Toledo Museum Of Art Proves You Can Teach An Old Building New Tricks

Newfangled building concepts get all the headlines when it comes to green building practices. The reason is obvious: it’s always easier to incorporate new technologies when you’re building from the ground up. Merging them into existing buildings, especially when they’ve been around for a decade or 10, presents a serious challenge.

The Toledo Museum of Art has been around for an impressive 101 years. At that age, you’d be hard pressed to convince a human to change their habits, but the Museum has recently cut its use of electrical power by 79 percent thanks to the introduction of some technologies that were only dreams when the first blocks of its foundation were laid.

Toledo Museum of Art

Image via Toledo Museum of Art

Those in charge of the Museum were hip to energy efficiency long before it became cool. Back in the early 90’s, they were swapping out incandescent light bulbs for halogen and LEDs long before most of us even knew we had options. It’s been recently, however, that the big changes have been realized.

A brand new 360kW solar canopy was recently installed over a large portion of the newly renovated main parking lot. When combined with the 200 kW solar array on the roof of the main Museum, the panels are responsible for generating a whopping 50 percent of the 250,000 sq. ft. building’s total electrical demand.

Back in 2004, the Museum became home to four micro-turbines, and last year, two more micro-turbines and chillers were installed in the Glass Pavilion’s power plant. (A micro-turbine is a gas turbine that operates similarly to a steam power engine except that air is used instead of water.) “They produce 65 kW of electricity apiece and have been a cornerstone of the Museum’s  energy saving efforts,” explains the official website. “With micro-turbine technology in place, the Museum has been able to generate 15 percent of its own electrical power, reducing it’s dependence on the electrical grid.”

Achieving these energy-generating milestones took lots of effort and constant fundraising. But Museum officials say it’s all part of a day’s work. “[W]e are not going away. We have a 101-year-old building, and we will be around for hundreds more,” said Carol Bintz, the building’s chief operating officer in an interview with Green Building News. “Part of it was to be a social example—to set ourselves up as an example for a building that is this old,” she added.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog


  • Reply June 24, 2013

    Jerry Graf

    How much did the solar panels cost? How much electricity (KWh) per year are they projected to provide? How have they really been performing since installation (electrical production and O&M costs)?
    Why would these things NOT be the first and primary pieces of information presented in a report about such things???

  • Reply June 25, 2013

    Bill Decker, Sr.

    Carol Bintz also lives in a solar-powered, energy efficient Decker Home, located in Maumee, Ohio. Solar provides 90% of her electric home energy.

    • Reply June 25, 2013

      Jerry Graf

      How much did the solar panels at her house cost?
      How much electricity do they produce per year (how much is 90% of her electric home energy)??

  • Reply June 26, 2013

    Jerry Graf

    Got the answer for the 200 KW phase 1 & 2 rooftop PV panels:
    They cost roughly $1.1 million, and the taxpayers paid for more than half of this with “incentives”. They have been producing roughly 140,000 KWh per year total; so they are on track to return the investment in 78 years…………..except they will wear out in maybe 25 years.
    $1.1 million could have provided 1000 KW of natural gas CCGT generating capacity; which could be producing 53 times the electricity while, at the same time, eliminating 26 times more annual CO2 emissions by displacing coal.

  • Reply June 29, 2013

    Jerry Graf

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