Is that title confusing you? In other words, you can make it hard to achieve a green community or you can make it easy – it’s all in your attitude.
The purpose of the present Green Building Movement is to recycle, reuse, conserve and design a built society through technology and community effort to attain a balanced, environmentally sensitive system with the goal of encouraging a rich quality of life.
There are four terms that are commonly used in the Green Building Movement.
Green building. This is a structure that is designed to not only have energy-saving material and systems but to have minimal impact on the environment.
Smart Growth. Growth that achieves neighborhood livability makes them more equitable, more accessible with less traffic, concentrating whenever possible on “existing” buildings; avoiding sprawl and keeping open space open.
Sustainable Development. It is the ability to meet our needs without prejudicing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. One of the factors in sustainable development is embodied energy defined below.
Embodied energy. This is the total expenditure of energy involved in the creation of the building and its constituent materials. In simple terms, how long will it take in cost-savings to get reimbursed from the benefits of the construction?
If you haven’t guessed it already, Historic Preservation is exactly in the forefront of that effort.
When we teardown an historic building it results in many violations of the Green Building Movement. Tragically, we are throwing away thousands of dollars in embodied energy. A study was done recently which calculates that the total embodied energy in existing buildings is equivalent to ten years of the total energy consumption of the entire country. When we discard this material, we are losing and must replace in an ever expanding way, the lost material, which puts an ever increasing pressure on the nation’s resources. The EPA has indicated that nearly 30% of the nation’s solid waste is building material from old buildings! Adding to the problem, it is more expensive to replace the older material compared to today’s higher price levels.
The populist green movement wants to build, build, build “green”. But every time they construct another “new” green building, it will cost 15 to 30 times the annual energy use of that building. In other words, it will take several decades to recover the cost from the construction process.
In comparison, the embodied energy in an historic building that was built in the past and no longer draws materials from the environment increases the energy savings dramatically as the years go by. And the best part is the durability of the historic home. The older the home, the more durable they are and the embodied energy increases. What are most historic houses built from? Brick, plaster, stone, concrete and timber. What are the least energy-consumptive materials? Brick, plaster, stone, concrete and timber. In comparison, new buildings are constructed of plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum which tend to be the most energy-consumptive materials.
The concept of devouring more land to build more new buildings regardless if the building is “green” or not is non-sustainable!
To compensate for such devastating oversight, the new revisions on LEED* certification now contain procedures on “existing buildings”. Congress is working hard to push the American Clean Energy & Security Act and one of the Acts main initiatives is to provide funding and tax incentives for the restoration and retrofitting of existing built structures and make historic buildings sensibly upgraded for energy-cost savings. Recently, the EPA has reinforced its dedication to preserving land and to reduce waste generation and to increase recycling.
All this effort is refocusing on the green value of historic buildings. Newburyport has a huge resource of embodied energy that makes our City a beacon for sustainable development. Newburyport’s historic preservation efforts make our city viable, make it livable and make our city equitable.
The renovation and restoration and preservation of historic buildings are powerful means toward that end. It is that reason that the preserving of our historic district is paramount in the coming years not just for heritage tourism and property values but to reinforce our community’s commitment to be a Green City.
Right now, the city is doing the opposite and trying to buck a trend that is spreading across the nation; unless it changes its policies; no historic house is safe from utter destruction.
Once the building department and City Hall realize that preserving is the key to our prosperity – only then can we preserve the fantastic embodied energy of our historic neighborhoods.
* LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. I will have a separate blog on their drive to preserve buildings. They started this recently as they’re earlier stringent rules caused a devastating destruction in existing structures as the public sought to make their buildings energy-efficient without consideration of sustainability and embodied energy.