Old is the New Green

Old is the New Green


The cover of Preservation Magazine proclaims this month that “Old is the New Green.” It’s an interesting concept on a lot of fronts, especially in the way it undercuts the idea floating around out there that we can shop our way to sustainability. Sustainability, and being green, aren’t about buying clothing made from bamboo (which is really just rayon, the manufacturing of which brings a host of problems) or changing the lightbulbs, or well, buying different stuff instead of the stuff we’ve been buying all along. We’ve got to start thinking about ways to NOT buy stuff. To buy less stuff. To reuse the stuff we’ve already got.

Which is why I just loved this article about the green overhaul that the owners of the Empire State building have just done. For instance, instead of replacing all the windows, which would have led to a zillion pounds of window being sent to the landfill, they pulled out each window, broke the thermopane seal, added a layer of mylar, and resealed and regassed them. Then they put them back in. End result, lower energy costs for air conditioning since the mylar reflects the sun, and higher heat retention in the winter. Also, since the Empire State Building was built before air conditioning became prevalent, you can open the windows! My dad was something of an aficionado of old skyscrapers. He’d take me downtown to Chicago to see the old Sullivan and Root buildings, and one of the glories of those old buildings is the way they were designed to use natural light, and natural cross-ventilation. Anyone who’s ever been assigned an interior office with no natural light or natural ventilation knows how soul-deadening it is. In the early part of the last century, electricity was new and expensive, so they designed offices you could work in with daylight.

Old is the new green. Maybe we need to be looking back a little bit, thinking about siting buildings (as this Mother Earth News article also discusses). One of the reasons I bought my 1903 house is because they built huge windows into the entire south side of the living room wall. In January, when it’s grim and cold here, I get lots and lots of natural light during the day. Which some days, is crucial.

3 thoughts on “Old is the New Green

  1. I can definitely see the difference in architectural ‘attitudes’ when comparing the house I used to live in across town with the one live in now.

    The other house was built around the time of WWII when resourses were scarce do to the war and A/C was still considered a luxury by the majority. It is very plain and there were windows and lots of natural light in every room. The windows and doors when left open created a good breeze through the house in the warmer months.

    This house I am in now was built in 1957 when the consumer culture we now live in was being birthed. It has very poor natural light and can’t pull a draft worth a flip. It was built for electric light and window unit air conditioners. There were spaces built into the walls for the units. One of the orginial A/C units is still in my oldest sons room.

    Even more modern houses have windows that don’t open at all to ‘save resourses’ by keeping chilled or heated air in and that rifraff unconditioned air out.

  2. Isn’t it astonishing? A couple of years ago, I was back in the midwest helping my mom find a new apartment. We looked at a number of really cool refurbished buildings — old department stores and office buildings that had been converted to apartments. Most of them had enormous windows and really high ceilings, and even though they’d been retrofitted, windows that open. It makes such a difference. My house is 1903, and the air circulation is pretty good — or has been ever since I chipped open the sealed living room windows — the older people around town all caulked shut their windows during the same timer period when they added dropped ceilings and the ubiquitous green shag carpeting.

  3. I know what you mean about the windows painted and caulked shut. A lot of that happened. In reality being sealed up so tight you can’t open your windows doesn’t save you that much. With windows that don’t open you have to run the a/c in months where you could just open everything up and let nature keep you comfortable. I’d almost betcha that you don’t lose as much air around the little cracks in mobile window as you use during a mild/warm weather month with no openable windows.

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