By Julie Lundin, NCIDQ, LEED AP ID+C, ASID, Director, Emerald Skyline Corporation
As both the owners and the designers of a commercial building in Boca Raton it was essential that we examine the pros and cons of renovation vs. new construction and the impact on our project. When considering renovation vs. new construction for any project, it is important to understand that both paths lead to different and unique results. Comparing the merits and challenges of each against the needs of a project is crucial in determining what the best options are. Our design team collaborated and brainstormed to determine the issues involved, document the issues and prioritize them. This process helped us to determine that a major renovation will make the most sense for our building and our sustainable goals.
The building is an unoccupied auto body shop located on a former brownfield. Whether to save or demolish an old building has always been a question for owners, developers and cities. We are applying the concept of adaptive reuse to this project. It is the idea of “twice green”, not just repurposing an older building, but also making it even more environmentally friendly in its new life. This project will convert an existing eyesore structure into a rehabilitated sustainable building.
How green is adaptive reuse?
The National Trust for Historic Preservation published a report on the environmental benefits of adaptive reuse. The Greenest Building: Qualifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, demonstrates through case studies that reusing buildings can save from between 4 to 46% over new construction.
These findings include:
- Reuse Matters. Building reuse typically offers greater environmental savings than demolition and new construction. It can take between 10 to 80 years for a new energy efficient building to overcome, through efficient operations, the climate change impacts created by its construction.
- Scale Matters. Collectively, building reuse and retrofits substantially reduce climate change impacts.
- Design Matters. The environmental benefits of reuse are maximized by minimizing the input of new construction materials. Renovation projects that require many new materials can reduce or even negate the benefits of reuse.
- The Bottom Line. Reusing existing buildings is good for the economy, the community and the environment. At a time when our country’s foreclosure and unemployment rates remain high, communities would be wise to reinvest in their existing building stock.
The U.S. Green Building Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) strongly encourages reuse of an existing site and building. By using LEED principles during design and construction points toward LEED accreditation can be achieved. The incorporation of sustainable solutions into our design and materials will create a healthier building, reduce negative impacts on the environment, and utilize the economy of reuse. Every material has an impact, the fewer building materials used in a rehab project, the less environmental impact there will be.
The decision to renovate rather than build new has many challenges. Key factors typically considered in this decision could have easily sent us in a different direction if sustainability was not important to our project. The budget to accomplish a major renovation for this project may not cost less than new construction but the sustainable benefits are significant. The condition of the current structure will require many changes and improvements. The building needs updated technologies, energy efficiencies, and time challenges to complete. By renovating we are diverting waste from being placed in landfills, we are disturbing less native vegetation and contributing less erosion and adverse effects on the land. The decision to renovate this older structure will provide a safer and healthier environment for its users while creating an enhanced appearance.
The existing footprint allows only so much floor space. To overcome this, we are going vertical and building a partial second floor. Building above is less expensive than building outward. A key consideration in many designs should be on how to best utilize the building while using smaller spaces.
The age old question of whether to build new or renovate has become even more complex as we seek to determine which has the least amount of impact on our environment. While the ease of new construction may be preferred, the greater potential for reducing your carbon impact during renovation compared to a new construction is apparent over a 75 year life span of a building. As The National Trust for Historic Perseveration recently stated that the greenest building may be the one you already own – and this is the reason we selected to renovate rather than build new.