The homes in our neighborhood, large and small, were beautifully designed and built with durable materials by skilled craftsmen.
The fact that over 85% of the homes in our neighborhoods’ Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZ) retain their original facades is not only a testament to the quality of construction but also speaks to the structures’ abilities to adapt to the needs of the many generations that have occupied the homes.
While brand new, eco-friendly homes may showcase new green construction techniques, our old homes are, in fact, greener.
The architects and builders that created our mid-city neighborhoods understood sustainability. Our “pre-air conditioning” homes were designed to open up to the afternoon breezes. Some homes have deep eaves and tall vented roofs that allow the heat to escape, while other homes have heavy tile roofs to insulate from the heat.
The once small trees that were planted 90 years ago have grown into a canopy over the parkways, cleaned the air and created a cohesive streetscape that defines the neighborhood.
Consider the impact on the environment when a house is torn down or the interior is stripped to the studs. Tons of material are hauled away and dumped in the landfill. By rehabilitating an existing structure, instead of starting from scratch, we save the cost of growing trees, manufacturing and shipping materials, and the energy it takes to build a new structure.
There are many things you can do to increase the energy efficiency of your old house. Insulate the attic. Upgrade to energy efficient fixtures and appliances. But the most important thing is: evaluate your windows.
Do not assume that replacement is the only option. Old windows were fabricated from old wood. It is denser and lasts longer than the wood out of which windows are built today. They can be repaired and restored. Tearing out old windows is wasteful and expensive. Although you may receive some energy savings with new windows, it would take decades to recoup your investment.
Also, even the most expensive new windows can fail, and since they cannot be repaired, the entire unit must be replaced thus contributing more waste to the landfill.
The history of Los Angeles is reflected in the architecture of our old neighborhoods. We are the caretakers of our historic homes and preserving the architecture and streetscape is what preserves the character of the community. The greenest thing you can do is preserve an old house – it is our sustainable gift for the next generation.
Some links for old house owners:
City of Los Angeles: Office of Historic Resources
Old House Web: Ideas and Advice for Old House Enthusiasts
Preservation Nation: The website of the National Trust for Historic Preservation