Historic Preservation and Energy Efficiency in Federal Buildings

December 7, 2006

Historic buildings have often been considered “off limits” for energy projects by agencies trying to meet their energy efficiency goals. However, high energy costs and federal mandates, such as the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), have prompted agencies to consider the appropriate role of energy saving projects in historic buildings. EPAct 2005 requires federal buildings to achieve specific levels of energy efficiency and do not exempt historic buildings or even include historic preservation as a reason that an agency may exempt a building from the requirements of the law. Simultaneously, the National Historic Preservation Act calls for the preservation of our heritage in the built environment. And lastly, Executive Orders encourage private/public partnerships to meet the goals for both energy efficiency and historic preservation.

DOE’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) hosted an important meeting on December 6 and 7 to bring together distinguished architects, engineers, and facility managers for a dialogue about incorporating energy efficiency and renewable energy into historic buildings. The meeting was funded by FEMP’s Technical Assistance program, managed by Shawn Herrera, and kicked off with opening remarks by FEMP Director Rick Khan. Meeting attendees discussed the challenges and recent pressures of “greening” historic buildings. Representatives from numerous federal agencies including the National Park Service; the Department of Defense and the Services including the National Guard; Smithsonian Institution; Indian Health Services and the National Trust for Historic Preservation attended the conference.

Approximately 25% of the General Services Administration’s (GSA's) 1,600 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and fully 50% are more than 50 years old. Similarly, 30% of the Department of Defense’s (DOD's) 350,000 buildings are historic with a full 69% eligible for this designation within 20 years. Both the National Park Service and Smithsonian Institution are also known for their stewardship of a large number of historic buildings. Clearly, agencies need to take measures in historic buildings in order to meet the EPACT 2005 goals, yet energy projects are often precluded by historic preservation requirements. This meeting was a first step to identify obstacles, recommend solutions, and identify topics for additional research.

The conference took place at the historic Stephen Decatur House Museum, built in 1818, and one of the oldest surviving residences in Washington, D.C. It is one of only three remaining residential buildings in the country designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the “Father of American Architecture.” At the conclusion of the first day, meeting participants were invited on a private tour of this historic building. This museum was selected as the site of the meeting not only because of its rich history but also do to the fact that it recently underwent an energy retrofit; an employee of the museum spoke to meeting participants about the retrofit.

Renwick Gallery Retrofit—A Success Story

The meeting’s second day concluded with a tour of an HVAC retrofit at Smithsonian Renwick Gallery which demonstrated what to do and how to do it: modern HVAC technology contributing to a historic preservation mission and financed by a public/private partnership with the utility. The tour was conducted by Renwick Gallery Facility Manager Daniel Davies and the Smithsonian Institution Energy Manager Patrick O’Neil.

The Renwick Gallery, a masonry building of brick and sandstone, was completed in 1874. For more than 100 years, the gallery relied on steam for heating and cooling from a neighboring GSA facility. As the second to last client to receive steam along the pipeline, the building’s heating and cooling operations were unpredictable and difficult to manage. The Renwick Gallery, like other Smithsonian institutions, was required to follow the American Association of Museums guidelines for temperature and relative humidity (temp: 70 degrees ±2, RH: 50 degrees ±5). They often struggled to keep with these protocols, jeopardizing artifacts in its galleries. After a disastrous cooling (or lack of) event several summers ago while hosting a renowned painting, the gallery decided to undertake an energy retrofit. The gallery hoped to attain more reliable temperatures, gain control its own heating and cooling operations, and achieve energy savings.

In the first year after the retrofit, the gallery realized energy savings of 50% and utility bills savings of 60%. The projected payback of 6 or 7 years will actually be paid back in two and a half years. In addition, the staff are pleased with the reliable HVAC operations. The HVAC retrofit included new high-efficiency modular boilers to supplant the purchase of expensive ($38.95/million Btu) district steam.

Funding for the retrofit was made possible by a public/private partnership, or a utility energy savings performance contract (UESC)(see the FEMP Web site for more information on UESCs and energy saving performance contracts). Daniel Davies, Renwick Gallery director, said the retrofit would not have been possible without this partnership. Davies noted that a renovation can restore historic integrity while retrofitting the energy system. Mr. Davies said, "The energy retrofit did not compromise the integrity of our building—it successfully paired energy efficiency and historic preservation."


Proceeedings of the Workshop on Historic Preservation and Energy Efficiency in Federal Buildings (PDF 323 KB)


Rick Khan
Energy Efficiency and Historic Preservation in Federal Buildings (PDF 270 KB)

Constance Ramirez
Historic Preservation Learning Portal: A Cooperative Integrative Project to Assist Federal Agencies in Meeting Their Responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act (PDF 81 KB)

Richard Paradis
Whole Buildings Design Guide Sustainable Historic Buildings Resource Page (PDF 2.4 MB)

Antonio Aguilar and Jo Ellen Hensley
An Update on Revisions to Preservation Brief #3, Improving Energy Efficiency of Historic Buildings (PDF 49 KB)

Don Horn
High Performance and Sustainable Buildings: A Historic Preservation Perspective (PDF 2.7 MB)

Jennifer Groman
Trends in LEED amd Where Do Historic Buildings Fit In? (PDF 435 KB)

Carl Elefante
Recycling Buildings: The Ultimate Green Strategy (PDF 9 MB)

Barbara Judy
Case Study of Energy Project GGNRA Park Headquarters 2002-2006 (PDF 320 KB)

Alicen Kandt for Matt Nowakowski
National Summit Findings (PDF 190 KB)