Did You Know?

There are tax incentives available for improving the energy efficiency of your historic building. Not only could your project qualify for a historic preservation tax credit, but it may also be eligible for federal income tax incentives for energy efficiency. Learn more about these credits from the non-profit Tax Incentives Assistance Project.

Select Efficient HVAC and Electrical Systems with Programmable Controls

Mechanical systems play a large role in a building’s energy use. Efficient, properly-working systems, along with programmable thermostats, can substantially reduce energy consumption without any impact on historic building fabric.

If your building is a commercial or multi-family building, you may want to have the mechanical systems and equipment “commissioned” by a professional commissioning agent to make sure it is installed correctly and working properly. Commissioning helps identify deficiencies in mechanical equipment and ensures it is operating at its highest efficiency. Commissioning is useful for both newly-installed and existing systems.

Commissioning is common for larger buildings and can also be a useful tool for single-family homes. Residential-scale commissioning may be available through the local utility company. If commissioning is not available, homeowners can use the principles of commissioning to undertake their own assessment of a building’s heating and cooling systems. Ensuring that heating and cooling systems are installed properly and working at their highest efficiency may significantly decrease energy consumption.

If the best professional advice recommends replacing existing equipment in a historic building, keep the following considerations in mind:

  • Select a mechanical system that will require the least intrusion into the building’s historic fabric and that can be updated or altered without major intervention into the wall and floor systems.
  • Ensure that the installation of new equipment and ductwork will not damage significant features and finishes.
  • Ducts should be concealed in wall and floor systems in historically-finished spaces. However, complete invisibility may not always be appropriate for historic buildings because of the damage that can result. If the ducts must be exposed, thoughtful placement and sizing as well as painting can help them blend in.

These points should be considered when weighing the decision to replace a less than efficient existing system with a costly new system that may cause substantial damage to the historic building materials and may, in turn, prove inefficient in the future.

Alternative energy systems, including geothermal, ground-source heat pumps, solar heating, and on-site solar electricity generation have all been used successfully in historic buildings. However, any of these systems, as well as more traditional systems, must be installed in a way that does not impact the historic character of the building and site. Systems that may negatively affect the historic site should be located away from significant landscape elements or possible archaeological resources. Solar panels and photovoltaic cells should not be installed on a building’s primary elevations or on highly visible roof slopes.

Learn more »

Preservation Brief 24: Heating, Ventilating, and Cooling Historic Buildings

Interpreting the Standards Bulletin 24: Installing New Systems in Historic Corridors

Interpreting the Standards Bulletin 51: Installing New Systems in Historic Buildings

Interpreting the Standards Bulletin 52: Incorporating Solar Panels in a Rehabilitation Project