Living La Vida Local
materials, since few salvaged materials can comply,” notes real estate columnist Arrol Gellner. “The majority of salvaged windows, for example, are single-glazed and don't meet modern requirements for thermal efficiency or air infiltration -- shortcomings that usually can't be remedied without spending more than an old window is worth.”

Simple examples of the green building / historic rehab snafu:

Modern codes require safety glazing in all glass doors and in many windows. Yet the overwhelming majority of glass doors gleaned from architectural salvage, along with most of the windows, have plain glass, which cannot comply with these requirements. Calculate in the cost of re-glazing, say, a pair of old French doors with code-compliant glass would typically far outstrip their value. Factor in lead paint and asbestos issues. When it all comes down to it, it’s just easier to get them from your local home supply megastore.

Obviously old plumbing + electrical fixtures are out of the question. (Some antique models use as many as eight gallons per flush, as opposed to the currently mandated 1.6 gallons). Antique faucets on vintage sinks don't have the flow restrictors mandated by modern energy codes. In many cities, newly installed lighting fixtures are required to carry an Underwriters Laboratories label -- a standard that many old fixtures, even those rewired with modern components for safety, cannot meet.

In the current climate, achieving compliance in construction usually means replacing the old fixtures with more efficient ones.

Should green building ordinance makers need to look beyond the obvious, and make some allowances for certain types of recycled home materials?

Wade Killefer, a principal with Los Angeles-based Killefer Flammang Architects, has worked on many building rehab projects in downtown Los Angeles. He has identified several social and environmental benefits to historical rehab projects, including:
  • Conservation of natural resources
  • Repopulation of cities, which helps create sustainable communities
  • Minimizing waste/keeping debris out of landfills
  • Minimizing transportation costs for new materials
  • Reduced heating and cooling loads in rehabs of old concrete and masonry buildings
  • Increased cultural pride
  • Shared resources/lower per-capita energy use
  • Increased use of/demand for mass transit.

“One way to acknowledge the reuse of old materials as an alternate and equally valid way of saving energy would be for city building departments to grant ‘green credits’ to people using salvaged building materials,” observes Gellner. These could be used to offset certain code-compliance shortcomings, especially those dealing with energy efficiency.

Perhaps a simple approach may be to grandfather in various kinds of salvaged items, just as the noncompliant windows and lighting found in the vast majority of houses across the nation are deemed acceptable because they were legal when they were installed.