The Three Rs: Rehab, Remodel, Repurpose

Just a short 35 minute drive north of the MTI plant lies the beautiful little village of Lanesboro, MN.  It is the perfect example of community recycling, and I’m not talking about paper, cans and bottles (although that goes on their, too).  About thirty years ago, Lanesboro was given up for dead.  Most businesses had closed and main street (Hwy. 250 or Parkway) contained mostly empty, dilapidated buildings.  But then the Root River Trail came to town.  Begun in the early 1980s, the paved bike trail infused new life into all the communities along the Root River in Southeast Minnesota, but Lanesboro, in my opinion, benefited the most.

Lanesboro is a small community of less than a 1,000 permanent residents tucked into a valley cut by the Root River and surrounded by 300 foot Limestone bluffs.  The trail, considered by many to be one of the premiere bike trails in the U.S. and the natural scenic beauty bring thousands of visitors to town during the warm weather months.  Outside Magazine named Lanesboro, “One of the 20 best places to live and play.”  Visitors can canoe, tube and kayak the river while cyclists, runners and hikers enjoy nearly 60 miles of paved trails.  There are many premiere trout streams nearby and Lanesboro offers exceptional live theater at the Commonweal as well as art galleries, Amish goods, and lots of unique shops.

This infusion of tourism dollars has resulted in the preservation of most of the buildings (both commercial and residential) in town.  Lanesboro was originally started as a tourist destination back in the 1800s and many beautiful Victorian homes and elegant buildings dotted the landscape.  (View Early History)  Now, many of the early buildings and homes have been restored.  Rather than tearing down the old, most of the current buildings have been rehabbed, restored or repurposed and many have a century or more of history to tell.  It is a great town for an architectural hike, especially if you enjoy Victorian architecture.  I am including a few photos here, but you can visit MTI’s Facebook page for an entire gallery of downtown businesses.  Lanesboro takes the conservation issue up one more notch as it generates its electricity via hydroelectric power.  (See photo of dam in background)  I will do another article on Lanesboro homes in the near future.  (Learn more about Lanesboro.)


The Green “Blowback” Effect

A recent study initiated by the EPA and conducted by the Institute of Medicine indicated that unintended and potentially serious health risks could be the result of too much “weatherization.”  The report stated, “Even with the best intentions, indoor environmental quality issues may emerge with interventions that have not been sufficiently well screened for their effects on occupant safety and health.”

MTI has made this point many times in presentations that we have done, and our AIA/CES courses, “Breaking the Mold…” (MTI409) and “Don’t Waster Your Energy…” (MTI509), detail the sustainability and health risks that careless weatherization can cause.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not against saving energy through tightening buildings, but like the report from the IOM, we feel that planning and coordination of efforts need to take place first.

For too long, building has been done in a compartmentalized fashion.  All the parties involved tended to “do their own thing” rather than working as a team.  With a plethora of new materials and methods in the construction world, holistic building is a must!  Architects, specifiers, engineers, contractors, and manufacturers of building materials need to be on the same page.

For example, entrapped moisture in the building envelope has skyrocketed over the last 25-30 years (a time period following the first energy crisis of the 1970s).  Why, because better windows, more and better insulation materials, more sealants, more unintended vapor barriers, etc. were being used without much thought to unplanned consequences.  When you seal the building envelope too tight, you get moisture issues.  You also get a building that has less fresh air injected into the living environment.  The IOM report states, “By making buildings more airtight, building owners could increase indoor-air contaminant concentrations and indoor-air humidity.”  This could lead to mold and rot issues and poor indoor air quality.

When you tighten the building envelope, you must know how all the materials and techniques are going to work or not work together, and then include materials and methods to counteract any negative outcomes such as entrapped moisture.  In most cases you need to include effective building envelope moisture management systems.  You also need to work with the manufacturer of these systems to make sure you have the right products and design for your specific details.  That’s why the architects, specifiers, contractors, and building owners need to be on the same page.

Those our my thoughts, I welcome yours!

*I have added some pictures from a house built in the 1960s that show how buildings used to be able to breathe.  Notice how clean and dry the wood looks after the old siding was torn off.  There is no rot or water-staining, not even next to the window, and the window is a bathroom window.  Air was able to get behind the siding and into the building envelope to keep it dried out.