It’s Time for a Renovation Revolution

Focusing on the renovation of existing buildings is more sustainable than new construction.

The following article was published on Sustainable Business Oregon. Sustainable Business Oregon, a publication of the Portland Business Journal, is dedicated to covering the news and issues at the intersection of business and sustainability.

Anyone first learning the ropes of green building is usually presented with a few sobering facts:

  • No. 1: The U.S. building sector consumes nearly half (49 percent) of all energy produced in the United States.
  • No. 2: Seventy-seven percent of the U.S. electricity supply is used just to operate buildings.
  • And No. 3: Buildings are the largest contributor to climate change.

In 2009 the building sector was responsible for nearly half (46.9 percent) of U.S. CO2 emissions, according to the Environmental Information Administration. This 1-2-3 punch paints a grim picture of the waste generated as we heat, cool and light our existing building stock. Really, it is these hard facts that motivated the start of green building movement.

Interestingly enough, however, the green building movement has been largely focused on new construction to address these serious issues by building green from the ground up. Less talked about is the green building frontier in our existing building stock.

Existing buildings are crucial in that they contain the architectural stories of our cities and provide some of the most beautiful and inspiring elements of our cities. The excitement of a flashy new green building will almost always get a front-page story, while a renovation is somehow less interesting. Yet since new buildings only account for 1.5 percent of all buildings, the greatest opportunity for really making an immediate impact on greenhouse gas reduction is tackling the existing built environment.

Some bold property owners are taking the lead on this renovation revolution. For example, New York’s Empire State building, completed in 1931, has recently undergone deep energy retrofits. The owner of the Empire State building spearheaded the renovations, in partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative.

The retrofit involved re-manufacturing 6,500 double-hung, dual-pane windows on-site, upgrading existing control systems, providing more tenant daylighting and energy-efficient lighting, installing 6,000 insulated, reflective barriers in exterior-facing radiators and introducing a tenant energy management system. The retrofits have cut winter heat loss by at least two-thirds and summer heat gain by half. Annual energy percent savings is 38 percent and annual energy cost savings is $4.4 million. Building owners expect payback within five years after the renovations are complete.

Here in Oregon, some of our best-known historic buildings are undergoing deep retrofits. The U.S. General Services Administration is retrofitting Portland’s Edith Green Wendell Wyatt building. The building is expected to have an impressive Energy Use Index of 33 to 38 (the national average for commercial buildings is 94). Other local green retrofits include the Commonwealth Building, the Mercy Corps Building, and renovations are about to begin on the historic Yeon building. From the Empire State building to our own back yard, these pinioning projects are creating replicable models for energy efficiency retrofits to become more widespread.

Also driving the renovation revolution are cities that are taking a deep look at their existing building stock as a way to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. New York City, for example, passed legislation that requires commercial buildings over 500,000 square feet to upgrade their lighting and to sub-meter tenant spaces measuring over 10,000 square feet. These buildings must also conduct an annual benchmark analysis of energy consumption.

Vancouver, B.C. wants to become the “greenest city in the world” by 2020. One of the 10 steps outlined in the city’s adopted action plan is to create programs, tools and regulations to reduce emissions from existing buildings by 20 percent by 2020.

When we look at opportunities to make a difference on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, we must look at our existing building stock. The property owners who make the change, the tenants that push the owners, and the cities that are committing to increasing efficiency in existing buildings are starting the beginning of a much needed renovation revolution.

By Kelley Beamer
As Cascadia Green Building Council’s Oregon Advocacy and Outreach Manager, Kelley Beamer works with the state’s sustainability community to create a positive environmental influence through the built environment.

View original article here.

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