29 January 2012

Why the Most Environmental Building is the Building We've Already Built

From: The Atlantic Cities, Place Matters by Emily Badger

“Reusing an old building pretty much always has less of an impact on the environment than tearing it down, trashing the debris, clearing the site, crafting new materials and putting up a replacement from scratch. This makes some basic sense, even without looking at the numbers.”

“Retrofit an existing building to make it 30 percent more efficient, the study found, and it will essentially always remain a better bet for the environment than a new building built tomorrow with the same efficiencies. Take that new, more efficient building, though, and compare its life cycle to an average existing structure with no retrofitting, and it could still take up to 80 years for the new one to make up for the environmental impact of its initial construction.” Click here for link to article

What many people never realize is re-using an existing building is virtually always the most environmentally healthy thing we can do. Consider if the building was a warehouse or a school and we are re-using it as offices and residential it will still be “Greener” than a new building.
The existing building may or may not be a designated historic building. The reason for saving the building may not be for historical purposes. There may be other reasons including Zoning, economics or sentimentality. When a new building is built, a lot of natural resources are depleted to provide the construction materials and manufacture and ship everything. When an existing building is renovated there is environmental saving in a steel, wood or masonry structure that already exists. The exterior brick or siding is already there. There may even be interior walls that can be re-used. Also there may be a combination of thousand of smaller items that can be saved and re-used – hardware for example.
It is much easier for Architects, Engineers and Contractors to say “always build a new building”. Of course for them it is easier because they are starting with clean piece of paper. It is less complicated than trying to measure and evaluate an existing building and adapt it to a new user. But these professionals don’t have to pay for the total cost of construction and pay for the utility and maintenance expenses over its lifetime. On rare occasions it does make sense to start new, but this is acceptable when, for example, Target wants to build a store where an ice cream stand or gas station is.

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