1910s Postcard of the Multnomah County Courthouse
Courtesy of the Architectural Heritage Center
Years of deferred maintenance and numerous prior alterations have left the Multnomah County Courthouse, on SW 4th Avenue, in a state of disrepair that must soon be addressed. To that end, county commissioners Judy Shiprack and Deborah Kafoury, recently held public meetings to address concerns about the courthouse and to get ideas for solutions as to its future. If you haven’t already done so, consider taking the county’s survey here.
While the building may be in need of very serious repairs and seismic retrofitting, from the standpoint of the historic preservation community, the building is far too important to lose. Its 1914 neoclassical design embodies the popular style of government buildings from that period. Although many of the finer details have been lost or hidden over the years, the building still retains many original features – especially on the exterior. While some may rush to judgement noting that the building must be seismically updated, such work would have to be done by the County anyway if they ever intended to sell the building or put it to other uses. So with that in mind, we hope the County will consider a major rehabilitation of the building, making it more usable for the 21st century court system, safer for those inside the building, and restoring some of the interior features to their original grandeur. And getting rid of those awful dropped ceilings!
We have witnessed the wonderful restoration of other public buildings in Portland. Two prime examples are City Hall and the Multnomah County Central library. It is doubtful that many would argue now that those buildings should have been replaced. The Courthouse should be given the same treatment.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has quietly been operating its Preservation Green Lab for a few years now and we’re finally starting to see quantifiable data verifying what preservationists have long believed – replacement windows are not the best option for home weatherization measures. With the help of the Cascadia Green Building Council and Seattle-based Ecotope, the Green Lab has issued this new report which makes it clear that storm windows combined with cellular shades is probably the best solution to weatherizing windows in our older and historic homes.
Portland was one of the cities reflected in this study, so the report should be seen as even more relevant to the owners of the thousands of Portland area homes built with traditional wood windows – most prior to World War II.
So what are a few of the takeaways from this important study?
1. Retrofitting your old windows can give you energy performance similar to that of replacement windows.
2. Nearly all retrofit measures provide a better return on investment than replacement windows.
3. The average initial cost for replacement windows in Portland is roughly twice that of a combination of exterior storm windows and insulated cellular shades. When you combine that with the fact that the average energy savings between these two types of weatherization measures is a mere 2-3 percentage points, you can see why replacement windows are, by far, not the best option.
You can read more about the report on the National Trust’s website here.
One final note for owners of designated historic homes: Interior weatherization measures like installing insulated cellular shades or interior window panels, probably won’t trigger those historic design review fees that many in Portland are (rightfully) up in arms about. So not only can you save money and energy, you might also save the hassle and cost of that process.