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Preservation and the Environment: Saving Buildings, Saving Energy

Over the past decades, there has been greater understanding of the energy efficiency of historic buildings. Their construction and use of materials, at a time without air conditioning and other modern conveniences, takes advantage of principles in airflow and passive cooling and heating. Often these buildings are considered over-engineered and were built to be incredibly durable.

Demolishing these structures and building new super-efficient buildings does not necessarily save energy or help the environment. Older structures have “embodied energy.” Consider the resources that went into the original construction: the extraction of materials from the environment (stone, metal, wood), the manufacture of those items into building components (cast-iron facades, steel beams, oak floors), and the transport of those materials to the job site. The energy used to construct the building is embodied in the structure itself.

Demolition also creates waste in landfills. It is estimated that the adaptive reuse of historic buildings in Maryland has saved more than 380,000 tons of material from going into county landfills, the equivalent of filling a football stadium with 50 feet of debris.

Restoration, rehabilitation, and re-use presents an opportunity to adapt older structures to meet modern energy efficiency standards. Preserving historic properties saves them from demolition and allows them to continue contributing to the local heritage and a neighborhood’s “sense of place.”

Modernization of historic structures creates green jobs, ranging from energy efficiency testing to the installation of airtight windows and central air conditioning systems. These green preservation activities create financial savings for homeowners, commercial businesses, and even government agencies by increasing property values while reducing waste and energy consumption.

Preservation recycles historic structures by effectively reusing them for new purposes, such as seen with warehouses in Baltimore being turned into apartments, theatres, and studio art spaces. By maintaining, improving and protecting historic structures, preservation has proven to be more sustainable—economically, environmentally, and culturally—compared to demolition and replacement with costly and less unique modern structures.

QUOTE

“The greenest building is the one that is already built.” -- Attributed to architect Carl Elefante

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