by Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM

Adapted from a presentation at the Central Penn Business Journal’s Real Estate & Development Symposium.

Our finale of The Energy Symphony concludes with the topic of preservation and recycling.

Most of us recycle aluminum cans, paper, and plastic and feel good about ourselves.  But if you really want to make an impact, what is bigger to recycle than a building?

Unfortunately, in America we still have a throw-away mentality, and it applies to buildings as well:

  • 300,000 buildings will be demolished this year in the United States
  •  600 older and historic homes fell today; 600 more tomorrow, and the day after that…
  •  25-40% of all landfill waste is from building demolition and construction waste
  •  This waste is enough to construct a 30’ high, 30’ wide border around the U.S.
  •  The Brookings Institute estimates that 1/3 of the United States building stock will be gone by 2030 at the current rate of demolition

Do you know what the energy payback is on a new building?  Forty years.  No matter how many sustainable features a new building has, it will take forty years of building use to offset the energy used to construct it in the first place.  This figure jumps to 65 years if another building was torn down to make way for the new building.  Yet a lot of buildings only last 20 years – and certainly the life cycle for many of its installed systems is much less than forty or sixty-five years.

So before you think new, think existing.  Historic buildings are generally more energy efficient than buildings constructed before 2000!  According to a recent General Services Administration study, the Federal government’s “historic” building stock – those constructed prior to 1920 – are 27% more energy efficient than their modern counterparts!

These older buildings were sited based upon sunshine, shade, and wind.

They embrace natural lighting and natural ventilation.

Their windows actually open!  And many even have real shutters to keep out the heat and cold!

Thick masonry walls are great insulators and retain heat or cold depending upon the time of year.

Their porches and double vestibules also function to retain heat in the winter and aid ventilation.

Tall windows and clerestories allow natural lighting deep into interior spaces.

Their building products are all natural, with durable first-growth wood, stone, and brick.

And they used locally produced and even recycled materials.

This is what energy efficiency is all about!  So if you are building new, think existing first.  And if you decide to build new anyway, look at the lessons of the historic buildings to guide your modern building decisions.

How do you save energy in your building? Questions, comments? Contact Scott Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM at [email protected].

•    The Energy Symphony: A Whole New World
•    The Energy Symphony: Rock Down to … Electric Avenue
•    The Energy Symphony: When You Wish Upon A Star
•    The Energy Symphony: We Don’t Need No Education
•    The Energy Symphony: Call Mac, Maybe
•    The Energy Symphony: Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
•    The Energy Symphony: Phantom of the Opera (& Office)
•    The Energy Symphony: The Futures So Bright…I Gotta Wear Shades
•    The Energy Symphony


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