• It's officially the first day of summer, although this means little to those of us living in Florida who visit the beach, swim and ride bikes year round. How long were you able to go this spring before you turned on the air conditioning? Do you open your windows at all during the pleasant winter months that Florida offers? We recently installed a shed at a lovely, well kept historic home that was not marred by modern replacement windows, but where all the historic wood windows had been caulked shut. When I looked at the neighbor's house, they had done the same thing! It blows my mind that someone would live in a house where none of the windows open (disclaimer: I've never lived in a historic house where all the windows opened). For one, it's a big safety issue. By code, every bedroom must have a secondary means of egress in case of emergency. With an inoperable window, you've removed that important safety feature. I know I always made sure that the windows in my children's bedrooms are in working order. Secondly, by caulking all the windows permanently  shut you've automatically made your home reliant on mechanical systems year round for both outside air and temperature control. This is not energy efficient since Florida has so many pleasant days that require no AC or heat, allowing you to turn off that noisy energy hog. To top it all off, you are increasing the air pollution within your home because the air exchange rate of mechanical equipment is much less than a breeze blowing through your windows and doors. I am assuming that people were told that their windows were leaking air and that their ac system would work better if the windows were sealed. While leaky windows do let cool air escape, there are better ways to address this issue while still allowing the windows to operate. A properly maintained historic window will have a tight seal when the latch is closed and can even have weatherstripping installed to further reduce infiltration. And there are many better ways to improve the energy efficiency of historic homes that will prove more effective, and less dangerous than caulking your windows shut.   Over the next few month, we will offer a series of blogs, entitled "Practical Ways to Improve the Energy Efficiency of Your Historic Home" will address some of these methods. In the meantime, open your windows and doors and let the fresh air in.

  • Historic Shed will be participating in two events next weekend. On Saturday, April 14th, 2012 we will be a featured speaker at the Tampa Preservation, Inc. Historic Homes Workshop. The annual event is free and offers 12 workshops geared towards historic homeowners that want to renovate their home in an architecturally and historically sensitive manner. The workshops will be run three at a time, so you will be able to attend up to four sessions during the day. Historic Shed's topic will be "Improving Energy Efficiency in Historic Homes", focusing on practical, inexpensive ways to reduce energy use. Other speakers will discuss Wood Window Repair, Restoring Wood Floors, Researching You Home's History, Florida Friendly Landscaping and much more. For more information, please see the Tampa Preservation website. On Sunday, April 15th, Historic Shed will be a featured speaker during day 2 of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop in Miami. We will discuss Florida Building Codes in relation to small homes and cottages. These events are very informative and popular, so register soon if you are interested. We are looking forward to being a part of the event and meeting other tiny building aficionados, including author and workshop leader Derek "Deek" Diedricksen and Tiny House blogger Alex Pino. For more information  and to register see: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/blog/3-guest-speakers-confirmed-for-the-miami-workshop. Tiny House Workshop press: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/entertainment/fl-tiny-houses-040812-20120406,0,2438495.story?page=1

  • Custom Shed

    For Earth Day I thought it would be good to extol the virtues of sheds in relation to being Green in a post (and I'm talking about more than painting it Kermit colored). A shed can add space to your home without requiring any demolition. No cutting through walls for access, ripping off a back porch or previous addition to make room for it. Just a brand new room, detached from the main house that can house anything from the lawn mower to weekend guests to your entire home office. Nothing goes to the landfill. A shed can be built with salvaged materials; anything from old stained glass windows to old pallets can be recycled to make a shed. Great creative when you build your extra room. A shed can drastically reduce commuting time and gas use. If you set your shed up for home office use you can walk to your backyard to go to work instead of wasting time idling in traffic each day. And the bonus of using a detached building for your office is that it doesn't take up any additional space in your house and easily keeps work life separate from home life. A shed is easy to condition. Because it's a small space, a shed heats or cools down very quickly when insulated and conditioned with a small ac unit or mini-split system for greater energy eficiency. Plus you may be encouraged on pleasant days to throw open the windows and not condition the space at all. A shed converted to a rental cottage increases community density, making the most of already developed land for additional residential units which means less sprawl. Using a shed for an outdoor kitchen, home office, or playroom can encourage you to get outside and putter around in a garden and enjoy the great outdoors. The more time you spend outdoors, the more you appreciate Mother Earth! We'd love to hear some others ideas on how a shed can help you live more Green!

  • If you search for green building devices on the internet, you will find a tremendous number of links for "gizmo green" gadgets. These are generally technology-based items that you can install in or on your existing home or entire systems used to build new "green" houses. While we applaud the changing mindset that takes sustainability into consideration, the public is constantly misinformed by manufacturers about the true green and sustainable value of many of these products, touting items that will end up in landfills several years down the road as they break down or become technologically obsolete. The practice is common enough to have garnered the term "greenwashing". As a result, we don't jump on the bandwagon of promoting many of these technology driven devices, with the exception of a few items such as instant hot water heaters, solar attic fans, energy efficient appliances and programmable thermostats that we feel have earned their place in our own projects.Being proponents of historic homes and traditional design in general, we instead choose a more tried and true method for living sustainably for our Favorite Green Building Device: the Porch. No manufacturer is out promoting the simple and attractive traditional shaded porch, so it does not get its fair share of green building credit, but porches can have such an impact on building energy savings (particularly here in Florida) that it amazes me whenever a new building publicized as "green" but has no porch shading any facade (but preferably the south) implemented into the design. Porches have been employed by generations to provide a cool space to sit out on hot days, capture breezes and shading the building interior. They are considered a passive solar technique; they require no additional energy input to operate but can cut cooling costs tremendously by reducing heat gain in the building interior. In addition, porches (when constructed properly) are easy to maintain, never become obsolete and enhance the architecture of your home as an added bonus.Other traditional Florida building techniques also come in a runner-ups in our list of Favorite Green Building Devices: operable window and doors with screens, wide overhanging eaves, and high ceilings.

  • We often tout our sheds as attractive and comfortable home offices. Setting your office up in a shed rather than at the kitchen table or taking up a room in your house creates a private, professional atmosphere while keeping business and personal life separate. This creates numerous cost savings for small business owners and for long-distance workers. Along with this, working from home saves commuting time, gas expenses, and wear and tear on vehicles. This additional cost and energy savings was recently discussed in an article on the "Transportation Energy Intensity" of Buildings on the Green Building Advisor blog. The article author calculates the energy cost of operating a typical office building, then compares the energy use to that used to drive to and from the office, determining that it takes 30% more energy to commute!

  • There is a lot of talk about “green building” in the media, generally accompanied by photos of ultra-modern, technology-laden new homes. However, the ability to design homes that are environmentally friendly and that take advantage of natural cooling abilities has already been incorporated into most historic Florida homes. Prior to the introduction of air conditioning, Florida builders used techniques that "green" designers are now advocating, such as deep covered porches and wide eaves, window awnings and shutters, and operable windows. While we Floridians may not be willing to turn off our air conditioners in August, these features do allow us to make the most of Florida's more temperate seasons while reducing our energy consumption. To take advantage of the natural good design of a historic home, open windows and doors, turn on ceiling fans and spend a quiet evening on your shaded front porch and have a "green" day.Image courtesy the Florida State Archives.

  • Historic Preservation is one of the most inherently "green" professions in addition to providing a multitude of benefits to communities. It can be an effective economic tool for redevelopment, foster business development, create jobs and strengthen communities. Yet many see efforts at historic preservation merely as exercises in nostalgia and as an infringement on property rights. The following are some reasons other than wanting to retain beautiful buildings for being a proponent of historic preservation: When you choose to repair and restore an existing home, you are performing the ultimate recycling project. Sustainable practice recommendations include considering the embodied energy of products in addition to the long-term energy savings. When a historic home is demolished, all the energy used to produce and assemble the home is wasted. Since the energy is already expended, preserving the home has much less impact on the environment. Historic Preservation reduces landfill wastes. Estimates vary, but it is commonly accepted that between 15% and 20% of municipal solid waste comes from construction and demolition projects. Obviously, landfill debris would be reduced if more people choose to preserve an existing building rather than demolish and build new. When true preservation practices are followed during historic home renovations ("repair rather than replace"), waste is reduced even more. According to noted economist and historic preservation advocate, Donovan Rypkema, "Sustainable Development requires environmental responsibility, economic responsibility, and social/cultural responsibility." Preservation and renovation of existing building stock is the one type of development that merges these three elements, helping maintain vibrant, livable communities in addition to being environmentally and economically responsible. Since most historic Florida buildings were built without air conditioning, they already utilize many energy saving features that "green" designers are rediscovering. Items such as wide overhangs, operable windows with screens, screen doors, awnings and ceiling fans can reduce cooling costs when used during our more temperate months instead of relying on mechanical systems. In addition, historic buildings are often constructed of more durable materials than are readily available today. We agree completely with the National Trust for Historic Preservation's policy statement on community revitalization: "Revitalizing our historic hometowns and Main Streets is not about nostalgia. It is about reinvesting in our older and historic neighborhoods. Preservation-based community development not only protects our heritage, but also is a viable alternative to sprawl that creates affordable housing, generates jobs, supports independent businesses, increases civic participation, and bolsters a community's sense of place." Historic preservation makes economic sense. Studies have shown that investment in historic neighborhoods and commercial centers stabilize property values, encourage redevelopment, stimulate business development, and generate tourist dollars. Places that people love and care about do not spring up overnight; they are built over time, giving them a sense of those who came before and developing character that is unlike anywhere else. Preserving these buildings and sites gives us a sense of place and provide a tangible link to our heritage. We hope that Historic Shed products and services can help efforts to maintain and preserve historic properties while improving their functionality.

  • 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: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. 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. 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. 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. Install ceiling fans and use in conjunction with open windows and doors. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  • Cooler weather has arrived in Florida; the kind of weather that makes you eager to turn off the AC and throw open windows and doors. However, the bugs come right in along with the cool air. The answer to this problem has been available for homeowners for quite a while now: screens. Unfortunately, many owners of historic homes no longer have their original window and door screens. Because window screens are easily removed when in need of repair, they usually get stacked in the garage and added to the bottom of the To Do List. Wood screen doors typically get removed directly to the trash. The result is both a loss of historic character and a loss of comfort and function.While the majority of wood window screens tend to be similar in design, the wood screen door has a greater degree of design variety to suit various architectural styles. The screen door also is subject to much more daily wear than the average window screen. Add Florida's high humidity and temperature fluctuations and you do have to spend some time thinking about screen doors if you want them to look appropriate and last for a reasonable amount of time.Although basic wood screen doors are available at local home improvement stores, they are rarely suited to historic homes or to Florida's climate. Many of the available screen doors are built of finger jointed, soft woods with narrow frames. The result is an oddly proportioned door that tends to sag and stick shortly after installation and rot within a season or two. They also are available only in stock sizes that often need to be modified in order to fit existing historic door openings. A better, longer lasting solution is to install a custom built screen door that is designed to complement the architectural style of the home and built of rot resistant materials using durable joinery techniques. Screen door styles range from simple rectangular frames suited to vernacular homes to ornate ginger-breaded doors for Victorian era homes. Several designs are available for the Craftsman-influenced and Mission style homes so common to Florida as well. Materials such as cypress and dense pine are suited for wood screen doors in Florida due to their rot resistance and dimensional stability. Strong joints, such as mortise and tenon connections add to the strength and durability of screen doors as well. Finished with period-appropriate hardware, a well designed and built wood screen door can add character to a historic home and serve as a welcome to Florida’s wonderful winter weather.