Green Restoration Compromises

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, Green Renovations, In The News

I think that most of us involved in the restoration of our old houses are environmentally responsible. If I go to my local lumberyard to place an order, and the salesperson tells me that he can give me the entire order in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified lumber for the same price as regular lumber, I of course will choose the FSC certified lumber. If he tells me the FSC certified lumber will be $200 more, I might hesitate for a second to consider my budget, but will then give him the okay. But what if he tells me the FSC certified lumber will be $1000 more? That hesitation would last longer than a second.

Thankfully, green technology has advanced enough that going green has become more budget friendly, and we aren’t faced with costly decisions as frequently as in the past. But, they do still occur from time to time. While I am doing my old house restoration, and it’s an ongoing project, I want to be true to my home’s character and history, I want to be environmentally responsible, but I also want to work within my budget, and sometimes I have to decide which is more important for various phases of the restoration.

Green Restoration in Hampton, Virginia

I read about a family doing a green restoration of their American Four Square home, built in 1924. Much of the initial restoration involved making the old house more energy efficient. Areas of air infiltration were closed off, insulation was added, and the old boiler was removed and replaced with a high-efficiency system. These were fairly easy decisions–they were green, they fit the budget, and they didn’t take away from the character of the home. But then something had to be done with the windows, and a compromise had to be made. Wood-framed replacement windows are expensive for a large house. I know because I’ve installed them in many homes over the years. Vinyl windows are budget friendly and energy efficient, but often don’t blend with an old house’s character. This family decided to go with storm windows, which might detract from the home’s look a bit when they’re in place, but were a good compromise.

North of the Border: Old House Makes Being Green the Priority

A Canadian family purchased a 100-year-old farmhouse in 1982, and after spending a Canadian winter in it, decided the old house’s energy efficiency was the number one priority. Over the years, they restored the home, and went green before most people knew what green was. While they remained true to the old house’s character where they could, going green and being energy efficient won out when a decision had to be made. The wooden exterior doors were replaced with steel, and the wood siding with vinyl. The old house still looks great, though. I’m sure a Canadian winter would make energy efficiency a priority for anyone.

Connecticut Green Restoration Decisions

I’ve been following the green restoration of an old Connecticut farmhouse, too. It was built in 1902, but sat vacant from 1975 until it was recently purchased. The homeowner decided she was going to try adhering to the three goals I mentioned: Be true to the old house’s character, do a green restoration, and stay on budget. She’s been doing a great job so far, and after seeing what the old house looked like when she purchased it, I’m anxious to see how it looks when finished. She blogs about her green restoration of Sheepdog Hollow every week.