A few nights ago, I faced a significant trial of priorities when I attended the city's monthly Historic Architecture Review Board (HARB) meeting. This board is designed to make decisions about the appropriateness of architectural changes in locally-established historic districts, which currently consists only of Hampton Heights and the Morgan Square area. They have a set of guidelines that allow them to make informed decisions about the costs and benefits of preservation versus restoration versus alteration.
At their recent meeting, an applicant had requested the authority to replace two windows on the facade of his house, primarily because they were significant sources of energy loss. The applicant is attempting to get LEED certification for his house, and if he is successful, it will be only the second LEED-certified house in South Carolina, and one of the first historic houses to be certified in the country. LEED-certification is a way to show that a building meets several measures of energy conservation and low environmental impact. It's one of the few ways to verify that a building really is "green," and getting certification is a very big deal. It's hard to do in new buildings, much less drafty older buildings.
The applicant who wanted to change out the two windows had recently moved to Spartanburg from Madison, Wisconsin, where he had been studying environmental science for several years. He's hoping to be a part of Wofford's new environmental studies program.
Several years ago, most of his house's windows had been replaced by new double-paned window sashes which are enormously more energy efficient than the original loose, single-paned sashes. Additionally, most of the original panes of glass had already been replaced by mass-produced glass that lacks the wavy characteristics of historic glass. We were shown photographs of the proposed new windows and photographs of the "original" windows (the ones with the replaced glass). The photographs were nearly identical. Without a caption, I would have had no idea there was a distinction. These windows are simple "1 over 1" windows, with only large single glass panes. Furthermore, the proposed replacement windows were to be wooden, rather than vinyl or aluminum.
The strict preservation standpoint in this case would hold that the energy efficiency can be addressed by storm windows, which are permitted in the guidelines, so the original windows should be left intact, regardless of their only partial originality.
The energy efficiency standpoint would hold that the new wood windows would be more efficient than the old ones and would allow for free airflow during good weather (which a storm window of the kind proposed would not). Others costs to consider would be the environmental impact of the production of the new window and the destruction of the old, which the owner envisioned using for other projects. Reuse of un-used materials is an element examined during LEED-certification.
This was a highly-contentious case in part because it would set a precedent for LEED-certification of historic homes, and no one wants to see charming historic windows ripped out without consideration for historic integrity. Similarly, no one wants to make it impossible for an historic home to be LEED-certified. In fact, we should want to encourage this. Especially if Spartanburg has the chance to be one of the first in the nation.
In the end, I actually fell on the side of allowing him to replace the windows. When I came to the meeting, I leaned towards the strict preservation interpretation. But it seemed to me that the visual match of the new windows with the old windows, the homeowner's interest in reusing the older materials, and the advantages of a new, energy-efficient window were all very significant points. By no means should historic windows be discarded as a standard practice in eco-restoration, but so long as the charming elements (the pane configuration, the hardware, the visual texture, and the crisp definitions) are left intact, why not save the earth a few thousand tons of carbon dioxide... and some money to boot?
So, historic-minded citizens of Spartanburg, what do you think?