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A Showcase: The Greening of the Hudson Valley & New England

Rural Intelligence StyleThis weekend, Herrington’s, the local hardware chain, is hosting, Lean Toward Green, a showcase of environmentally responsible, home building products and systems that promise to make our houses more energy efficient and comfortable.  There will be special seminars on window replacement and insulation, where the tax incentives for doing both will be explained.  There are the right things to do.  Absolutely.  In theory.

But in fact, those who own the antique houses that give our region so much of its special character face greater challenges when it comes to “going green.”  Everyone knows that modern windows are tighter, but those leaky old ones with their narrow mullions and ripple glass look so right.  And yes, walls thickly padded with insulation obviously cut down on fuel waste.  But to get them that way may require the destruction of plaster interior walls that have held their own, and lent character to the building, for a couple of hundred years. 

If it were just personal taste vs. energy efficiency, there would be no question of the right thing to do.  But these houses contribute mightily to the commonweal.  They are historic relics, symbols of all that is right with this region, and a big part of why the Hudson Valley and New England hold such a special place in the hearts of our countrymen nationwide. So this isn’t just about us.  And this isn’t just about now.  Once these houses have been “upgraded”—once their interiors and all moving parts have been sucked out and replaced with modern materials—the entire region is one step closer to being just another American suburb filled with fake “colonials.”  No one wants that.  On the other hand, no one wants to live in a museum—unless, of course, it’s the Bryant Homestead, in Lenox, (photo above), which would almost be worth freezing for. 

Rural Intelligence StyleSo, on the eve of their Lean Toward Green symposium this weekend and to get a taste of the kind of advice we are likely to get there, we threw a tough one at the wise men and women of Herrington’s: If we are weighing historic preservation against energy conservation, is there an acceptable choice? 

As it happens there may well be.  In an e-mail response, Herrington’s recommended various ways of tightening an older house without ruining it.  Replace old windows with new, insulated ones, using a company that can replicate historical details.  Add loose fill or batt insulation to attics without any disruption to the structure.  Insulate the basement, and use rigid insulation on the exterior.  This last, of course, would require the removal of exterior siding, something purists prefer to leave alone until it rots.  Herrington’s even sent a link to the Building Science website that has an excellent article from Fine Homebuilding magazine with three case studies of upgraded older homes, and a list of priorities—first of which is to get more modern mechanicals.  No sentimental value there.

At the showcase, the vendors and Herrington’s own in-house experts will offer advice to owners of existing houses, old and more modern, and to those considering building from scratch or adding on.  One bit of wisdom gleaned from the Fine Homebuilding article: the author points out that, instead of making their existing houses more livable, many homeowners opt to build an addition, then end up spending all their time in the addition, even if its less spacious than the older part of the house.  Why?  Because it’s comfortable.  Had they instead made the older part more livable, she argues, it probably would have cost a great deal less, and the family would have more space to live in. 

Herrington’s Building the Green Life Home Show
Saturday, October 24; 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Taconic Hills High School
73 County Route 11A, Craryville, NY
Pre-registration for seminars recommended; 518.325.3131
Refreshments provided by Taconic Hills Senior Class

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 10/20/09 at 02:31 PM • Permalink