Wednesday, September 2, 2009

--Treehugger asks, "Why are Old Buildings Like Green Gadgets?"

Treehugger recently asked why old buildings are like green gadgets. They spell out three main reasons, but the basic argument seems to be that the front-end interjection of power and materials required for new construction means anything new will always be less energy intensive than anything old.

There's absolutely sound logic to that argument. But here's a better point, and one that this blog seeks to emphasize: older buildings were constructed at a time when dramatic energy-add in the form of materials transport and climate control simply were not options. There was no air conditioning. There was no shipping lumber from Canada. A tree cut down in Alabama was used to build a house in Alabama, and the builder was damn sure he built a house that could cope with the heat as well as possible.

Old buildings are greener because they were loaded with technologies that mitigated environmental factors without the use of unavailable means. That means low-energy-add innovations like transoms, large windows, deep porches, heavy planting, and logical site placement for homes in the South. We think of these features as characteristically "Southern" because we're accustomed to seeing them across the South. But no one ever met in a conference room in Atlanta to establish architectural standards for an entire region. What we see regularly is a natural by-product of evolution. Of survival of the fittest.

Scarlett O'Hara goes to the plantation down the lane and notices that when the transoms are open, the parlor is cooler than at Tara. So you'd better believe she's going to insist on transoms when Rhett Butler builds a mansion for her later on. Bit by bit by bit, accidental discoveries accumulate into marked differences in quality of life until finally everyone sees the benefits of a certain feature and only the fools exclude them.

Here's a little experiment. Drive through the oldest neighborhoods in your city today. Determine what features seem to "define" the houses. Next, drive through the newest "subdivision." Are those innovations present?

Will the homeowners regret the absence as energy prices continue to climb?

Which of these houses will be more enjoyable if paying for air conditioning becomes an almost impossible burden on your budget?

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