Another Form of Energy Efficiency
Recently I visited the beautiful old home of a friend who just happens to also be a well known historian. We toured the grounds of his gentleman’s farm, surveying a collection of 'antique' buildings, which included the old hen house, a grainery, the cow barn, and last but not least, a falling down tractor shed that had once been shelter for the farm's work horses and farm equipment. Being of the mind that anything can be fixed, I suggested jacking the building, pulling the old mortise and tenon frame back in to place, and cabling the building, preparing it for another two hundred years or so of service. His response was both interesting, and considering the condition of the existing building, saner than my idealist’s approach to the problem. He said that his plan was to disassemble the structure and build a new one in its place with the old, salvaged, material. His logic was that the reuse of the indigenous material would create a structure that although new, if carefully designed and constructed, would be much more in keeping with the old farm, than one built with new material. Recycling had also been the basis of his logic as he set out to repurpose the old grainery as a guest house. Still in progress, the building has regained its once proud stature as an important building on the farm.
As I travel my daily routes, I pass a number of old barns that unlike the grainery and the tractor shed, have not had the benefit of stewardship, concern and care. Often the farmhouse, once noble in purpose, has also been left to the ravages of the elements, no longer protected by a maintained roof, windows and doors. Knowing as we all do, that 'a stitch in time saves nine', one has to wonder when the critical day was that the stitch just wasn’t in time.
As building costs have risen, particularly for homes which are carefully hand crafted, (yes, there are still some of them being built,) and building materials have become more synthetic with advanced technology, it seems that there remains a place for revitalization of the structures and materials of old. Another friend of mine has made his living by disassembling old barns and reassembling them as the beginning of new homes. His clients typically have some deep sense of the unique character that these old buildings once had, and are willing to commit their resources to the re-creation of that character. Their reward is typically a home that is unique, nurturing, and an aesthetically pleasing addition to the local landscape. Further, the construction techniques of old often referred to as timber frame, if properly designed and assembled, provide tremendous freedom in the design of interior space and the placement of doors and windows. Add to that the soaring vaulted ceilings and the internal structural elements often found in these homes, and you have the potential for a truly “Oh, Wow!!!!”, one of a kind home.
Revitalizing an old structure is also an exercise in resource and energy conservation. Consider the possibility that the timbers and boards were probably from first growth local forests, sawn at local saw mills, the foundation stones were most likely taken from local river beds and quarries, and all of these materials were probably horse drawn to the building site. Indeed there was considerable energy spent on all of this, but it wasn't carbon based. Just a thought !!