Using green building and energy-efficient technology may be difficult in a historic home restoration but it’s possible, Mathew Pelz told Ellis County Museum members this week.
Pelz, who serves as project coordinator of the Galveston Historical Foundation, discussed the restoration of a hurricane-damaged 1890 home on the island during the museum’s annual membership meeting Monday.
“This project we have been working on has tried to figure out the answers to questions that all preservation organizations, like you all, have. How can sustainability and green building techniques be molded into what we do?” Pelz said. “What we already do as preservationists is green and these are questions that everyone has been asking.
“After Hurricane Ike (which produced storm surges of up to 15 feet), we found ourselves dealing with a lot of small houses being torn down or slated to be torn down,” Pelz said. “If you have a storm come in, we have found that the big houses, such as Bishop’s Palace, have a lot of people come in and save them, as they should, because they are icons of the town. The houses that are in trouble are the alley houses and the back houses.”
One of the homes the foundation selected to save – using grant money from the Connecticut-based 1772 Foundation – previously survived the Galveston hurricane of 1900. While other projects were in the works, the house sat for 18 months before it was moved to a different lot 17 blocks away. Moving the home took seven and a half hours.
“Before the storm, it was standing and in good shape,” Pelz said, noting that the area where the home was located suffered a storm surge of about 6 feet. “(The surge) picked up some debris and washed it into the foundation pilings and piers and took out the whole bottom. The home basically sat on top of 3 feet of debris that included a washer and dryer.”
One of the project goals was to preserve 90 to 100 percent of the structural material and recycle as much of the material as possible. Construction lasted through the summer 2010, with the house one of the nation’s first historic buildings to achieve platinum certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes program. LEED for Homes is one of several versions of a program created by the United States Green Building Council to measure building performance.
One of the project challenges was selecting the correct insulation for the home. In many green building projects material such as recycled newspaper or denim is used as insulation; however, the humidity in Galveston would trap moisture and create problems such as mold, Pelz said, noting that recycled styrofoam was used instead.
“Styrofoam is not what you would consider green and is not an environmentally-friendly product. Our feeling is that it is already been made and we are using recycled styrofoam and keeping it out of the landfill,” Pelz said. “Its big issue is that it does not break down, but in walls that weakness becomes its strength. Using it inside the wall cavity, it is not going to absorb moisture.”
Other features on the home included the installation of energy-efficient appliances and fixtures, with solar panels installed on the back porch and a rainwater harvesting system put into place