Sustainability through historic preservation

Several historic homes have been demolished in Asheville recently. Residents have expressed concern, even outrage at this practice of tearing down the old to build new.

At Adams & Adams, we subscribe to the philosophy of Architect Carl Elefante who is the Director of Sustainable Design at Quinn Evans Architects in Washington, D.C. who said, “The greenest building is the one that is already built’.

Historic Preservation has been referred to as “the ultimate Recycling,”. Reusing an existing structure reduces waste, conserves energy, and protects buildings and existing homes against changes in our environment and climate.

Did you know?

It requires energy to:

  • Demolish an existing structure
  • Haul away the waste from the original building
  • Extract raw materials
  • Manufacture construction-ready building materials
  • Transport building materials to a construction site and
  • Assemble a new physical structure

In 2011, the Brookings Institute projected that approximately one-quarter of all existing building stock in America would be demolished and replaced between 2005 and 2030.

Not only does this demolition release toxins and pollution into the environment, it generates an astonishing amount of solid waste, clogging landfills. Preservation economist Donovan Rypkema has studied the data for decades. Recent studies by his firm PlaceEconomics show that demolishing just a modest sized house generates 62.5 tons of waste — the average person would need 79.5 years to produce that same amount of waste.

Now multiply that by a quarter of our building stock! (Source: Sustainability through Historic Preservation Submitted by Martha Canipe)

In short, demolishing, rather than reusing, our older buildings and homes is a major contributor to environmental waste. Rehabilitation of an existing building is almost always the cost-effective choice, an economic driver and a reinvestment in our communities.

Sustainability is an essential part of historic preservation.

Demolishing a historic building to make way for a new energy-efficient building essentially eliminates any energy savings.

Don’t Refuse…Reuse

Scott Sidler of the Craftsman Blog says, “So, does that mean we are stuck with inefficient old buildings (or homes)? Hardly. The tools and techniques exist today to restore and greatly improve the efficiency of our old buildings.”

Some ideas to repurpose or revitalize old building and homes include:

  • Turning old warehouses into urban lofts
  • Turning shut-down factories into schools or community buildings
  • Converting old retail spaces or buildings into themed restaurants
  • Adding on to an older home
  • Restoring an older home
  • Converting an older home into an office building (if zoning allows)

The next time your town or neighborhood is making plans to demolish an old structure to make way for something new, remind them that there is a better way. Speak up for our history as it has an impact on our future!