Retrofit or build new? That’s the question many building owners ask themselves when they’re trying to make green building decisions. Is it possible to achieve the same energy savings in a 75-year-old building, for example, as compared to the savings that can be achieved with a new commercial building?
The answer is yes, according to a revolutionary report. The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse says that, no matter how much new technology and energy-efficient products are incorporated as part of construction, it’s unmistakably greener to retrofit an old building than to construct a new green one.
The study offers the most complete analysis available of the environmental impact reductions associated with building renovation. Through lifecycle analysis (LCA), the relative environmental impacts of renovation vs. new construction were compared over the course of 75 years. The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse examines four categories: climate change, human health, ecosystem quality, and resource depletion. The study looked at six different building types across Portland, Phoenix, Chicago, and Atlanta: multi-family buildings, commercial offices, mixed-use buildings, elementary schools, warehouse conversions, and single-family homes.
You can peruse the entire study here, but the biggest takeaway is the amount of time it takes – between 10 and 80 years – for a new, energy-efficient building’s operations to make up for the negative climate change impacts associated with construction. For example, a new commercial office built in Chicago takes 25 years to overcome negative climate change impacts; a commercial office built in Portland takes 42 years to achieve the same.
The other finding worth noting is that materials do matter when it comes to renovation. The quantity and type of products used can actually reduce or wipe out the benefits of a retrofit. Luckily, there are plenty of materials available that focus on characteristics like carbon neutrality.
Although The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse focuses on environmental impact, it doesn’t get into ROI for renovation vs. new construction. But McGraw-Hill’s Construction Green Outlook 2011: Green Trends Driving Growth report does, and it states that retrofits show a 19.2% increase in ROI vs. 9.9% for new buildings … another great reason to consider a building retrofit instead of new construction.
What do you think of this study? Are all the necessary factors being taken into consideration? Have you seen these same results within your own portfolio?