Energy Saving Features of Historic Homes

by Rachel Laurendeau on August 14, 2013

heating and cooling OhioDid you know that your historic home may have been “green” before sustainability was even a concept in building sciences?

Since homeowners couldn’t rely on mechanized systems back when our historic homes were being built, they had to ensure that their homes had natural passive or manual features that worked with the local environment to help with heating and cooling as well as proper ventilation.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), thick adobe or masonry walls were used in all climates and “provide thermal mass to absorb the sun’s energy during the day and transfer it very slowly to the interior. This helps keep the interior cool during the day and warmer in the evening as the heat works its way through the walls.

Some of the other inherent features that predated HVAC systems in warm climates include:

Houses were built to minimize the heat gain from the summer sun by introducing exterior balconies, porches, wide roof overhangs, awnings, and shade trees.

“Vents and shutters let air circulate while keeping out the hot sun.

“Exterior walls were also frequently finished with light colors in order to reflect the sun, helping to keep interior temperatures lower.

“On the inside, high ceilings allow hot air to rise and transom windows above doors promote air circulation.

“Chimneys are more commonly found on the outside walls to minimize heating the interior.”

Meanwhile, in colder climates special features may have included:

“…houses were positioned so that the long slope of the roof directed the cold north wind up and over the house to keep the house warmer in winter.

“House and outbuildings were grouped in an L or U-shape to create a sheltered dooryard in which to work.

“In areas where the winters are cold, chimneys typically run through the center of the house to allow the heat to radiate into the rooms.

One of the best things you can do to help maintain your historic home’s energy efficiency and its overall state, is to take the time and effort required for regular maintenance and home improvements around the house. In addition, you can have an energy audit performed by an expert who is experienced with older homes to see which upgrades or improvements your home may need.

Source: USEPA

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