The Greenest Building is Already Built
The National Trust for Historic Preservation describes the "greenest building as the one that is already built." With a structure that is over a hundred years old, we certainly have an opportunity to try out that idea. When we bought The Goldminer in 1986 it needed a lot of help but we really did not recognize how much. A previous owner had replaced the original wood windows (probably single pane glass) with vinyl windows (still single pane). They leaked heat; a lot of heat. The furnace which was added in the 1960s was inefficient to say the best. The large fireplace was warming up close but it pulled heat out of the building. The roof was insulated with old burlap bags, newspapers, uniforms from World War I; whatever people could stuff in every open gap because they were cold.
The frame of logs and oversized lumber was strong just like the mine tunnels they built but it was cold. And it was expensive to heat. The 1,200 gallon propane tank had to be filled six times a year. Even at $.60 a gallon in 1986 we dreaded the coming of winter.
Over the years we prepared to make the building livable. We wanted to keep it historically intact and we wanted to make it a "green building." More about the historic accuracy can be found on the Historic Preservation pages on this site. For the green building activities we, essentially, looked at the entire life cycle of environmental impact.
We replaced the worn out roof with new metal. We took the roof down to the rafters and added R-40 foam insulation. Like everything we did, we recycled the replaced materials. The old metal roof went to a metal recycler. The removed shingles (under the old metal) were given to community members to be used in their wood stoves. Any wood scraps were saved to burn in the new fireplace insert.
The old and inefficient (and historically incorrect) vinyl windows were replaced by custom made double pane wood windows with low-e glass on the inside to keep the external historical appearance correct. The external doors which had been replaced in the 1960s were replaced again with solid core insulated doors. All old windows and doors were taken to a local building materials recycling facility for reuse.
The substandard aluminum wiring was replaced. Old wiring was recycled for its metal content. That old furnace was replaced by a highly efficient boiler and the old water heaters were replaced by a tankless domestic hot water system. We supplemented the hot water heat with pellet stoves which use wood harvested from beetle killed forests. The very large fireplace insert replaced the open fireplace. Same warm feeling in The Social Room but now no drafts created by heat leaving the room and going up the chimney.
The old appliances were recycled. We went so far as to recycle personal trash like coke cans and water bottles from the people working on the building. Less than a pickup load of trash went to the landfill from this 3,900 square foot building's five year renovation.
In addition to these activities we added solar to the building. We measure daily solar production and electrical usage as shown on this real time usage and production measurement. The shadows shown on the photo above have much less of a negative impact on solar production than they used to on older equipment because of the use of micro inverters on this array. The loss of production is equal to about one 100 watt light bulb. We opted to trim the trees minimally so as to make the system that much less visible to the neighbors. We changed just about all of the lights in The Goldminer to either compact flourescent or LED which made a much greater impact on energy efficiency than would wholesale tree trimming.
Everything possible is recycled from the Hotel's daily activities. We are fortunate that Boulder County encourages all of these activities and makes recycling simple.
What we ended up with is a very comfortable, historically correct, commercial building which has an extremely low resource use footprint.
For this comprehensive program we were awarded a "Green Building Star" by the Colorado Green Building Guild. Our building operation costs are a fraction of what they were twenty-five years ago. We only fill that huge propane tank once a year now and we are much more comfortable.
With this base of success we are now working toward LEED certification for Existing Buildings.