Eight years – that’s how long it can take for a new energy efficient building to compensate for the climate change impact created by its construction, according to a new report by the Preservation Green Lab, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse. While the average carbon payback is closer to 20-30 years, this is a stark reminder that new isn’t always the safe bet when it comes to building energy consumption.
This is an important lesson for cities like New York, where 75% of the city’s energy consumption goes to its buildings according PlaNYC 2030 estimates. Given that 55% of those already standing were in existence before 1940, it’s no surprise that there’s room for improvement. But a debate in the New York urban sustainability circles has been raging about whether it’s better to preserve and retrofit old buildings or build anew with greener standards in mind. No one wants to lose the treasured architectural beauties that make the city so unique, but the calling of a green economy is making it imperative to address the overconsumption of energy for these old spaces.
City officials have heard the call, and are taking the issue of older building performance seriously. The Municipal Art Society together with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, an environmental consultant firm called Terrapin, and Cook + Fox architects are working on a manual for greening landmark buildings. Titled, “Greening New York City’s Landmarks: A Guide for Property Owners”, the manual is to be published in the Fall of 2012 and free for anyone online.
The benefits of retrofitting old buildings rather than building new are obvious to many of us, and we’re glad to see that local governments are adopting this perspective too. To further analyze whether to retrofit or not, Sefaira Concept can be used to compare both strategies during the concept design phase when it is not so expensive to do such analysis.