Honouring our heritage while being energy efficient, September 2015

01 October 2015

September marks the annual Heritage Month in South Africa. The theme for this year’s Heritage Month is ‘Reclaiming, restoring and celebrating our living heritage’

Honouring our heritage while being energy efficient

September 2015

September marks the annual Heritage Month in South Africa. The theme for this year’s Heritage Month is ‘Reclaiming, restoring and celebrating our living heritage’.
How apt then is it for us to focus on reclaiming, restoring and celebrating historical buildings in our beautiful country.  The concept of energy conservation in buildings is not new.  
Throughout history building owners have dealt with changing fuel supplies and the need for efficient use of these fuels.  Gone are the days of the cheap and abundant energy of the 1950’s.  Today with energy resources being depleted and the concern over the effect of greenhouse gases on climate change, government and owners of historic buildings are seeking ways to make our historical buildings more energy efficient.  
These concerns are key components of sustainability — a term that generally refers to the ability to maintain the environmental, social, and economic needs for human existence.  The topic of sustainable or green building practices is very broad, however, property owners, preservation professionals and curators of historic buildings need to be informed of current and innovative products when considering energy efficiency improvements to old heritage buildings.
Sound energy improvement measures must take into consideration not only potential energy savings, but also the protection of the historic property’s materials and features to ensure that the architectural integrity of the historic property is preserved. 
Karel Steyn, President of the Southern African Association for Energy Efficiency comments, “Research shows commercial buildings to be the one area with the largest potential for energy efficiency improvements. Most of our historic buildings are used for commercial purposes. There are many ways to save energy or prevent the waste of energy in these buildings.  Examples include the installation of energy efficient lighting, sealing or improving the building envelope, fine tuning heating and ventilation, or selecting energy efficient equipment, to name but a few.  However, what is of primary importance is to maintain the integrity of the building for ethical and historical purposes.
The Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), an endorser of the SAEE and the annual Convention, aims to ensure that, where possible, buildings are built/restored and operated in an environmentally sustainable way so that all South African's work and live in healthy, effective and productive environments,” continued Steyn.
Achieving a successful retrofit project must balance the goals of energy efficiency with the least impact to the historic building.  Planning must entail a holistic approach that considers the entire building envelope, its systems and components, its site and environment, and a careful evaluation of the effects of the measures undertaken. Treatments common to new construction need to be evaluated carefully before implementing them in historic buildings in order to avoid inappropriate alteration of important architectural features and irreparable damage to historic building materials. 
Before implementing any energy conservation measures, the existing energy-efficient characteristics of a historic building should be assessed.  Buildings are more than the sum of their individual components. The design, materials, type of construction, size, shape, site orientation, surrounding landscape, and climate all play a role in how buildings perform. 
Historic building construction methods and materials often maximised natural sources of heat, light and ventilation to respond to climatic conditions.  The key to a successful rehabilitation or renovation project is to understand and identify the existing energy-efficient aspects of the historic building and how they function, as well as to understand and identify its character-defining features to ensure they are preserved.  Whether rehabilitated for new or continuing use, it is important to utilise the historic building’s inherent sustainable qualities as they were intended, to ensure that they function effectively together with any new treatments added to further improve energy efficiency.
The Association of Professional Heritage Practitioners (APHP), based in the Western Cape, and closely associated with the GBCSA, is an Association of affiliated professionals in the heritage sector who are committed to service delivery marked by professional expertise and ethical practice.
“As a nation, we have access to an abundance of skilled experts, specialists, resources and products in the green building sector.  
An example of such an industry specialist is Saint-Gobain, a valued member of the SAEE and sponsor and participant at the annual SAEE Convention; but importantly
a world leader in the energy efficiency space.  Saint-Gobain has been involved in the restoration and improvement of many historical buildings globally, including The Louvre (Paris, France), The National Theatre Bolshoi (Moscow, Russia), Statue of Liberty (New York, USA), Military History Museum (Dresden, Germany), and the Eiffel Tower (Paris, France).  We are proud to be associated with such a formidable player in the international energy efficiency industry,” concluded Steyn.
Established in 2003, the APHP’s primary objective is to promote the identification, conservation and understanding of cultural property.  In order to do this the Association has adopted the following measures: the implementation of an accreditation system for professional heritage practitioners that promotes competency and best practice standards; the application of a stringent Code of Practice for professional heritage practitioners; the raising of awareness amongst authorities and civil society of the necessity for professional standards in conservation and heritage resource management; and the promotion of education and training in the field of conservation and heritage resource management.
For more information on the Green Building Council of South Africa, visit www.gbcsa.org.za
For more information on the Association of Professional Heritage Practitioners, visit www.aphp.org.za
For more information on Saint-Gobain, visit www.saint-gobain.com
For more information on Saint-Gobain’s Magnificent Architecture book (PDF), visit http://www.weber-terranova.si/fileadmin/user_upload /PDF/Magnificent_Architecture_book_ENG.pdf

The SAEEC is a proud chapter of the AEE.