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What's Up Magazine

The Traditional Green Home

May 04, 2012 05:23PM ● By Anonymous
Most historic district commissions discourage replacement windows. Solar panels don’t always blend in easily with Georgian or Colonial architecture. No longer is the incandescent light a predictable glow in the night. Incorporating green technology into traditional homes can be confusing, but is easily achieved today.

We can retain the traditional style we have grown to love and make our houses up-to-date with a variety of techniques and incentives. And the end result can save money and encourage a healthier environment. We present several options to consider.


Traditional incandescent light bulbs are being phased out (it was President George Bush who signed the original law). All heat and little light, they are only 10 percent efficient. A 60-watt incandescent bulb is now typically replaced with a 13-watt compact fluorescent light (CFL) or a 6-watt light emitting diode (LED). These new bulbs are now being produced in warm colors that resemble the older bulbs and, when covered with a shade, the lighting is virtually indistinguishable.

Additionally, more bulb shapes are available: CFL makeup lights are cool to the touch, helping us keep our cool as we do our grooming; LED candelabra bulbs sparkle like crystal, without glare; LED spotlights provide intense drama; Stick-on puck lights quickly and easily brighten closets and storage space; and solar-charged LED outdoor lighting is attractive and perky sentinels in the night.


Windows are a major reason for heat loss or heat gain in our homes. Yet many historic commissions recommend that owners of historic homes retain their old-growth wood framing and windows with their unique character. According to Easton’s Deputy Town Planner Zachary Smith, many homeowners in the historic district use Velv-a-lume storm windows. The storm windows are tubular aluminum with various enamel finishes. Windows that are properly caulked and maintained and carefully fitted with storm windows can be nearly as energy efficient as replacements.

What does window efficiency mean? A single-pane glass window will have a u-value (rate of heat loss) of 1.10; the lower the u-value, the greater a window’s resistance to heat flow and the better its insulating properties. With a storm window that rate improves to .50. A replacement window can have a u-value of about .32. Triple-glazed windows can have u-values of .15. Large-scale manufacturers, such Pella, also offer snap-in grilles or simulated divided lights, that add aesthetic value. The grille patterns conform to varied styles and can be customized.


Photovoltaic solar panels, generating electricity from sunlight, do seem somewhat new fangled, especially to homeowners. However, Frenchman Edmond Becquerel first discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. Our space program pushed the technology and, today, firms such as Easton’s Green Energy Design are installing panels in free standing units, on garages and homes.

The panels are typically 40” x 66” in size and can be placed on the front or rear roofing of a home. Interestingly, the more efficient panels can actually create electric energy from bright moonlight. Also, on flatter roofs, the panels can be oriented in directions other than true south.

There are numerous benefits from a solar panel installation: a 30 percent federal tax credit through 2016; exemption from sales tax; credits from the Maryland Public Service Commission; the ability to sell back to the grid; an increase in property value; and the satisfaction of knowing a large portion of your electricity is from the sun, not from burning coal.

And aesthetic improvements (let’s admit that large solar panels are a bit unattractive) are currently being refined by Dow Chemical. The company is making solar shingles that are the same size as roof shingles. They blend in seamlessly with a traditional roof. Although the technology currently lacks the energy output of the larger panels, the shingles have sold well in their initial test market of Colorado.


In our region, we experience more air conditioning days than heating days, so a “cool roof” is another way to save on air conditioning costs. According to the Cool Roof Rating Council, “A cool roof reflects and emits the sun’s heat [solar rays] back to the sky instead of transferring it to the building below. ‘Coolness’ is measured by two properties, solar reflectance and thermal emittance. Both properties are measured from 0 to 1 and the higher the value, the ‘cooler’ the roof.”

These high-tech roofs are virtually indistinguishable from traditional slate, shingle, wood shake, or other metal roofing and colors are compatible with traditional designs. In fact, those “wood shakes” on the neighbor’s new roof just might be made of metal.

Other Efficiencies

As you dive deeper into your investigation of energy efficient and sensitive home technology, you’ll find a myriad world of functional and aesthetic products and philosophies. For example, we can add extra sunlight in our homes with the sunpipe, a 7–12’ reflective tube from roof to room, which also eliminates excess heat loss and heat gain of old skylights. We can draw water that is just the right temperature quickly with on-demand water heaters. We can insulate our homes with environmentally safe materials, such as soy or old blue jeans.

And ultimately we can rethink our domestic needs. Easton architect Charles Goebel says, “In the recent past [home buyers] bought the biggest house they could afford. Now we want one that fits and is not grandiose and flabby. Think quality of space, not quantity.”

Pamela Heyne, AIA, is an author, architect, and lecturer living in Saint Michaels.