Adaptive Reuse and Green Engineering
by Alexandre Darche
Environmental consciousness is playing an ever-growing role in all professional fields. As public support increases, public policies encouraging the implementation of green initiatives to lower global carbon emissions have begun to be implemented worldwide. This is especially true in the building and construction industry, which is responsible for 39% of all global carbon emissions (1). As this sector attempts to reinvent itself to reduce its carbon footprint, lowering the number of new construction projects by adapting and reusing older buildings has become an effective way to lowering emissions while continuing to keep up with societal demands.
In the widely-used Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building accreditation system (LEED), emphasis is placed on the adaptive reuse of existing structures, especially of abandoned, blighted or historic buildings. The use of one of these structures in a development project counts aids a building into becoming certified as being environmentally friendly, a practice which is becoming increasingly sought after by building developers (2). Additionally, regional advocacy groups are pushing more and more for legislation to be put in place to protect historical buildings, making the need for building reuse more relevant than ever if these structures are to be preserved.
Through a series of studies conducted by Preservation Green Lab on the impacts of building retrofit, renovation and reuse versus new construction, the benefits of building reuse from a carbon emission standpoint are clear. The report points out that “building reuse can avoid unnecessary carbon outlays and help communities achieve their near-term carbon-reduction goals.” Additionally, immediate carbon savings are associated with reuse, even when compared to new buildings designed to be energy efficient. As bluntly stated in the report:
“It takes 10 to 80 years for a new building that is 30 percent more efficient than an average-performing existing building to overcome, through efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts related to the construction process.” (3)
Similar reports and case studies paint a similar picture, demonstrating the necessity of building reuse if carbon emissions are to be reduced.
Climate Change and Resource Depletion comparisons between different construction types (3)
While building reuse may be highly beneficial from an environmental perspective, the report remarks that building retrofit projects tend to be riskier from an engineering and development point of view. Barriers stemming from public policy and lack of available resources can discourage developers from considering adaptive reuse options, even when some may be more economically profitable. As emerging technologies develop and become more widely used in the worlds of engineering, architecture and construction, the rehabilitation of structures will become increasingly manageable, making building reuse a more viable option.
With our many solutions, we at Sensequake are proud to be playing a role in making building retrofits and renovations more feasible for property developers. With our non-destructive vibration-based structural investigations, the actual properties and the fingerprint of older buildings can be quickly and efficiently extracted. With this crucial information, engineering firms can create more effective retrofit solutions for their projects, optimizing them to reduce project costs and over-engineering while maintaining building integrity. Additionally, our long-term structural monitoring allows for structural deficiencies to be found earlier, allowing for fast action to be taken, extending a building’s service life.
As our cities and our structures continue to age, building rehabilitation and adaptive reuse will become increasingly important. Through our many projects and development into our structural evaluation technologies, we are proudly playing our role in making our cities safer and greener.
1. World Green Building Council, Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront, 2019
2. U.S. Green Building Council, LEED v.4.1 Building Design and Construction, 2019
3. Preservation Green Lab, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, 2011
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