Renovating is more eco than demolishing, study says



old house

It's better for the environment to renovate rather than demolish a house like this old one, according to a new report.

Credit: iStockphoto

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Getting rid of old, energy-inefficient homes and replacing them with new, greener ones may seem a logical step to reduce greenhouse emissions and energy use - but not always so, finds a new study.

Instead of tearing down your older home and building from the ground up, your humble abode can be given an eco make-over that not only makes sense based on time, cost and resources, but "can also lead to reduced energy use in buildings in both the short and long term," said Anne Power, from London's Sustainable Development Commission in the UK, author of the study.

However, homes that are badly dilapidated should be demolished, the study indicates.

Demolishing the poorest and oldest of homes to improve the efficiency of housing is a trend quickly gaining ground in Europe, she said, but "work on refurbishment shows that existing homes, often in brick-built terraces, are relatively easy to upgrade and, with careful reinvestment in the existing buildings, can achieve as high environmental efficiency standards as current new build[ings]."

Germany has used this strategy successfully, reducing energy use in many homes by 80 per cent, and cutting carbon dioxide emissions significantly, by upgrading rather than levelling older housing.

Powers describes a range of environmental, social and economic benefits in favour of renovating. Refurbishing an existing house instead of rebuilding an entire new one, she said, requires fewer materials be manufactured and transported, and reduces the amount of waste dumped in precious landfill space.

Building materials and processes are highly energy intensive, and new homes can use four to eight times more resources than an equivalent renovation. So building anew with new materials, however good the long-run energy efficiency of the building in use, has major energy, carbon and…environmental impacts, Power said.

Environmental architect Dick Clarke, from Envirotecture in Sydney agrees with the finding, but cautions that a number of variables should be factored in, such as the value of raw materials, the structural condition of the building and the adaptability of the layout and orientation.

"Some buildings lend themselves to renovation, some do not. It is important to make that call correctly, so a good building is not wasted, or on the other hand, an opportunity to start again is not hampered," he said.

When a building is deemed suitable for renovation, it's not just the environment that benefits; it is also a great option for preserving cultural character and continuity in an area, Clarke said.

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