Most people are now aware that older buildings can be maintained or restored to add to the architectural and historical character of a neighbourhood. What is not so well know is the fact that it is also healthy for the environment. Some would even say that the only building that is truly green is the one that isn’t ever built. This means that by improving upon older buildings instead of making new ones we are saving the natural resources that would be used in construction.
A recent study has shown that it can take up to 80 years for a new building to overcome the negative resource and climate impacts caused in the construction process. This is assuming that the building is of the green, energy-efficient variety. With that being said, it is important to remember that there are environmental impacts from rehabilitating an older building as well; however, these can be reduced through the use of certain materials in construction.
Here are some additional factors developers can consider when trying to make their buildings more environmentally friendly:
- Colour of the building (lighter colours)
- Orientation of the building
- Landscaping (trees, seating places)
- Ponds, water bodies
- The use of natural materials (lime mortar)
- Use of recycled materials
- Minimum use of industrial materials
- Creation of terrace gardens
- Whiting the roofs (reflective roofs)
- Efficient hot water systems
- Use of wind energy and solar panels
It is safe to say that the greatest environmental benefits of building reclamation are most easily achieved by minimizing the use of new construction materials. These benefits are augmented even further when building reuse is practiced on a large scale. If people renovated rather than demolished just a fraction of office buildings and homes it would be a great help in our fight to meet global carbon reduction targets.
Billions of square feet in buildings are destroyed every year in North America alone. After they get demolished they are replaced with new construction, but few studies have been conducted that accurately show the true environmental impacts of leveling old buildings and erecting new ones in their place. Despite the lack of sufficient scientific evidence there is a general consensus that the climate change implications of demolition and new construction are quite severe when compared to those of building renovation and reuse.