Bright-Minded Home February 2016

Union Hall was built in 1856 on Rockport’s central street.

Q&A with Denis Lachman of Lachman Architects & Planners about Energy Efficiency in Historic Renovations


In Maine, we are fortunate to have main streets, downtowns, and village centers that have been community cores for a century or more. These nodes where citizens, commerce, and culture intersect are defined by thousands of historic buildings. Rehabilitating them as part of community revitalization is an important sustainability initiative. The following are three best practices Lachman used on the Henshaw penthouse at Union Hall in Rockport.

Every historic building stores a tremendous amount of “old” energy—physical material and human effort already spent and embodied by it. Repurposing these buildings as an alternative to building new reclaims this energy and is a powerful commitment to sustainability.


With the Henshaw penthouse, as with the rest of the building, features such as new insulated walls inboard of the brick masonry, mechanical systems to reduce air infiltration and heat loss, and efficient lighting all work together to save precious “new” energy. In the penthouse, natural light was a particular challenge because the space was originally an attic, and window openings were small, spaced apart, low to the floor, and could not be changed. The solution was new, efficient windows that match the historic ones, set in flared openings that coax in the most natural light.


Accommodating practical energy requirements does not, by itself, make
a building successful. It must have comfortable, functional, well-organized spaces that stand up to the test of time— for at least another century. One familiar approach is to “sequence” space, from public to private, with transitions along the way. In the penthouse, for example, after leaving the elevator lobby, one arrives at
a semi-public vestibule, framed by see- through shelves that define it gently from the semi-private living room. Another framed opening further transitions to the most private bedroom area.