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New Study on Environmental Value of Building Reuse

7 February 2012 | Posted By John Jennings 3,041 views No Comment

In late January, Preservation Green Lab released a new study, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Value of Building Reuse.  This research finds that reusing existing buildings typically offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction—even if that new construction is energy-efficient.

The report looked at six very different building types in four climatically diverse cities across the U.S. including Portland, Phoenix, Chicago and Atlanta. The study also considered the role that geography, energy performance, electricity-grid mix, building type and building lifespan have on the overall environmental picture.

Major findings from the report 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 majority of building types in different climates will take between 20-30 years to compensate for the initial carbon impacts from construction.
  • Scale Matters. Building reuse and retrofits substantially reduce climate change impacts. For instance, retrofitting, rather than demolishing and replacing, just 1 percent of the city of Portland’s office buildings and single family homes over the next ten years would help to meet 15 percent of the 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 a significant amount of new materials can reduce or even negate the benefits of reuse.

Produced by Preservation Green Lab, a sustainable building research think tank and advocacy arm of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an LCA study is an internationally recognized approach to evaluating the potential environmental and human health impacts associated with products and services throughout their respective life cycles. Major funding for this study was provided by The Summit Foundation. Study partners included Cascadia Green Building Council, Quantis LLC, Skanska, and Green Building Services.

The full report may be downloaded at www.preservationnation.org/sustainability.

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