Historic Preservation and LEED: Time for Review?

Dr. Chris Pyke, vice president of research for the U.S. Green Building Council, met skepticism when he spoke to UMW students and teachers on Sept. 14 about the design challenges and opportunities associated with the LEED building program.

The Green Building Council, based in D.C., introduced LEED in 1998 to encourage the public to adopt responsible building practices with is competitive rating system.

During the question and answer period, several people raised concerns with the LEED point system. Professor Michael Spencer, from the historic preservation department, mentioned how the system rewards developers who opt to destroy buildings rather than renovate them. He said LEED gives projects a higher score when builders demolish a building but reuse the old materials. Pyke agreed there are some unintended consequences, but they are trying to fix them.

Others discussed the Monroe Hall renovation project and mentioned how LEED influenced builders to throw away materials rather than treat them. Dr. Carter Hudgins, from the history and American studies department, mentioned the wood in Monroe Hall has lead paint, but instead of removing the paint builders plan to strip the wood and replace it with fiberglass. Pyke said, “The LEED process is like a scorecard. However, the scorecard should not drive the outcome.” Hudgins added that it might be time to reevaluate the program, and Spencer said this same concern was brought up at the last National Trust for Historic Preservation conference.

Ironically, a hairsbreadth separates the offices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Green Building Council in D.C., but despite their geographic closeness, it appears their missions do not fully intersect.

– Chris Young ’11


  1. David Rickey (MWC 2004) says:

    Energy efficiency is a wonderful goal, but the path to it is littered with shortsighted decisions and unintended consequences. In my work, I deal with historic mechanical systems and windows, among other things. My job is to make them function according to contemporary standards (it’s not hard to do). My greatest issue with LEED is the shortsighted fault of looking only at the energy efficiency of something while it’s in use while ignoring the object or system’s useful life. For example, most new windows have a useful life of around 15 years. They can be neither repaired nor maintained and when they fail, they must be replaced. Historic windows, on the other hand, can not only be easily rendered more energy efficient than new windows (even without double-paned glass), but they can be maintained and repaired in perpetuity. Old mechanical systems can work beautifully in a contemporary environment. Please read Dan Holohan’s wonderful book “Greening Steam: How to Bring 19th Century Heating Systems into the 21st Century (and save lots of green)” if you have any doubts. It’s available online and from his tremendously helpful website: http://www.heatinghelp.com .

    Also, read the Over The Rhine Green Historic Study done in Cincinnati, OH. It’s all about how green preservation is (even following the Sec. of the Interior’s Standards to the letter) and how to achieve LEED standards while following the ethics of historic preservation to the highest level. http://www.otrfoundation.org/Docs/OTR_GREEN_HISTORIC_STUDY.pdf

    It’s shameful that what Mary Washington is practicing is not only the opposite of historic preservation, it is also anything but green in the long term.

    David Rickey
    MWC historic Preservation 2004

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