January 15, 2022 Daphnee Lacroix

How To Retrofit Your Heritage Home Without Losing the Historic Charm

When we think of what an energy-efficient home typically looks like, oftentimes we drift towards the image of the ultra-modern, big white box that looks something fit for a Bond villain. This unfair belief is usually enough to refrain heritage homeowners who would like to increase the energy efficiency of their older property from making this investment out of fear that it might be stripped of its natural character and historic charm. 

But what if it is possible to restore older homes in a way that preserves their historic design while simultaneously converting them into high-performing energy-efficient houses?

Achievements in sustainable design and heritage home renovation, such as our recent LEED® Platinum certification for a 119-year-old Chicago heritage home, proves that this is indeed possible.

Photo credit: Unsplash

What are LEED® certifications?

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Certification is the most widely used green building rating system globally, recognized as a symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership. 

The Platinum level is the highest distinction for LEED® certified buildings. To achieve such LEED® certification, buildings must attain a score of 80 or more on a 100-point scale that measures environmental impact. As such, our renovation project of the Newman Residence scored 83 points. 

But how exactly do you go about retrofitting a historic home to bring it up to the highest level of sustainability? Let’s get into it.

Retrofitting a historic home requires specific upgrades

Restoring an older home to match LEED® standards often involves numerous improvements. Some retrofits include additional insulation to crawl spaces and the attic, incorporating weatherstripping to doors and windows, and installing storm windows to existing ones to reduce thermal transmission. 

Beyond these alterations, light bulbs and dated appliances are usually replaced with new, more energy-friendly ones. Exterior adjustments may also benefit the restoration of some homes, for instance adding trees to provide shade in the summer and allow the sunlight to pierce through in the winter once the leaves have fallen.

Whenever possible, you should try to rely on locally sourced and recycled materials. In the process of restoring the Newman Residence, we used local drywall and natural stones and achieved a 92% construction recycling rate. 

Expect challenges

Such projects are not exempt from challenges, so encountering obstacles along the way are to be expected, but shouldn’t deter you.

The most challenging part of the process during the restoration of the Newman Residence was the integration of a high-performing forced air system. Some of the spaces were a challenge to access and to get the required duct sizing and airflow through the home.

In the end, however, heat recovery ventilators were successfully installed with two-variable speed furnaces to draw in fresh air and to better control the airflow through the home. 

Older home. Useful features 

While a lot of adjustments are in order to restore an old home, be sure to take a look at your home’s current features before launching your retrofitting project. Depending on the age of your house, those features may save you some time and money.

In fact, according to InterNACHI, a leading association for home inspectors, “historic homes are inherently energy-efficient,” which reduces the number of alterations needed. Studies have found that buildings constructed before 1940 are more energy efficient than those constructed subsequently, as they relied on natural sources of lighting, heating and ventilation instead of electricity. 

This quality, among other reasons, is inciting an increasing number of people to invest in LEED®-certified home renovations for houses over 100 years old. This was the case for the Newman Residence, a 119-year-old home completely restored into a high-performing and very livable home for its owners. 

The benefits of retrofitting a historic home are plenty

Now that you know that it is indeed possible to introduce energy-efficient elements to an old home without interfering with the original architectural design, you should know that there are plenty of benefits in doing so.

Restoring a heritage home instead of demolishing it and building from scratch reduces a harmful footprint on the environment. According to the USGBC, “it can take up to 80 years to make up for the impacts of demolishing an existing building and constructing a new one, even if the resulting building is extremely energy efficient.”

Doing so also requires less use of new materials and transport miles–another bonus for Mother Nature and your personal ecological footprint!

Restoring older homes and historic buildings equally ensures that the cultural value behind such monuments is preserved, simultaneously upkeeping the community’s value. 

Lastly, while on a financial level, LEED®-certified retrofitting projects offer a quicker return on investment than building a new house and lower energy bills, on a comfort level, they provide better lighting and enhance the home’s overall pleasantness.

Make the commitment today – enjoy the benefits for decades 

LEED® certifications are well-known across the board and ensure that your home is met with the highest standards in sustainable design. With this solution, you don’t have to choose between energy efficiency and historic charm anymore. A LEED®-certified heritage home renovation lets you have it all; a healthy house with character, historical value and comfort. The commitment is worthwhile.  

Curious to know what this can look like for your home? Let’s discuss the best approach to convert your heritage home into a high-performing energy-efficient one.

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