Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Going solar in your historic home?

Are you curious about the use of solar panels on historic homes or historic properties in general? For some time this has been a contested issue between preservationists and members of the green community. Most preservationists certainly are not against the use of solar panels for producing energy to power a historic building, but do have valid concerns with how it might affect the a historic property's character. Additionally, solar panels may not be permissible according to a local district's design guidelines.

There are many ways to effectively place and install solar panels in a manner that does not adversely impact a building's integrity or historic character while at the same time remaining viable and efficient for conducting energy. For example, a historic property with a flat roof or parapet roof may be an ideal candidate for solar panels due to the low visibility from most vantage points. If a historic property happens to have a gabled or hipped roof, as is the case with many historic homes, a compromise can be achieved by sighting the panels on the least visually obtrusive elevation; many times this occurs at the rear of a building.

However, other times low or no visibility of solar panels just isn't an option for high energy rewards from solar power. In some cases, we preservationists must cringe and let this one go if we want our historic building stock to be recycled and meet current consumer's demands. This was the case for the owners of a historic home in one of Michigan's historic districts who embarked on a total green renovation of their home, resulting in the first net zero green home rehabilitation in a historic district. Read about and view photos of their story here. The couple's use of solar panels on their gabled roof sheltering a century-old home is quite bold and unusual for a historic district (even more unusual that the commission allowed this type of placement), but their decision to restore and weatherstrip the original windows, making them more energy efficient with compatible storm windows, makes my little preservation heart smile.

Image via Natural Home and Garden


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently released a report on "Implementing Solar PV Projects on Historic Buildings and in Historic Districts." The report offers a wealth of information on solar energy and historic properties, and I encourage you to study it if you are a historic homeowner and also interested in solar power.

Additionally, the National Trust for Historic Preservation published a great article on utilizing solar energy for historic properties. If you are interested in reading, click here.

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