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Community and Q&A

Once again… I will pose the question

User avatar
Kurtis Hord | Posted in General Questions on

The greenest building is the one already built.

Architecture as we know it is a scam.

Why are we not copying successful precedents from the past.

It would involve mostly stone, and 3-wythe brick, in lime putty.

Why all the questions about how to build green when our ancestors already did it?


  1. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #1

    I'm not sure why my last post was removed... is the truth too hard to bare, or the people moderating stand to make money off advertising gizmo green "products".

  2. BrianVarick | | #2

    Those buildings were green but energy hogs and uncomfortable. If you are paying for energy instead of having a fire going at all times you need to use energy efficient and modern building materials.

    1. User avatar
      Kurtis Hord | | #6

      tell this to the whole city of chicago, or europe who live in such structures... with modern amenities. and i'm all for supplementing this shell with modern crap on the interior... but the shell is already proven.

    2. User avatar
      Dana Dorsett | | #35

      Sans insulation & air sealing yes these houses can be energy hogs.

      But with 2" - 5" of rock wool on the exterior (depending on climate) and low=E storms over tightened up wood single panes, antique triple-wythe brick or stone performs pretty well, and are worth preserving.

      In NL there is a company doing deep energy retrofits on brick row houses bringing them to Net Zero Energy using exterior insulation and ground source heat pumps for heating (and with climate change, cooling). Most homes in NL are near sea level, and with only clay/sand/peat to drill through dropping in ground source heat pumps are pretty cheap compared to much of the US.

      1. User avatar
        Kurtis Hord | | #37

        ugh. more "products"

        I grew up in public housing. it was a 3 wythe row house, shotgun, 3 on 3.. built in 1890. shed roof. built originally as railroad worker housing, still serving as functional shelter with very little maintenance .. original plaster. we put on sweaters when it got cold. had a space heater in the bathroom. i was born in 1983 and this building was still doing it's job. i've lived in such structures most of my life. and when i started doing preservation work, these are the buildings i worked on, and learned from. i don't understand why we stopped building like that. oh wait... vanity. fashion. money. comfort. brick laying and roof tailoring is hard, i know, i do it. modern methods turn the builder into "installer" "assembler" or "mechanic" and i will tell you who pays for it in the future... the lower income people who inherit the "exurbs" and fashions of the previous decades. veneer brick, gypsum, before that, whirligigs and overstuffed cornices covered in vinyl and aluminum. we also lived in the shadow of dow chemical, rohm&haus, so i know firsthand the effects of choosing garbage for building materials. it effects the "expendables" not the first adopters who benefit in the early stages from appreciation. someone is left holding the bag though. with all this garbage construction.

  3. Zephyr7 | | #3

    Structures like this have essentially no insulation, few if any windows, no spaces for utilities. Many other reasons.

    It is certainly possible to improve on old ideas with new materials and techniques. Look at many of the old structures and the massive amount of materials they used to build them. Lighter construction using modern methods results in fewer materials needed to complete the structure, and greener on that regard.


    1. User avatar
      Kurtis Hord | | #7

      you can't consume your way to sustainability.

  4. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #4

    yeah, you're kinda missing the point. the shell of stone or 3-wythe with a timber roof, plenty of people living in them in europe, with all the modern amenities; just build the shell right. most of the materials are already rendered. if we dismantled bullshit victorian mansions and made Mews with all the brick and timber... every main st. building of 2 or three story that's been retrofitted... most of the city of chicago is of this model....

    what are you guys selling?

  5. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #5

    and i'm all for gizmos, as long as the shell remains noble, and god-honoring. the shell should be built in stone or 3-wythe.

  6. Canada_Deck | | #8

    Not everyone lives in Chicago. You may find this interesting:
    "If you live in an old, unreinforced brick house, you are in real danger, and none of the retrofit techniques mentioned above will do much good outside of a major costly reinforcing job. Fortunately, old brick houses in the Pacific Northwest are being phased out of the building inventory; most of us live in wood-frame houses."

    1. User avatar
      Kurtis Hord | | #10

      there's not enough trees for all the becky's that want to live on sacred ground. we've touched on a bigger issue here... y'all familiar with the guidestones?

      1. Canada_Deck | | #11

        Trees are a sustainable and renewable resource. We grow them like crops. When we use them buildings, we protect them from burning or rotting and so they even sequester CO2.

        1. User avatar
          Kurtis Hord | | #13

          noble timber comes from old growth forrest, it is not a sustainable resource. trees should only be felled as needed, for roof timbers and platforms.

          1. Trevor Lambert | | #18

            Wtf is "noble timber" , and why would it matter?

          2. User avatar
            Kurtis Hord | | #21

            noble timber, is old growth. how do you not understand this.. the use of speedy grown lumber is a huge problem. the reason why old growth is favored is due to the fact the tress grow in a competitive canopy and take hundreds of years to reach maturity. we eliminated that resource in europe, then came to north america, the access to those timbers drove most of the world conflicts and imperialism. it's not like trees growing like "crops" solves anything that's again the point... REDUSE. RE-USE. RECYCLE. the reduce part first. less consumers, over time, less USE because we've plenty well done enough using.

          3. Trevor Lambert | | #26

            This is a term with no widespread recognition, which is clearly used to impart some kind of ethereal, supernatural quality that does not actually mean anything to those of us living in the real world.

            Your comment was a reply to a comment pointing out that trees for construction a purpose grown. Unless it's a abdominal segue, you pretty clearly meant to imply that only "noble" trees were suitable for construction. I was asking why it mattered whether these trees were a renewable resource, since that's not what we use anyway. You failed to provide a convincing argument against using new growth trees for construction. Your argument for three wythe wall construction as the only acceptable method is, quite frankly, stupid. The embodied energy is exponentially higher than lighter construction, and the ongoing energy inputs are mind boggling. What are the chances this structure is still going to be fit for purpose several hundred years you expect it to last? Not very good. All of the stone structures of that age also required massive amounts of maintenance to last that long. Take a look at an abandoned castle or strong house after only a couple of centuries; it's not a pretty sight.

          4. User avatar
            Kurtis Hord | | #31

            hey trevor, i thought these realities were self-evident. that people here understood what makes timber noble: embodied energy / life cycle. and we have already decimated our resources of noble timber. we learned this in preservation. that we all understand the population bomb is real, and no matter how much we tell ourselves we are OK, the only way to truly be ok is to return to archaic ways of being. terrance mckenna and all... i approach this from the viewpoint of someone who rejects anything that isn't consider 1000 years and a benchmark. also, working from the self evident knowledge that our consumption, is not sustainable and there is no way to hack our way there.

        2. User avatar
          Kurtis Hord | | #16

          and if you factor in all the embodied energy in felling trees that will only last 100 years at best... we are supposed to consider the effect on seven generations. build for 1000 years or why bother...

    2. User avatar
      Kurtis Hord | | #12

      hey i can link things too! being from this area, and working on many structures that pre-date the cairo event, I can assure you this is alarmist bullshit. also it's a blessing to die in a quake unless you've done something in this life to send you elsewhere when god strikes... what you scared of?

  7. User avatar
    Deleted | | #9


  8. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #14

    structures should be god-honoring, and noble. that is the real green. the shakers know what's up. this place seems to be full of breeders and consumers, with no real contemplation of how their actions effect the future of our ship.

  9. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #15

    and trying to consume your way to sustainability, is like fucking for purity. but, enjoy your dissolution. your rewards are all here.

  10. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #17

    the biggest problem here is eliminating about 6.5 billion people from the earth. justify your existence. 500 million is a god-honoring population. full stop.

    1. Trevor Lambert | | #19

      You are a complete nutter, full stop.

      I'm usually the last person to suggest banning or censorship, but this religious zealot has just advocated mass genocide as a green building technique. Surely there is no value to this line of discussion.

      1. User avatar
        Kurtis Hord | | #20

        once again, missing the point. a return to pre-industrial numbers: less consumers who feel entitled. an "organic" population not over-inflated by our oil binge. i'm not a monster, just pointing out the fact that nobody wants to talk about. too many mouths and desires.

        1. Trevor Lambert | | #27

          That isn't remotely close to what you said. Not going waste any more time responding to a moving target.

          1. User avatar
            Kurtis Hord | | #28

            so much man-splaining and bad noise. we already have successful models to copy. just do this:

      2. User avatar
        Kurtis Hord | | #33

        are you familiar with the guidestones?

        what does an organic, pre-industial pre-oil population number look like? we have to solve this first or there are just more consumers who want "comfort" and jettas, and freaking cul de sacs.

        1. Zephyr7 | | #40

          What does “organic” have to do with population? The word “organic”, as used in the sciences, means “carbon based”. Methyl ethyl ketone is an organic solvent. It’s also very nasty stuff. Oil is an organic material, even if you meant to mean “natural” since petroleum is a naturally occurring substance.

          The “population bomb”, at least in the western world, hasn’t been a real concern for at least 40 years. Population in countries in the western world has either held steady or been dropping. This is fact, and a concern for the future.

          There are very, very few man-made structures of any type that have lasted 1,000 years or even close. I’m pretty sure they are only of monolithic stone construction, not brick. Regular 3 wythe brick construction is very unlikely to last anywhere near 1,000 years.

          You are advocating a return to the distant past. You are idealizing that distant past. Remember that there were mass famines, wars of conquest, plagues, vastly reduced life expectancy, vastly higher infant mortality rates, many other things that essentially all sane people agree are to be avoided. The purpose of green building is to maintain a high quality of life while minimizing materials and energy use. I think most on this site would agree that that is the general goal of everyone here even while opinions on how best to achieve that goal may differ.


      3. User avatar
        Kurtis Hord | | #34

        The Georgia Guidestones
        Center cluster erected March 22, 1980
        Let these be guidestones to an Age of Reason
        Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
        Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
        Unite humanity with a living new language.
        Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.
        Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
        Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
        Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
        Balance personal rights with social duties.
        Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.
        Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.
        Astronomic Features
        1. Channel through stone
        indicates celestial pole
        2. Horizontal slot indicates
        annual travel of sun
        3. Sunbeam through capstone
        marks noontime throughout
        the year
        Author: R.C. Christian
        (a pseudonyn) [sic]
        Sponsors: A small group
        of Americans who seek
        the Age of Reason
        Time Capsule
        Placed six feet below this spot
        To be opened on........

        1. Tom May | | #41

          Well there is no way we can know what world population was in the past. The guidestones are more a means of control rather than sustainability and should be destroyed pronto. All those in favor of depopulation should start with themselves first. There is plenty of room and resources on the earth to sustain billions of lifeforms. This can be seen through all the open land there is and waste we produce. World population could easily fit into a single state in the US. Do the math.

      4. User avatar
        Walter Ahlgrim | | #43

        Don't argue with an idiot; people watching may not be able to tell the difference.
        Kurtis Hord When you post please try to add something positive to the conversation. Most of you post seem like throw a bomb and run away, and you are not winning converts to your argument.

        Trevor Lambert please take a minute click on Kurtis name and read what she has written about herself.


  11. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #22

    organic building, and an organic, pre-industrial population is needed to reach any true measure of "green". you've all just kinda shown this. anyway. ignore me at your peril. are none of you familiar with 1000 year house, or hope for architecture, steve mouzon, or, say ever think why don't we look for the last sane moment in architecture? it was before the trade existed as we know it. in my world, an architect is made over a lifetime of building, is forged by their very work mastering the building arts, not grown in a "lab". nobility is simply a function of service life/embodied energy. and anything less than 1000 years is an insult to god and mother earth.

  12. Alan B | | #23

    I could give a long considered reply to this thread but it would be a waste of my energy.
    If you want to evangelize this is not the place to do it.

    1. User avatar
      Kurtis Hord | | #30
  13. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #24

    has nothing to do with that... simply it's realizing that the lust for manufactured building products is the biggest hurdle. green building, at it's core is pre-industrial building. and for that we have to be real about resources, embodied energy, life cycle energy. we can supplement with modern improvements like solar slates, fancy foams, and better windows, but at the core; pre-industrial building is organic, and green by it's very nature. this is evident if you have lived in these structures which mostly rely on mass, and passive design to handle "comfort". let me revise that to pre-thermostat building. most masonry structures built before the 19th century regulate their interiors with very little effort. improve on that, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel. we've been building for much longer than this "green" trend. and most of the motives for the gizmos and chest thumping have to do with sales of manufactured things, which at this point still need a lot of oil to create. limit to human power building.

  14. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #25

    the only person i'm aware of, that is doing this properly besides me, in the whole country: exhibit a

  15. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #29
  16. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #32

    real "green" building culture is not for sale.

    1. Malcolm Taylor | | #36


      Thanks for giving us your perspective. I think you have made your point, and I'm not sure adding to what you've written here would be very useful.

      Happy new year.

  17. User avatar
    Kurtis Hord | | #38

    i will have made my point when people hang their heads in shame over what they have done to the future. and choose to do better. extreme life cycle is the only responsible tack.

    1. Malcolm Taylor | | #39

      Good luck. I hope thing look up for you in the new year.

  18. Kevin Dickson, MSME | | #42

    I disagree that the greenest building is the one already built.

    I'm just analyzing a trite slogan from an engineering perspective.

    The question is whether or not you should rehab and do a green retrofit on an existing building or replace it with a well-designed low energy new building. The correct answer can only be found after making some reasonable assumptions, cost estimates, and estimates of resale value.

    You don't "waste btus" when you tear down an old building. Those btus were spent when the building was originally built, and there's nothing you can do to get 'em back.

    You can only choose not to spend new btus on a new building.

    And btus are just another form of dollars.

    So it's always an economic problem, eg., what's the present value of retrofitting the old building vs. building an entirely new one. This analysis must be done for every building using each case's unique problems and assumptions.

    In residential at least, it's fairly easy to build a new "zero energy" replacement house, but fairly hard to retrofit an old house to zero energy. The cost of the new house can be estimated pretty accurately, but trying to estimate the retrofit cost of the old house is risky. Every old building is different.

    The embodied energy of the new building is just part of the down payment on a really good investment. The value of that energy is in the cost of construction. The landfill space required for the old building is also given a dollar value in the cost of demolition. The embodied energy of the old building is a "sunk cost" and doesn't factor in the analysis.

    The main thing that doesn't have a dollar value in this analysis is the generation of CO2. Lawmakers have begun trying to put a dollar value on that. Eventually this "carbon tax" will be pretty accurate, and will favor the old building.

    Most estimates put the embodied energy of a new building at 5-15% of the lifetime energy usage of the building. That means the operating energy usage of the building is about ten times more important than the original energy content.

    Therefore, it may be a catchy phrase, but it's very unscientific to generalize: "The Greenest Building is the One Already Built". Be sure to say "usually".

    1. User avatar
      Dana Dorsett | | #44

      Kevin- feeding the trolls, are we?

      1. Malcolm Taylor | | #45


        I don't think he is a troll, I don't think he is well. The thread should probably be deleted.

        1. Alan B | | #46

          I wish i could unsubscribe from it but better yet delete it.

  19. Dennis Miller | | #47

    This has been entertaining. I lived in a 2 foot thick stone wall house in Pennsylvania for several years. It had an oil furnace which was expensive to operate. So my wife made an extremely heavy curtain/blanket which we hung snugly across the stairway to limit warm air going upstairs. We pretty much lived downstairs during the day and only went upstairs to sleep. We had about 12 blankets on our bed, maybe 2 inches thick total. We could always see our breath, and especially so after it froze to the wall. And then one year the hand-dug well ran dry so we hauled water from a spring 1 mile away, 20 jugs of drinking water and a couple buckets to dip in the mossy trough for water to flush the toilet, which we tried to use as little as possible. Living like that may be a fun adventure for a young married couple in their 20s, but it was hardly a healthy lifestyle shivering at nights etc. Now I'm proudly building a double-stud super-insulated home and knowing that I am using highly renewable resources (that noble tree comment sounds a bit like a religion) and minimizing my energy consumption to far below the average, and below what we consumed to keep from freezing to death in the 180 year-old supposedly "green" house.

    1. User avatar
      Dana Dorsett | | #48

      Dennis: I'm currently consulting on a project rehabbing a house in Philly that's pretty close to that description. The homeowner doesn't want to insulate from the exterior covering up all that beautiful stone, or insulate on the interior covering over the plaster and having to rework all of the (very nice looking to be sure) interior trim.

      Nor does she want to revive the defunct hydronic boiler system in the basement, and is instead focusing on micr0-zoning with ductless heat pumps- mostly floor mount units where the radiators once stood for comfort. In a house this lossy it's actually possible to do the " ductless head per room" approach for much of it, but it's complicated by the fact that nobody makes a half-ton floor mount. I've referred her to other resources for running the Manual-J- the original proposals from HVAC "pros" were insane- something like 10-12 tons of multi-split, an 18K ductless head for the master bedroom (really!).

      My seat of the pants estimate was that it could be done with 4-6 tons of cold-climate ductless with perhaps a few mini-duct cassettes splitting the loads in a few places. We'll know more when the Manual-J comes in.

      1. Dennis Miller | | #49

        Dana, sounds like an interesting project. I can totally understand wanting to preserve the incredible beauty of the exterior stone on many old buildings, and the unique texture of plastered stone interiors not to mention those 2 foot deep windowsills. Yeah, we can find better ways to heat it, but I'd hardly call it green. Those stone walls have an R-value of maybe 2 which is like having walls built of windows that don't let in light or heat and don't even meet 2015 energy code for Zone 2 in Georgia let alone Zone 5 where I lived (maybe Phila is Zone 4).

        I wish you the best solutions and success on your project.

        1. User avatar
          Dana Dorsett | | #50

          I believe I pointed out to her that if the replacement windows installed by the prior owner were low-E they were probably higher performance than most of the walls. (I gave instructions on how to figure out if the windows had low-E coatings on surface 2 or 3). But high mass walls do better energy-wise than their steady-state R values would imply. They do a LOT better with even a hint of exterior exterior insulation, but that would require the expense of siding, and would detract from the antique architectural appeal.

          Some of the back of the house appears to be triple wythe brick which is is an R-improvement over stone, and on the upper floor there appears to be some amount of framed wall that could be retrofit insulated (maybe- TBD.)

          With right sized ductless it'll be cheaper & greener heat than forging ahead rebuilding the hydronic system. (Apparently copper thieves made off with all the plumbing in the basement. I don't have the full history on it.) It will also provide much more efficient & comfortable cooling than window shaker AC. (Apparently it still gets hot and sticky in Philly sometimes!? ;-) )

          1. Dennis Miller | | #51

            On the positive side two feet of stone makes a decent air barrier. Also good thermal mass which, in the house we lived, made it comfortably cooler in the summer but apparently higher humidity inside so that things would mildew easily.

            And I'd imagine almost any siding could double the thermal performance when adding R2 doubles the insulation value.

            Again, success to your project

  20. User avatar
    Dana Dorsett | | #52

    It's really her project, I'm just acting in an advisory role and digging up resources, but yeah it's tough nut to crack perfectly cleanly, preserving the look and feel while not overspending on mechanicals or operating costs.

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