Historic New England village embraces renewable energy

This farmhouse, built in 1743, has been upgraded to solar

Built in 1743, Horowitz’s historic farmhouse now features solar power and LED lighting.

Adding solar and other renewable energy sources are getting to be easier and cheaper to own than ever before. But how well do these go with historic landmarks and century-old homes?

If you’re in Massachusetts, the answer is pretty well indeed.

Author and green business profitability expert Shel Horowitz and his family live in a solarized 1743 farmhouse on a working dairy farm in Hockanum, a village in Hadley, Massachusetts. His was the first house in this historic village to go solar.

It began in 2001 when he installed three solar panels to produce solar hot water. Now the property boasts  a row of skylights (put in by the previous owners, who did a number of energy improvements), and 4 solar panels. The skylights were there before the solar hot water, probably put in sometime in the 1980s. Horowitz says he added the 1kw 4-panel photovoltaics in 2004.

Horowitz’s neighbors, the Barstow family, later installed a methane digester next to the manure tank on the farm that Horowitz and his family live on. The main farmhouse (built 1815) now features methane heat from cow poop and food waste. And the newly renovated kitchen in Horowitz’s house features LED lights for additional green savings.

Horowitz's remodeled kitchen features LED lights

Horowitz’s remodeled kitchen features LED lights

“We were the first house in this historic village (Hadley’s Hockanum Rural Historic District) to go solar,” he said. But now there are four green facilities within a quarter-mile, said Horowitz. The house across the street – which was a former tavern, built in 1747 – installed a large geothermal system several years ago, and more recently, a large solar array. In 2008, the Barstows put in a cafe and bakery with a number of green features, including a roof angled for solar, but without solar collectors – probably due to the close proximity of the methane.They now expect to harness power from the methane digester for the cafe.

Just three miles north of Horowitz’s home, Next Barn Over, the CSA farm he belongs to, installed solar panels on the entire south-facing half of the roof of their old tobacco barn that they use to distribute the shares.

Greening historic structures isn’t anything new. In 2009, Edinburgh, Scotland’s historic centre – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – benefited from the installation of solar hot water.

There are cases where historic preservation societies have balked at the apparent modernization of historic buildings. After all, solar panels may not add a lot to the aesthetics of grand old homes and historic buildings, even if colored solar panels are used.

Even the Scottish Parliament building features solar panels

Even the Scottish Parliament building features solar panels

But preservationists are coming around. In 2011, the National Trust for Historic Preservation reported that the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions took the first stab at solar could be incorporated with historic structures without detracting from aesthetics. This was followed by the National Trust, and later that year the National Park Service completed their Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings with a section dedicated to solar technology.The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) also released a report entitled Implementing Solar PV Projects on Historic Buildings and in Historic Districts.

But it’s definitely possible – and important – to make these old homes as energy efficient as possible. Working with the technology in ways that these modernizations aren’t disruptive can be done. It’s not an either or situation, and the results can please both homeowners and preservationists. It’s another case of working with, not against, the challenges to achieve something special. Everyone wins.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: