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.