Written by Rachel Bowdon
More and more, we’re noticing that the blogosphere is picking up on the message that “the greenest building is often the one already built.” Not only is it usually less wasteful to rehabilitate a building rather than build new, but older buildings typically have inherently sustainable characteristics such as high thermal mass and ample daylighting. As we in the preservation community have understood for years, repairing existing buildings is also a more sustainable economic strategy. Recent studies add more data to the mix, and illustrate that repairing existing residential buildings produces about 50 percent more jobs than building new!
As Emily Badger points out in her recent article, Another Reason to Stop Building New Homes: Job Creation, cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburg should recapitalize on old buildings to simultaneously address both their vacant and foreclosed housing issues while also tackling the high unemployment rate. Lloyd Alter of Treehugger followed up Badger’s post with his article, Renovation and Repair Creates Way More Jobs, Uses Far Less Material Than New Construction. Alter, a frequent advocate of renovating and repair over new construction, lists several articles he has written on this subject, Renovation Uses Twice As Much Labor, Half as Much Material as New Construction, In Hard Times It's Time For Renovation and Preservation. and Heritage is Green, followed by additional sources to back up the fact that renovations create more jobs than new construction.
Not only is building reuse and repair a great way to boost the job market, but it can also put money directly back into building owners’ pockets. A new study highlighted in The New York Times shows that taking the process one step further and performing energy efficiency retrofits results in an average of “19 percent savings on fuel bills and a 10 percent savings on electricity.” Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation and Living Cities commissioned the Energy Efficiency Data Report, which will be released later this month. Be sure to check it out!
Finally, earlier this month, the Puget Sound Business Journal and Seattle’s Daily Journal of Commerce highlighted work the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Green Lab is doing to make reusing and retrofitting older buildings easier. The Preservation Green Lab (PGL) is working with the City of Seattle and the New Buildings Institute (NBI) to pioneer a new energy code compliance framework that will provide building owners much more flexibility in how they green their buildings and make it possible to retain valuable historic features and optimize return on investment in terms of both energy savings and dollars. Vulcan Real Estate is partnering with the PGL, the City of Seattle, and NBI to pilot a demonstration project, the Supply Laundry Building, and is targeting energy consumption reductions of more than 50 percent for the project.
Check out more sustainable preservation news after the jump.
Sustainable Communities Designated Communities Announced - The Maryland Department of Planning
“Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Raymond A. Skinner and Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall today announced the designation of five sustainable communities under the state's Sustainable Communities Act of 2010. The designated sustainable communities are Aberdeen, Cumberland, Hyattsville, Laurel and Westminster. ‘Existing communities in rural, suburban and urban areas are smart places to grow and focus scarce local and state resources for revitalization,’ said DHCD Secretary Raymond A. Skinner.”
One of the benefits for projects located in a Sustainable Community is access to the Sustainable Communities Tax Credit - formerly the Maryland Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit. The tax credit “expands the credit (10 percent commercial credit) to include qualified rehabilitated (non-historic) structures in Sustainable Communities beginning in fiscal 2012. Non-historic structures will be eligible for 10 percent of the appropriated amount in a fiscal year.”
“McKinstry, a leader in integrated construction, energy, service and smart building innovations, has completed a sustainable restoration of the historic Spokane & Inland Empire Rail Road (SIERR) building located between Gonzaga University and the Riverpoint Campus… The historic renovation and adaptive reuse of the SIERR facility focused on thoughtful sustainable design and energy efficiency. The building will save 50 percent more energy than a LEED-minimum building its size and will be only one of a handful of historic buildings nationally to target LEED Gold designation.”
Lloyd Alter prepared an informational slide show on one of the biggest threats to sustainable communities and to the preservation movement—density. “Density is all the rage these days, as academics and authors consign Jane Jacobs to the dustbin of history, noting that Hong Kong has the lowest energy use per capita of any major city, and is also the densest; so therefore, logically, the higher the density, the greener the city. In The Gated City, economist Ryan Avent claims that controls on density are killing jobs and stalling economic growth in cities, the economic engines of the country. But are they right? We accept that low density, i.e. sprawl, is bad, but is high density automatically good? Or is there an in between, a "Goldilocks" density that is just right?” Alter concludes, “Density is in my opinion, ends up being almost completely irrelevant. What matters is how you get around in your cities, not how tall the buildings are.”
Rachel Bowdon is the program assistant for the Sustainability Program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.