Our "Green" Historic Florida Homes - Part II

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We have become so reliant on air conditioning and heating that we sometimes forget to take advantage of the inherent good design found in our historic homes. As the weather gets more pleasant this fall, consider taking a few steps to operate your historic house more energy efficiently, and save some money in the process. The following are some ideas to consider:

  1. Unstick any windows that are painted shut. It is almost a universal trait of old homes to have at least one window that won’t budge, but when more than half aren’t functioning, it’s time to take action. A web search for “windows painted shut” brings up countless websites with step-by-step instructions for loosening stuck windows, including HGTV and This Old House (they offer a video). Releasing a stuck window is not rocket science, but it generally requires some muscle and patience. Professional help can be called in, particularly if you need to reattach the counter weights; just beware of anyone telling you to replace your wood windows. There are good contractors in the area that can repair your windows, preserving the character and integrity of your home as well as keeping dollars in your pocket.
  2. Install wood framed screens on windows if they are missing. You are more likely to open those unstuck windows if you aren’t worried about welts from mosquitoes. As a bonus, wood window screens add historic character and an additional accent color to the building exterior.
  3. Install wood screen doors on all exterior doors. Wood screen doors should be heavy duty since they open and close as often as the primary door; if the model you see is made with thin, finger-jointed wood or comes with a diagonal wire support, don’t expect it to withstand Florida’s climate for more than a season or two. Choose self closing spring hinges rather than ugly vacuum bars for a more authentic design for your historic home.
  4. Install awnings, operable shutters or blinds over openings on south and west elevations. When appropriate for your house style, they provide a nice architectural accent in addition to functioning as a shading device. Close shutters and blinds during the hottest parts of the day.
  5. Install ceiling fans and use in conjunction with open windows and doors.
  6. Install a solar powered ventilation fan in the attic to help remove excess heat. Turned on by a temperature sensor, this relatively inexpensive project will help reduce your cooling load next summer.
  7. Caulk or foam-seal penetrations into your house (where the cable enters, water lines penetrate, etc.) and install weather-stripping around windows and doors. Air infiltration is good when you can control it by opening windows and doors, but bad when the air you paid to heat or cool escapes.
  8. Insulate your attic space; most heat loss and gain comes through your roof. If you expose exterior wall framing during remodeling, install insulation as part of the project. Don’t remove plaster walls just to insulate though; plaster is a surprisingly good insulator and reduces noise transmission from room to room.
  9. Plant some shade trees on the south and west sides of the house. Trees are a long term investment in the environment, providing cleaner air, habitat for wildlife, reducing soil erosion and sheltering from the sun. Your historic house has shown that it appeals to multiple generations already, so even though the trees you plant today may not have much effect on energy bills for a while, the next owners will thank you.
  10. Sit on your front porch rather than watch TV in the early evening a few nights a week. We tend to decorate our porches with inviting rocking chairs and beautiful potted flowers, but rarely take advantage of the peaceful atmosphere they provide. In addition to the pleasure of a cool, relaxing evening, you might find one of the other benefits of living in a historic home: friendly conversation with your neighbors.
Posted on November 30, 2008 1:51 am