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Sustainability or Planned Obsolescence, We Decide

April 12th, 2014 · No Comments

As we all consider the rules and guidelines for our Comprehensive Ordinance and specifically what we say about historic building materials, it is important to really think about what “modern” materials offer as an alternative.
We know that most of our housing stock is around 100 years old and, except for hazardous paint and deferred maintenance, it is holding up amazingly well.
Now, rather than repair and maintain we look to replace these old growth materials with the latest “no maintenance” miracle materials. Before we discuss today’s options it is important to think about the last 50 years of innovation in building and consider whether these materials have lived up to their promises.
First, after WW II we had aluminum siding. “Never paint or reside again”. In addition we had asphalt impregnated paper, ie. shingles. These were used, as we know, not only for roofing but also for siding in a number of “traditional” patterns. Wood grain and brick being the real popular styles.
Then came the first wave of vinyl. Siding, windows, even trim details that were supposed to look just like the real thing and last forever. “Vinyl is final” was the word of the day. Many of these products came with a lifetime warranty. Whose lifetime I think we’re all wondering?
Before I start naming today’s versions of the miracle cure, I want us to stop and think, not about how all of the other promises panned out, but about the environmental and societal costs of those – now older – materials. The environmental costs of manufacturing aluminum and asphalt (a petroleum product) are huge relative to the realized lifespan of those products. In the case of asphalt shingles, they mat last 10 to 25 years and then cannot even be recycled.
Today we are considering cement board siding as an alternative to keeping old growth clapboards or replacing original clapboards with radial sawn cedar (only where necessary). While yet knowuggeststo our already overcroweded
We are also talking about replacing 100 year old windows with products that will admittedly only last 20 years and need to be thrown away and replaced again. And plastic trim boards, toxic to produce and toxic if burned, are not likely to be recycled because they get chalky and brittle in UV light.
This is only the tip of the “new” product iceberg.

If we truly want to consider ourselves and our town progressive and forward thinking, we need to consider the likely impact of the rules and guidelines we codify in our ordinances.
And, if we want to support and encourage all of our citizens to recycle, reduce waste, and leave a better planet for our children, shouldn’t we maintain guidelines that help to illustrate these ideals?
By choosing to erase any reference of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards from our Zoning ordinance, not only do we put every building in Burlington at risk of irreparable damage and loss of historic integrity, we send a message that we as a society do not value our cultural or built heritage.

Tags: energy efficiency · lead paint · maintenance · Value-Added Historic Preservation · windows

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