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Proving Preservation

Proving Preservation

As I write this, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Tampa halfway through a great weekend workshop with a ton of amazing historic preservationists. I’ve written about a few of them in an earlier post and these people truly are rockstars, but it makes me wonder why with so many great people in preservation, there is still so little traction in the mainstream.

As I’ve had some quiet time away from my daily grind, I’ve listened to some amazing preservation business ideas from these people. Some of which could change not only the way we think about preservation but how we think about our buildings as a whole.

I’ve seen people fired up to change the world and cause some serious disruption to the status quo on the scale of giants like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. You probably think I’m exaggerating and living in a world of delusional hyperbole, but I’m dead serious.

There are 330 million Americans, and every one of them needs a place to live. A house, an apartment, an loft, condo, co-op, a roof over their head. They don’t all need a computer, iPhone, electric car, or trip to space (though all of those would be cool).

They need a safe, warm place to live that is both sustainable and maintainable. They need a home. And preservationists are in the business of fixing homes. Let’s play a little game of what if…

What if…

Preservationists could get off their arrogant, high horses and stop being seen as anti-progress, but rather, pro sustainable progress.

Preservationists could figure out how to translate the hundreds of studies they have from technical jargon into plain everyday English so that people can finally understand the blaring truth that the greenest building, window, wall, floor, is the one already built.

Preservationists could provide low-cost housing options for people who need it by restoring older buildings instead of letting developers raze them to create high end condos for the rich.

Preservationists could be known as historical preservationists instead of hysterical preservationists.

Preservationists could be seen for what they really are which is someone who wants to use and reuse the buildings we have rather than cramming our landfills full of more and more junk.

Preservationists could expose the untenable waste and lies behind planned obsolesce in construction so that the public would see it and make better choices.

What if, what if, what if?

The list continues to grow in my mind. As fast as I can write them down, new ideas come into my mind. But the over-arching theme is that historical preservation needs to get its act together!

How can a group of people who have not only the truth on their side, but the studies to back it up, fail to communicate that truth in a coherent way to the masses?

What is that truth? I’ll tell you right now, but I’m also going to promise to you that for the next month, I am going to show you the evidence to back it up in a way that our soundbite culture can digest and understand.

If at the end of this next month, you aren’t 100% convinced of the claims I am about to make, then I will eat my words and publicly proclaim on this blog “Historic preservation is of no value!”

My Four Claims:

  1. Historic preservation is GOOD for property values and spurs sustainable local economic growth.
  2. Every single historical wood and steel window can be repaired and made to be as or more energy efficient than a replacement window.
  3. The greenest building is the one already built, period.
  4. Original materials in buildings built pre-WWII are longer lasting, more easily repaired, and rarely go obsolete.

I encourage you to come back every week and read what I’m about to start posting here and tell me if I am able to prove the claims I have just made. I dare you.

I expect kickback on these topics, maybe not from my regular readers who already love their old houses, but from those who don’t agree with us.

So, share this with all the skeptics you know. Send it to flippers, developers, mayors, city councils, neighbors, anyone who doesn’t buy this historic preservation gobbledegook. Let’s see if I can make you a believer!

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18 thoughts on “Proving Preservation

  1. thanks scott…where do I begin? the shiny object gets the most attention…shiny is: newer, bigger, better, hotter, colder, wider, narrower, stainless, granite, open concept, plastic, cheap, cheaper and so on…
    we have come a long way in educating folks about maintaining and preserving old homes and buildings but we have a longer way to go…LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) is NOT our friend…AZEK, TYVEK, TREX, PVC–unhealthy but popular…I think LEED supports razing rather than repurposing old buildings as they claim it is too costly to bring them up to code…perhaps we need a liaison to the state/federal building code….
    what gives me hope is that groups like WPA (window preservation alliance) are attracting more people to the trades to make a living in preservation…keep up the good story lines……..

    1. It’s an uphill battle Jade I agree. I do think we need to be better (myself included) at playing the game instead of demanding that people play our game. Only when we engage people where they are will we ever win them over.

  2. Mostly insulting to preservationists working out in the trenches against terrible odds for no pay or recognition. They get it – not sure why you don’t think they get it?

    1. Steve, here’s my issue. The preservation community (myself included) seems to be yelling at society demanding that they love us. And that is no way to win someone’s heart. If we want to reach people who have never been reached before we need to do thing that have never been done before. The preservation group is not particularly interested in doing those different things that reach people where they are. We preach to the choir, complain about corporate greed, and keep to our own circles. We must change or die.

      1. You are SO right, Scott. I am sick of seeing great houses torn down to be replaced by new junk–and sometimes TWO new pieces of junk. At the rate things are going there won’t be a single-story house in a nice neighborhood into which a young family might start or an older family finish.

    2. Have to agree with Steve here. I work with preservation commissions all over the county and they are far from arrogant. And welcome to the sustainability argument. Published in 2011, the NPS Guidelines on Sustainability are the first set of official guidelines on how to make changes to improve energy efficiency and preserve the character of historic buildings. I support your effort, but bashing folks who have been doing the same thing for years is a poor start.

  3. I don’t necessarily agree with #4 “Original materials in buildings built pre-WWII are longer lasting, more easily repaired, and rarely go obsolete.”
    There are wood materials now that are just as good or better depending on price and knowing your suppliers. A lot of the reason those old buildings stood the test of time was in the craftsmanship and understanding maintenance. They were built to be repaired in the first place, not thrown away. The lead paint had much better protection quality than paints now. In the housing industry now days they build expensive shacks with big facades that will not last because of material selection. As always good is not cheap and cheap is not good.

    1. That’s the thing Fred! It has taken us decades of technological breakthroughs to create materials that rival the old stuff. We have developed better building techniques since then, though they are not used as often as they should be.

    2. Dear Fred,

      I kinda agree with his #4. My home was built in phases. The first part in 1834, the second part in 1895 to 1905, and the third part in the 1960s. The older parts of the house would probably stand through a tornado and the original hardwood floors, other than needing refinishing, are in perfectly fine shape. The 1960 part of the house, however, is not so great. The workmanship is shoddy and the materials are just not up to snuff, like the rest of the house. Not even close! We are working on restoring the house as it was abandoned and pipes froze before we purchased it. It is worth it to see this lovely lady come back to life!

  4. Not everyone is fortunate to get to live in an old house. Along those lines comes good stewardship. Education on “how” and the importance “of” good stewardship might help in the evolution of preservation. Today people seem to want the latest, greatest, cheapest, trendy way to “improve” their house. People might make different choices in maintaining their home with the mindset of a good steward.


    keep on planning the way Scott!
    your window buddy in Dallas TX

    1. Mark I’m curious; how would you define good stewardship? It’s a challenging thing- we know it when we see it but we need to be able to help others recognize it.

  5. Wow Scott! You put into words what so many of us have been thinking for years! I will definitely share this with people all over the country, and especially friends in Portland, Oregon, who battle flippers and ruthless developers daily. Thank you for your passion and dedication to saving Old Houses!

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