Historic Home Manifesto

This Historic Home Manifesto first appeared in my article Historic Home Performance: The Adoption, Care, and Feeding of a New Meme. Since then, it’s been tweaked a bit, though probably not too much. It’s intent is to succinctly state the fundamental tenets of Historic Home Performance in the form of a short didactic of what’s good, and what’s not so good, when attempting to improve the performance characteristics of very old, historic structures. From time to time, it’ll undoubtedly be adjusted and amended, as my know-how improves, and my perspectives evolve.

1. The overarching goal of Historic Home Performance is not simply making older homes more energy efficient, but deeply integrating modern home performance concepts — occupant safety, comfort, indoor air quality, durability, energy efficiency, minimally sized heating and cooling, moisture control, and ventilation – with established principles of historic preservation.

2. Home performance retrofits requiring large-scale removal or replacement of original or historic material (windows, in particular), or significant alteration to scale or architecture, are not consistent with the tenets of historic preservation. A key objective of historic home performance is devising safe, low-cost, non-destructive, alternative strategies, that deliver comparable performance results.

3. Home performance retrofits must not introduce new risks to occupant safety, comfort, indoor air quality, or building durability.

4. The embodied energy and embodied carbon of existing structures and materials needs to be preserved, as much as possible.

5. The use of non-sustainable or toxic materials, or materials requiring considerable amounts of energy to manufacture, package, or distribute, or that contribute significantly to green house gas production, must be avoided, as much as possible.

6. Performance retrofits for historic homes should be implemented in a reversible/re-treatable/repairable manner, to the greatest extent possible. Traditional materials and workmanship should be leveraged as much as possible, as a means of achieving this goal.

7. The whole house, or house as a system, approach to home performance needs to be expanded into a house as an element of a broader ecosystem approach. It makes little sense to reduce the energy use of a house by requiring increased energy footprints elsewhere.

8. Life style changes, minimal-investment solutions for conserving water and electricity, reliance on natural and passive strategies for heating and cooling, leveraging the existing energy conserving features of older structures or landscape, and small-scale sustainable food production, should all be promoted as part of historic home performance.

9. Any viable methodology for historic home performance ought to take into account  principles of modern building science. However, it must co-opt or adapt these principles via implementation strategies that are appropriate for historic structures.

10. Finally, precise and repeatable measurement, testing, and modeling, and the open publishing of results and best practices, should be central aspects of an historic home performance methodology. This includes a post-retrofit program of ongoing home performance monitoring and reporting.

4 Responses to Historic Home Manifesto

  1. Nate Adams says:

    Hear, hear! I like how you think, John. Now to rip the siding of my 1835 house… to replace the foam insulation with cellulose.

    • John Poole says:

      Thanks, Nate. I’m glad you like the way I think! :-) Good luck with your re-insulating project. And hope you manage to give us some updates from time to time on your blog. Would love to see your progress. I’m similarly involved in a re-siding/drainage plane project here, on a c. 1698 house (albeit not my own; and no wall insulation going in). Cheers!

  2. John Haigis says:

    Some people are using the term “conservation” rather than “preservation” to embody the concept of extending the useful life of buildings while being faithful to their legacy. In Darby Borough (Outside Philadelpha) we are in the early stages of beginning an Academy of Building Conservation to utilize our wealth of older buildings needing care and attention to teach traditional skills in a modern context and would welcome correspondence on the topic. John Haigis johnghd@yahoo.com

    • John Poole says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks very much for visiting and commenting.

      I agree that “conservation” is a very appropriate term for what we’re all doing. The folks across the Pond have certainly standardized upon it, and in my own case, I’ll often deliberately incorporate it into my various writings. But I suppose that because “preservation” is so embedded (e.g., in NPS guidelines, etc), I still gravitate toward it, fundamentally.

      On the other hand, “preservation” has been in use for so long, it seems susceptible to dilution. For example, I frequently take issue with non-preservation folks who are all too willing to corrupt “preservation” to mean “extreme renovation with a small bit of the original structure still intact”. But “conservation” seems more resilient to that sort of perversion of terminology.

      Thanks for including your email address and publicizing the Academy of Building Conservation here, as you folks are doing very important work in your locale. For the benefit of other readers, I’ll also include the Academy’s URL, which currently is: http://www.darbyhistory.com/Academy1.html.

      Please feel free to post any other relevant information regarding the Academy of Building Conservation, as you might want, here, as well, John. Thanks! And good luck with your efforts…

      ~ John

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