Reclaiming the past to build communities for the future

Thoughts on Sustainability

Posted September 11, 2013 by Rick Dover

One of the best ways to be green is by reusing what you have. As an environmental strategy, it’s even better than recycling, because reusing means you don’t have to spend energy breaking the product down and re-processing it to make it usable again.

When it comes to construction, renovating old buildings instead of creating new ones makes the most sense for the environment. Because you’re reusing what’s already there, it’s far less wasteful in terms of how much brand-new material you need to incorporate, material that requires energy and water to produce and transport.

And then there’s the trash that building generates. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, debris from building construction actually accounts for a third of all the waste we produce in this country. By preserving instead of demolishing, you keep tons of waste out of landfills—from both the demolished building and the new construction that would replace it.

There’s something else to consider: old buildings were designed to be energy-efficient. They were created before central heat and air, so they were designed to stay cool in summer and warm in winter, usually by drafting smart floor plans, incorporating thick walls that insulated well, and adding roofs that either provided extra shade down south or good snow-shedding properties up north. Just being inside an old building gives a feeling of shelter from the elements that modern construction can’t duplicate. I am thrilled by that experience, and by preserving it for other people to enjoy.

When you combine old-school building techniques with certain modern technologies, such as highly efficient windows or solar panels, the results can be fantastic. In our Oakwood Senior Living project, for example, we’re using a solar array on the roof that will shrink both the building’s utility bill and the amount of pollution it generates.

Really hard to argue with that, don’t you think?