News Brief

Reuse or Build New? Group to Gather Hard Environmental Data

The reuse of buildings is often touted as an environmental benefit, but solid, up-to-date data to support that idea is scarce (see “Historic Preservation and Green Building,” EBN Jan. 2007). A new partnership hopes to change that by early 2011. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Green Building Services, and the Cascadia Green Building Council have teamed up to generate a full report quantifying the respect impacts of value building reuse versus demolition and new construction.

Funded by a grant from the Summit Foundation, the study will focus on a range of building types in four regions of the U.S., and will include a life-cycle assessment (LCA) and examination of building materials and methods to better understand scenarios that may favor either building reuse or new construction.

While the LCA will be the culmination of the study, says Ralph DiNola, Assoc. AIA, a consultant at Green Building Services, the team will start by painting a broad picture of the built environment, gathering data including the number of existing buildings, their types, ages, and geographic distribution. “We are not familiar with a resource that has all of that in one place,” said DiNola.

Then, the team will conduct a broad survey including groups from developers to architects, policymakers, and bankers, said DiNola, “really trying to get a sense of the factors that influence decision-making when it comes to either demolition or reuse.” Reuse or demolition decisions go beyond LCA data, says DiNola, and the team hopes to capture that information in the report. That survey will also help the team build scenarios to give the LCA data context, he says.

DiNola emphasized that the study would go in a different direction than some past studies that have sought to quantify the “embodied energy” in existing buildings. “Both from a capital standpoint and with environmental impact, that is water under the bridge,” he said. “We’re really trying to talk about the avoided impacts of reuse versus new construction.”

The study may help bridge a gap between the historic preservation and green building communities, who have sometimes clashed over the fate of existing buildings. Although plenty of middle ground has been staked out over the years, environmentalists have tended to focus on energy efficiency even at some cost to historic fabric, while preservationists insist that the “greenest building is the one that’s already built.”

DiNola, whose firm has a track record of high-performing historic rehabilitation projects, said, “We’re really not tied to an outcome—we want the LCA work to give the results.”


Published July 28, 2010

Roberts, T., & Allyson, W. (2010, July 28). Reuse or Build New? Group to Gather Hard Environmental Data. Retrieved from

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