December 23, 2008 by Julia Wasson
Filed under Activists, Architects, Architecture, Blog, Brownfields, Ecopreneurs, Engineers, Front Page, Illinois, Retrofitting, Solar, Sustainability, Texas, Weatherizing
Did you watch the Bears play the Packers yesterday from the warmth of your home? Maybe you were among the frozen fans braving 7-degree weather to root for your favorite team on the shores of Lake Michigan. Blue Planet Green Living was there, too, tailgating in the parking lot of the Adler Planetarium nearby.
So, go ahead, ask. What does the Bears/Packers game — or tailgating, for that matter — have to do with being green? It’s a fair question.
Our host yesterday was the Big Green Egg, the company that makes an ancient grilling system turned modern that we’ll tell more about another day. This was the kickoff filming for an upcoming television pilot featuring luminary chefs — like Dean Eliacostas from Carmichael’s Chicago Steakhouse — cooking Around the Grill in 80 Days on Big Green Egg grills. Despite the bitter weather, we kept warm and comfortable, in a beautiful motor coach provided for the video shoot by Liberty Coach.
The food was delicious — amazing, in fact — but the driver for our participation was the opportunity to meet with a few of the leaders in the green movement in the Chicago area. In coming weeks, we’ll share with you what we learned about how environmental engineers, architects, and grassroots organizers are planning for, and implementing, progressive projects in sustainability. We think you’ll be inspired by what each of these people has to say.
We’ll introduce you to environmental engineer, Rob Rafson, of Full Circle Sustainability Management Solutions. Full Circle’s “mission is to make ‘going green’ profitable, and show return on investment so that true sustainability is achievable.” And the company is doing just that.
Rob is responsible for the largest solar thermal rooftop installation in Chicago — at an overall cost savings. What’s more impressive, perhaps, is that the installation is part of a brownfield renovation. He’s cleaned up a formerly toxic paint manufacturing facility and created a healthy space that uses solar energy to heat the building. Joe and I recently interviewed Rafson and soon will share with you his thoughts on sustainable business practices.
Green architects Lisa and Ron Elkins designed the Green Exchange, an all-green office building created by renovating a former men’s underwear factory in downtown Chicago. Their firm, 2 Point Perspective Inc., also won the competition to design a zero-energy home. We’ll be telling you more as they prepare to break ground. Like Rafson, the Elkins team is involved in multiple projects worth our attention, and we will help spread the word.
We also had the privilege to meet face-to-face with Susan Roothaan, founder of A Nurtured World in Austin, Texas. Susan’s roots are in Hyde Park, where her parents still live, just two blocks from President-elect Obama’s home. On December 12, we introduced you to Rays of Hope and 1 House at a Time in Renewable Energy, A Tool for Social Equity, projects operating under the umbrella of Roothaan’s nonprofit.
Something quite wonderful is now happening, as community organizers in Hyde Park — including Susan’s 84-year-old mother, Judy Roothaan, and neighbor Sharon Klopner — work to implement a Rays of Hope-type of project in their own neighborhood.
They will be sharing with Mr. Obama ideas about retrofitting the older homes, rather than razing them. They want funding to put solar panels on roofs, like Rays of Hope and Rafson have done. And they want to use eco-friendly materials to make these buildings energy efficient, like Rafson, the Elkins team, and Roothaan’s team are doing. Support from grants and tax incentives will be key to making this happen, and both Roothaan and Rafson have extensive experience to share.
The interchange of ideas last night was electric. What it showed us all was the incredible power of people working independently toward a common purpose, and how much more effective that can be when we share our knowledge and visions with each other.
Yes, even a tailgate can be an inspirational green experience. Please stay tuned to find out more about what we learned and, especially, to hear about the important work happening in Chicago. Then let us know what’s going on in your city, so we can spread the word and build the kind of synergy we were privileged to be a part of last night.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
You might say the Salvage Barn is a temporary refuge. Architectural castoffs from another time (or, more accurately, times) line the walls, drawers, and shelves. Even the rafters get in on the act, with a antique plow and copper rain gutters hanging high over visitors’ heads.
Walk through the aisles, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by rescued pieces that barely escaped burial in the landfill: wooden corbels; tongue-and-groove flooring; antique light fixtures; drawers full of doorknobs; a hundred-year-old, oak staircase; and even a picket fence.
True to its name, the Salvage Barn sells architectural items that have been saved from buildings in the nick of time, before being lost forever to the wrecking ball.
The origins of the Salvage Barn date back to 1991, when Roger Gwinnup, a board member of Friends of Historic Preservation, was approached by the City of Iowa City to transition its architectural salvage operation to a local group. The original salvage operation was intended to help a low-income housing project.
Gwinnup recommended that Friends of Historic Preservation take over the operation. After a year of negotiations, training and organization, the Salvage Barn opened its doors. Friends of Historic Preservation operates the Salvage Barn and salvage operations and the City of Iowa City provides the storage location.
From the beginning, the Salvage Barn focused on rescuing reusable, hard-to-find building materials suitable for use by homeowners and builders to use for repairs and additions or changes to historic buildings. The FHP operates the Salvage Barn as a service to the city of Iowa City, keeping reusable building materials out of the landfill. It resides in a large pole barn on the grounds of the Johnson County landfill.
Volunteers meet on weekends at the invitation of property owners to carefully remove pieces of architectural interest from buildings that are in excess of 50 years old. “Experienced members work along side enthusiastic newcomers to ensure that the materials are removed properly,” the Salvage Barn website says. Often, some of the volunteers are the intended recipients of the day’s salvaged goods.
While Shelly Slaubaugh and Thomas McInerny were planning their new house, they wanted it to have the look and appeal of an early 20th century home. The couple helped the FHP salvage the floorboards, doors and trim from a house in Belle Plaine, Iowa. “I wanted an old house,” Shelly says, “and Thomas wanted nothing to do with the upkeep. He’s an architect, so he designed a Victorian arts and crafts house around the millwork we bought from the Salvage Barn.”
“We must have been pretty successful with the look and feel we were aiming for. We had some electrical work done recently,” Slaubaugh says, “and the inspector wanted us to place an outlet in the trim board we’d salvaged. When I objected, he asked, ‘How old is this place?’ He was very surprised when I told him it was just one year old; the walnut millwork already has a patina.”
Proceeds from the Salvage Barn assist the FHP in their mission to preserve historic buildings in Iowa City. On occasion, however, owners of an historic home in another part of the state may benefit. Nik Conner and Sal Leanhart’s home in rural Cedar County was a hotel back in the days of stagecoaches and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Conner and Leanhart had been working with the Salvage Barn, finding just the right wood pieces to finish renovating their home, when the floods came. The first floor of their historic home had to be gutted, and the wooden floorboards were a complete loss.
When the director of FHP, Helen Burford, and Salvage Barn manager, Paul Kinney, heard the Conners’ news, they stepped in to help. The FHP donated antique wood flooring for the couple’s dining room. With the help of relatives, Conner and Leanhart cleaned up after the river’s withdrawal, then removed the ruined walls and floors. They installed beautiful, period flooring that makes the room look warm and inviting.
From the Salvage Barn they also received a door for their renovated kitchen and wooden spindles, which they use to support a counter top. The home is now a showpiece, with only a watermark on the stairway door to remind them of the hip-deep flood that had ravaged their property.
“We’re very grateful for the generosity of the Salvage Barn,” Conner said. And, for their part, the FHP is equally grateful that the architectural items they painstakingly remove from one home end up used and appreciated in another. It’s all part of the ethic of conservation that keeps members volunteering and the public donating, house after historic house.
“The Salvage Barn is one of the reasons why Iowa City is a special place,” says FHP Director, Helen Burford. “It is full of treasures that never cease to inspire homeowners, builders, architects and even artists to reuse or find new ways to use beautiful materials.
“It may take a little effort, but beneath a coat of paint, the intricate metal designs or even the warmth of old, long-grained wood are easily revealed. Working with these materials is a rewarding experience, one that is very different from buying something new.”
“We weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths,” says Lucille Duwa. She stands in the shell of the two-story farmhouse where she and her husband raised their children. In the rooms around her, workers are tearing out floorboards and removing doors. “LeRoy and I don’t like to see things that can be used get destroyed,” she adds.
Parts of Mr. and Mrs. Duwas’ 1870s-era home are being salvaged by Friends of Historic Preservation (FHP). The Duwas no longer need this large, old home, as they built a smaller home beside it in March. Volunteers are saving what they can of the house’s architectural features to take to the FHP’s Salvage Barn. The ultimate goal is for these treasures to be recycled into other projects by new owners.
Lucille and her husband, LeRoy M. Duwa, bought the four-bedroom house and the Johnson County farm that it sits on in 1962. They raised four children on this land near Sharon Center, Iowa, and wanted to remain here after retiring.
But the century-plus house was drafty and cold. Even with new, custom-made windows, they were unable to keep warm. During their final winter in the house, they closed off most of the rooms. “We were living in only three rooms during the day and sleeping upstairs in the cold at night,” Mrs. Duwa says.
The couple agreed they would be better off — and far more comfortable — if they built a new home next to the old one. But that presented a dilemma: How do you get rid of an old house? They determined they had three options: move it, burn it down, or tear it down.
When a young man they knew purchased a neighboring acreage that had a dilapidated house, the Duwas offered him theirs — for free. They made just two requests: He had to have the house moved, and he had to fill in the hole of the foundation once the house was gone. This was the ultimate neighborly “good deal,” as he needed the house, and they needed to get it off their land.
That sounded simple enough after a house mover promised his company could “move anything.” But the Duwas’ 1700 sq. ft. house turned out to be nine feet higher than the utility lines. The cost of moving the house a mile and a half would have been $45,000 by the time the lines were removed and then replaced. The neighbor was extremely disappointed and reluctantly declined to take the Duwas’ home.
Burning It Down
Another option was to offer the house to the local fire department. This would help the firefighters, by giving them an opportunity to practice their skills in a controlled burn. It also would help the Duwas to dispose of the bulk of the house without loading up the landfill (and being charged by the pound for waste disposal).
But the firefighters would have two critical challenges to deal with: The Duwas want to save the garage that is attached to old house on the east end. And, a few yards from the old structure on its west end sits the new house. Burning the old building without harming either of the other two would be too risky.
Tearing It Down
The logical choice for the Duwas was to tear the house down. They contacted the Salvage Barn, which is temporarily located at the Johnson County Landfill The Salvage Barn accepts for resale “gently used” architectural items of historical interest. The idea of salvaging some of their home’s distinguishing features was in perfect alignment with the couple’s philosophy of reuse.
Helen Burford, director of the Friends of Historic Preservation, contacted fellow members of FHP in Iowa City for help in removing the valuable antique features of the Duwas’ house. FHP volunteers carefully dismantled interior doors and tongue-and-groove pine floorboards that are at least 125 years old. Meanwhile, a local Amish family purchased and removed the 18 new windows. Other items are being salvaged by friends of the couple.
In the basement, FHP volunteers discovered 10″ x 10″ oak plates supporting the outer walls and two matching beams supporting the interior. They were surprised to discover that the wood was hand-hewn with an axe, and two of the older ones appeared to have been chiseled with an adze.
These beams apparently predated saws and may have been reused from an even earlier building. Volunteers speculated that the beams likely predate Iowa’s statehood in 1846.
“The incredible thing about salvaging from older homes is that you never know what you will find,” said Mike Haverkamp, FHP board member.” An 1870s home with hand-hewn beams under it that would seem to pre-date settlement of the area, how did they get here? Who made them? So many questions we’ll never know the answers to!”
Because the Salvage Barn is a 501(c)3 corporation, donations are tax deductible. The Salvage Barn will provide the Duwas with a complete list of everything FHP managed to salvage. If the total is over $500, the Duwas will receive a tax deduction for “recycling” these pieces of their old home. And some other home- or business owner will recycle them into another project, extending their life for a while longer.