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  • The Environmental Value of Building Reuse

    A report produced by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the potential environmental benefit of building reuse.

    This groundbreaking study, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, concludes that, when comparing buildings of equivalent size and function, building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction. The report’s key findings offer policy-makers, building owners, developers, architects and engineers compelling evidence of the merits of reusing existing buildings as opposed to tearing them down and building new. Those findings include:

    • Reuse Matters. Building reuse typically offers greater environmental savings than demolition and new construction. It can take between 10 to 80 years for a new energy efficient building to overcome, through efficient operations, the climate change impacts created by its construction. The study finds that the majority of building types in different climates will take between 20-30 years to compensate for the initial carbon impacts from construction.
    • Scale Matters. Collectively, building reuse and retrofits substantially reduce climate change impacts. Retrofitting, rather than demolishing and replacing, just 1% of the city of Portland’s office buildings and single family homes over the next ten years would help to meet 15% of their county’s total CO2 reduction targets over the next decade.
    • Design Matters. The environmental benefits of reuse are maximized by minimizing the input of new construction materials. Renovation projects that require many new materials can reduce or even negate the benefits of reuse.
    • The Bottom Line: Reusing existing buildings is good for the economy, the community and the environment. At a time when our country’s foreclosure and unemployment rates remain high, communities would be wise to reinvest in their existing building stock. Historic rehabilitation has a thirty-two year track record of creating 2 million jobs and generating $90 billion in private investment. Studies show residential rehabilitation creates 50% more jobs than new construction.

  • Preservation Green Lab

    By the Numbers

    By Elizabeth McNamara | From Preservation | Spring 2012  City Graphic 42 Duration, in minutes, of the Preservation Green Lab press conference, held Jan. 24, 2012, during which the National Trust reported on the environmental and economic value of reusing buildings. Six different building typologies were tested across four U.S. cities—Phoenix, Chicago, Atlanta, and Portland, Ore.—each representing a different climate zone 98.003 quadrillion Total amount of energy, in BTUs, used in the United States each year 3:51 Time, in minutes and seconds, President Barack Obama dedicated to renewable energy and climate change in his 2012 State of the Union address, in which he stated, “The easiest way to save money is to waste less energy,” and proposed giving businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings $20 billion Amount of money that would be saved in the United States if the energy efficiency of commercial and industrial buildings improved by 10 percent 925 million Square footage of building space demolished in the United States in 1996 1 billion Estimated square footage of building space demolished and replaced with new construction in the United States each year 82 billion Estimated square footage of space the Brookings Institution projects Americans will demolish and replace with new construction between 2005 and 2030, representing 25 percent of today’s existing building stock 46 Maximum percentage of energy saved through building reuse instead of new construction, comparing buildings with the same energy performance level 42 Time, in years, for the average new, energy-efficient commercial office building in Portland, Ore., to cancel out the negative climate change effects of its construction 50 Time, in years, for the average new, energy-efficient single-family house in Portland to cancel out the negative climate change effects of its construction 231,000 Metric tons of CO2 not emitted in Multnomah County, Ore., if, over the next decade, 1 percent of existing commercial office space and single-family houses is retrofitted and reused instead of demolished, amounting to 15 percent of Multnomah County’s target     Elizabeth McNamara is an assistant editor for Preservation.