Historic Districts and Landmarks Promote Quality of Life
Historic districts and landmarks help promote a community’s quality of life which is a key ingredient in economic development. Historic buildings are one of the primary ways a community differentiates itself from another. Historic buildings, the character and identity they provide, and the quality of their preservation says much about a community’s self-image.
Historic Buildings Often Last Longer Than New Ones
The life expectancy of rehabilitated historic buildings is almost always greater than that of new structures. Buildings from the 18th to the mid-20th century were constructed with better quality materials, now expensive or difficult to obtain. Historic buildings are often composed of old-growth lumber, long lasting masonry, and interior materials such as plaster and were built with quality craftsmanship. Materials used in buildings over the past fifty years were often of less quality and the life expectancy of pre-1960 buildings is generally greater than those built in more recent decades.
Historic Preservation Creates Jobs
Rehabilitation and revitalization projects create thousands of construction jobs annually, and historic preservation creates proportionally more labor jobs than new construction. Rehabilitation projects are more labor intensive than new construction. In new construction generally half of all expenditures are for labor and half are for materials. In a typical historic rehabilitation project, between 60 and 70 percent of the total cost goes toward labor, which has a beneficial ripple effect throughout the local economy.
Historic Preservation Increases Property Values
Studies across the country have shown that property and resale values in designated National Register or local historic districts in the least stabilize but more often increase. Many times these increases are greater than surrounding neighborhoods which may have similar architecture but do not have protective overlays.
Historic Preservation Benefits Property Owners
Real estate often represents our largest economic asset and property owners all want this asset to improve in value. Historic district designation and the use of design review guidelines helps to ensure that investment in an historic area will be protected from inappropriate new construction, misguided remodeling, or inappropriate demolition. Locally designated districts also protect the overall economic value of an historic area benefiting all property owners. Every building or parcel in an historic area is influenced by the actions of its neighbors and design guidelines provide a level playing field for all property owners because they apply equally to the properties in an historic area.
Historic Preservation Supports Taxpayers’ Investments
Preserving historic commercial areas and in-town neighborhoods is one of the most fiscally responsible actions a community can take. Athens has spent millions of dollars investing in infrastructure such as sidewalks, lights, water and sewer lines, telephone and electrical lines, gutters and curbs, and roads and streets. If this infrastructure is underutilized it wastes taxpayer’s dollars. Preserving historic buildings and districts supports existing public infrastructure and reduces the need to add more infrastructure elsewhere.
Historic Preservation is Sustainable
— saves embodied energy
— reduces sprawl
— energy efficient by design
— less landfill waste
— quality materials
The “greenest” building is the one that already exists. Historic buildings represent “embodied energy” through the costs and resources already expended in their construction. Embodied energy in historic buildings includes the expense and effort used to fire bricks, cut and tool stone, transport and assemble the wood framing, and prepare and apply interior plaster. Demolishing a historic building and replacing it with a new energy efficient building would take decades to recover the energy lost in demolishing the building and reconstructing a new structure in its place. Demolishing historic buildings is not a sustainable practice and adds to the nation’s waste stream and landfills. Recycling historic buildings is the ultimate “green” project.
One of the key considerations in a life cycle assessment of a historic building is the quality of its materials. The materials in historic houses often can last indefinitely if properly cared for. Many homes have old-growth wood windows, brick and wood exteriors, and stone foundations that are a hundred years old or older. These materials can easily last another one hundred years because of their inherent quality. Contrast this with common materials today such as new-growth wood elements or vinyl windows that often require replacement after just ten to twenty years.
Preserving and reusing existing buildings revitalizes Athens’ neighborhoods and downtown. This stabilizes and increases the population density in the inner city and lowers the pressure for development on the city’s edge. The reduction of sprawl helps to preserve open space, farmland, and wildlife habitats. Reducing sprawl also lessens automobile use and the continued development of environmentally and economically costly infrastructure.
Historic buildings are often as energy efficient as new ones. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency found that buildings constructed before 1920 are actually more energy-efficient than those built at any time until the past decade when home builders began a concerted effort of building more energy efficient buildings.
Many historic buildings have tall ceilings that help to reduce heat in the summertime and brick and plaster walls that provide substantial insulation properties. Common upgrades to historic buildings include the addition of attic insulation, installation of storm windows, and more efficient heating and cooling systems. In particular, repairing and weather stripping historic wood windows and adding storm windows often results in energy performance equal to new vinyl or aluminum windows and at much less cost.
Historic buildings can also be adapted to benefit from new technology. Solar panels are expected to become more efficient in the future and can be mounted on rear roof lines or as freestanding units in rear yards in order to provide solar energy to a property. Solar roof tiles or shingles may also be an acceptable alternative for solar heat. These roof tiles and shingles resemble traditional fiberglass and asphalt shingles and may be appropriate for rear roof lines or along the sides of dormers.
Construction debris accounts for 25% of the waste in municipal landfills each year. Demolishing sound historic buildings is wasteful of the building’s inherent materials and strains the limited capacities of landfills. Demolishing a 2,000 square foot home results in an average of 230,000 lbs of waste.
Adapted for ACHF from the City of Lexington, KY Design Guidelines