no distracting machinery is located on top or outside of the building and it operates without any noise and very little energy cost.
Properly rehabilitated historic buildings can have a new and long life with the benefit of lessening other negative impacts that would have otherwise occurred with new construction. -KATHY FAIRCHILD