Interview with Craig Johnson Part II: Sustainability at James J. Hill House and in Craig's Life

This interview was conducted by Yixuan Cai, our Summer 2015 Sustainability intern. Yixuan co-wrote this post with Shengyin Xu. It was edited by Samuel Courtier.

Drawing room of the James. J Hill House

Craig Johnson: "Yes, it's true that it is a place of conspicuous consumption---they had way too much and no one needs all that---, yet many of the choices they made were much more sustainable than the ones we make today.”

Craig Johnson discusses Sustainability at James J. Hill House and in his personal life.

At first glance, it may appear that James J. Hill House has little to teach us about Sustainability. Indeed, as the Gilded Age mansion of the 'Empire Builder,' Hill House seems to embody extravagance and---borrowing terminology from Craig---'conspicuous consumption.' However, during our interview, Craig shed light on the variety of opportunities he's found for incorporating Sustainability into the Hill House's story and day-to-day operations.


NEH Funds Energy Efficient Cold Storage Project at the History Center

MNHS is proud to have received our second NEH grant for energy efficient cold storage (press release)!  This NEH Sustaining Cultural Heritage Implementation Grant will allow us to implement the recommendations from our interdisciplinary study on energy efficient cold storage.  In 2012, NEH awarded a Sustaining Cultural Heritage Planning grant to the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) to conduct an interdisciplinary study that balanced issues of long-term preservation for film materials.  These issues included preservation metrics, potential energy use, cost for maintenance, as well as investment cost for any recommended system or building upgrades.  At the conclusion of the study in 2014, the interdisciplinary team reduced the broader set of options into a cohesive set of recommendations that include building improvements and specific upgrades of equipment.  When implemented, these recommendations would produce a colder and drier environment that helps preserve film materials longer while concurrently reducing the energy required to sustain that environment.  


New Kelley Farm Visitor Center will be a LEED Gold and B3 Sustainable Building

The Minnesota Historical Society will utilize USGBC’s LEED Green Building Design and Construction Certification system as a way to support the mission of the Oliver Kelley Farm:

“...interpret the history of family farms, Kelley Family, and MN’s agriculture past, present and future to nurture an understanding of where our food comes from and agriculture’s image on our world...”

LEED supports this by guiding an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable infrastructure to deliver this outcome.  It is also responsible for significant market transformation in sustainable building, and is often recognized by general audiences as well as those in the construction industry.  In particular, the team is targeting Gold certification (of Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels).  


Energy-Efficient Cold Storage Recent Publications

Our NEH-funded Energy-Efficient Cold Storage study has been picking up a lot of attention at recent professional conferences!  We presented to mixed crowds at the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).  In the fall, we plan to publish an article in the International Association for Museum Facility Administrators (IAMFA) journal - Papyrus.  In the meantime, catch up on the materials we have already shared: 


Lunch and Learn: How to Save Energy at Home & at Work!

Join us and the Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) for free training on how to reduce your energy use at work and save energy and money at home.  

Monday, November 3 from 12:30 to 1:00.  Location to be provided after registration.  
Register here.  The deadline to register is October 31. 


MNHS Take the Stairs Campaign

As the new year rolls around many people are thinking of their New Year’s resolutions. Over the next couple weeks staff members will begin to see posters about taking the stairs throughout the History Center. As you think about your New year’s resolution a simple action would be participating in the More for the Mission Take the Stairs campaign!

Did you know that the average wait time for an elevator at the History Center is 20 seconds?


Highlights from APT New York 2013

This year’s Association for Preservation Technology International Conference was in Times Square, New York.   While it was my first time at an APT Conference, I was still very impressed with the level of discussion starting with a great keynote on local conservation issues to a great panel on education and sustainability in heritage preservation on the last day.  I also had the pleasure of presenting on a panel on American and European perspectives on energy efficiency and historic preservation.  The following post includes some highlights from my panel as well as other sessions. 


Water Quality - Softening and Sustainability Issues

Water quality is often overlooked when thinking about water sustainability, but the quality of treated water has a large impact both at the building scale and at the ecosystem scale.  Water softening, which is usually the method for mitigating hard water sources, is not just an issue for building users, but has a large impact on energy use and water quality at a community or regional level.  Some areas with a very hard water supply find that salt-based water softening systems contribute to salinity of natural water bodies, which not only alters water ecosystems, but has impacts for reuse of water in agriculture or municipal water supplies.  For example, irrigating with high salinity water can reduce crop yields, which can be even more problematic as agricultural fertilizer runoff can also contribute to water salinity.  Further, some communities where conventional salt-based systems are very popular have found that municipal water treatment plants have experienced increased costs from having to mitigate higher salinity water.  


My Energy Story: Measuring and Reducing Home Energy Usage

LED lights with our dining room hutchAs I mentioned in a previous blog post, my partner and I are relatively new homeowners; we’ve lived in our 1914 story-and-a-half South Minneapolis bungalow for about a year and a half.  Given that we’ve both worked in the energy efficiency field, we’re pretty cognizant of our energy usage, and try our best to walk the talk when it comes to conservation.  But, as the Minnesota Historical Society knows well, older buildings pose a number of challenges for achieving efficiency, as well as a number of opportunities. We love the original woodwork in our house, the built-in dining room buffet, and the colonnade archway that separates the living room from the dining room.  The house tells a story of the growth and development of South Minneapolis in the early 20th century, of the old-growth lumber that was used in the construction (that would be quite expensive and hard to find today), and the high quality, solidly built homes that characterized the aesthetic of that era.  


Minnesota History Center Reduces Energy by over 50%

The Minnesota History Center is noteworthy for many things, from great exhibits to exciting programs.  However, in 2005, it was also noteworthy as being the highest energy consumer on the State Capitol Complex.  Since then, major mechanical system and lighting upgrades have reduced the energy usage by over 50%. Today, the building no longer holds that record and is now using less energy than most office buildings in the region.  The graph below illustrates this change over time in KBTU/SF, combined energy use per square foot of the building.