Study: Reusing old buildings makes environmental sense

May 1, 2012

The most environmentally friendly way to build a green building is to reuse an older structure and update it with energy efficient technology, according to a new study published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Seattle Times reported that the research highlights how cities around the U.S. can benefit from renovation projects to their commercial buildings, helping to limit emissions and lower energy costs for companies and the government.

"The notion that you need a blank slate in order to make a green building is incorrect," Jason McLennan, CEO of Seattle-based Cascadia Green Building Council and one of the partners in the life-cycle analysis study, told the news outlet.

The study took into account a number of factors including the effects of construction on the environment, the overall costs of a project and the expenditure of energy needed to run the technology on the renovated structures.

According to the Times, despite the many benefits that come from constructing new energy-efficient buildings, these structures have to exist for as much as 80 years before the energy savings offset the negative environmental impacts of constructing them.

The study noted that the long-held belief in the commercial real estate industry that renovations and retrofit projects are more beneficial proved true. The turnaround for these structures is much quicker and this method also can be much less costly.

"In general, this study finds that building reuse almost always yields better results than new construction," Patrice Frey, director of sustainability at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told the news outlet of the research.

This move to retrofitting structures as opposed to constructing new buildings is what the city of New York is looking to do in the coming years. The local government is going to invest $800 million in buildings to reduce energy consumption by roughly 20 percent by 2016, Sustainable Business reported.

According to the news outlet, the city is looking to reduce energy demand, create thousands of green jobs and motivate private companies to mirror the move by the government.

This type of joint-benefit from retrofitting projects is exactly what the U.S. Department of Energy-designated innovation HUB, the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings (GPIC), is trying to promote.

The effort is looking to use the building stock of the Greater Philadelphia region to test retrofit projects and other energy-efficient enhancements, while also acting as a national model for progress in the sector.