Even the oldest homes can be brought up to modern energy standards.

Historic houses can be updated to the highest standards for resource efficiency and hurricane readiness, without sacrificing their one-of-a-kind character. That’s what Galveston Historical Foundation will demonstrate on October 2, when its Green Revival Show House opens to the public. Visitors will be able to tour the 1890 cottage at 3101 Avenue Q free of charge, on weekends in October and November, noon to 4 p.m.

The event marks the end of an extensive restoration that kicked off last February, when the house, lying askew on its ruined foundation since Hurricane Ike, was hoisted onto steel beams and wheels and towed 17 blocks to a new location. What makes this project so significant is that GHF is targeting LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, while at the same time carefully preserving the historic value of the house. Because LEED credit requirements often conflict with preservation guidelines, only a handful of historic home owners nationally have attempted the complicated process of meshing the two.

“We wanted to make this a model project for Galveston and other places, but also to explore the full extent of the similarities and disparities between LEED reviews and preservation issues,” says Dwayne Jones, GHF executive director. “This has given us a chance to highlight those things and make it work better for everyone. We want to see more historic home owners take a greener, more comprehensive look at their property, and not just follow the preservation rules we’ve used for many years now.”

Galveston is an island city still pulling itself together after the 2008 hurricane sent a 12-foot storm surge into the interior, and it boasts one of the nation’s largest collections of historic 19th- and 20th-century buildings. With many residents attempting to incorporate more energy-efficient systems into their historic home restorations, the Green Revival House offers timely, practical solutions for sensitively and affordably retrofitting, whether through small measures or whole building strategies.

Galveston is a city that has faced down one devastating hurricane after another in its nearly 200-year history. One takeaway lesson is that preserving historic buildings is greener than building new, since they contain old-growth material that is far denser, stronger, and more durable than the dimensional lumber available today. GHF’s efforts focused on repairing, insulating, and reinforcing the structure, and adding alternative energy. Among the green technologies included are an innovative insulation that resists Galveston’s intense humidity, four solar panels, two rainwater cisterns, and a quiet, bird-friendly wind turbine.

Galveston Historical Foundation, one of the nation’s largest local nonprofit preservation groups, has saved hundreds of houses from demolition. In addition to tours of the Green Revival House, the Foundation will also open the house for weekly seminars by regional experts on weatherization, lead paint, structural durability, renewable energy, and rainwater harvesting.

The project is sponsored by the 1772 Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’ Partner’s in the Field Program, and GHF. Galveston has the largest contiguous National Historic Landmark-designated areas in the state of Texas. Last year the National Trust named its historic downtown to the 11 Most Endangered Places in the U.S.

GHF will hold an Open House/Membership Drive as the first public event at the Green Revival House, 3101 Avenue Q, on Friday evening, October 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. Those interested in learning more about becoming GHF members are cordially invited, as are current GHF members who bring along a friend or neighbor interested in joining. The event is free but reservations are required due to space limitations. R.S.V.P. by Friday, September 24 to Becky Maixner at GHF, 409-765-7834.

About the Green Revival Show House…

Architectural authenticity: The 1890 house is a cottage-style interpretation of Greek Revival architecture, featuring a four-column front porch, decorative gingerbread, and a small window in each gable. Built prior to air conditioning, its design elements still work well to naturally moderate interior temperatures. A side hall, 12-foot ceilings, transoms, and walk-through windows opening onto deep porches provide air circulation and shade. Energy-efficient magnetic insertion windows were mounted behind the originals, at a fraction of the cost of replacement, and film treatments control heat gain while allowing full light to penetrate.

Material reuse. More than 90 percent of the original materials were preserved, which saved roughly 150 cubic yards of waste from the landfill. Brick from two chimneys dismantled for the move found new life as garden pathways and edging for beds. Porch decks are built from the top layer of interior pine flooring, which was removed to expose the original layer.

Hurricane-proofing. Threaded steel rods, inserted through the wall cavities, pin the roof securely to the foundation. New stainless steel nails and hot-dipped, galvanized hurricane clips reinforce the connections. The new house rises six feet off the ground (17 feet above sea level) on cross-braced piers, reducing the cost of homeowner flood insurance, and a slab-on-grade foundation with louvered skirting lets air and tidal surges circulate under the house while providing secure storage.

Insulation. Removing the original cypress siding was not an option for GHF, as replacement material would change the character of the house. The challenge was to find a high-performance insulation that could be inserted into the existing wall cavity. GHF installed mold-resistant drywall over existing lath and poured in ground polystyrene, recycled from rigid foam board insulation used in new construction. “Other loose fill options weren’t suitable for our humidity,” says project coordinator Matthew Pelz, adding that testing with an infrared camera showed its performance to be on par with other loose-fill insulation, and that the house will be vacuum-tested for air leaks. 

Rainwater reuse: Two cisterns supply water for landscaping, flushing toilets and washing clothes.

Alternative energy. Four solar panels and a wind turbine are expected to cut the energy use in half and will keep the owners comfortable in the next power outage. The spire’s curved blades, which can generate electricity with winds as low as 10 mph, turn slowly so birds can see the motion and avoid flying into it. For both solar and wind technology, GHF selected products that provide the best fit for the site, taking into account solar orientation, wind patterns, and wildlife concerns.