The price we pay for our disposable ways



If you are an urban planner and have not listened to the Tuesdays at APA podcasts, you really should. A number of these have been superb presentations that provide valuable insights.

The podcast I listened to over the past Easter weekend is one of best of all. Entitled, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, Patrice Frey from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Green Lab pinpoints dirty little secrets of our disposable society regarding buildings. Among the key points made by Ms. Frey were:

If current trends continue, approximately 27 percent of the 320 billion existing buildings in the nation will be demolished by 2030.

Forty-one percent of all energy usage in our nation is from buildings (commercial, office, residential, etc.).

New single-family homes (even energy-efficient ones) take at least 35 years to offset their carbon impacts from construction and less efficient ones can take up to 50 years.

While an improvement over homes, commercial buildings still take a minimum of 20 years to offset their carbon impacts from construction.

Meanwhile, a retrofitted building’s carbon impacts can be offset in as little as three years.

Until the 2000s, new homes from every prior decade were less energy-efficient on a per square foot basis than those built before 1930.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, commercial buildings have improved their energy efficiency on a per square foot basis over time.

The improved carbon impacts from just one retrofitted home compared to a new house may appear small, but when scaled for the number of demolitions and new construction taking place each year, represents  a significant energy and environmental savings.

These blunt findings were startling to me and should give great pause to all planners, environmentalists, builders, and communities worldwide.

This entry was posted in adaptive reuse, architecture, cities, civics, climate change, commerce, culture, density, downtown, economic development, economic gardening, economics, energy, entrepreneurship, environment, geography, health, historic preservation, history, Housing, humanity, infrastructure, land use, nature, new urbanism, placemaking, planning, pollution, product design, recycling, revitalization, Science, skylines, spatial design, sprawl, Statistics, sustainability, technology, urban planning, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The price we pay for our disposable ways

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    VERY cogent info, Bro!


  2. Erik says:

    Hmmm, very good points. I’ll need to check this out and use it for this quaint little 1900 cottage I’ve got here in Peoria.


  3. I’ve been saying that for some time, too. But I’ve also said that the greenest buildings are those which will withstand, with minimum damage, all the natural hazards the place they’re built is subject to. Examples are hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, and lightning. I’m not the only one who is insisting that natural-hazard resistance must be included in “green building.” Far too many people omit this element. Greensburg, Kansas after its EF5 tornado is a worst-case bad example.


  4. Great points! Makes a whole lot of sense to me. I never quite appreciated how wasteful it is to keep constructing new buildings until you pointed out the very long payback period. Do you have any stats for how it might be different if a “new” building uses a lot of deconstructed materials? Do LEED requirements reflect your findings?


    • Rick Brown says:

      Thank you Marjorie. I don’t have data on what you are asking about, but I would bet the Green Lab does. Just click on the highlighted link in the post and it will take you there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.