Why throw away an older building? There are many great examples of buildings that have been successfully renovated and restored to productive uses, even after standing dormant for many years. In Portland I witnessed the benefits of building renovation and reuse in a number of ways, since preserving older structures there was seen as a major civic and cultural value.
First, older buildings are typically part of the visual and cultural fabric of a neighborhood. By their very existence, they tell a story to everyone about earlier times. Second, when renovating, you are reusing materials
that would otherwise require a lot of embedded energy to extract, harvest, process and transport to the building site. Third, there can be a significant cost to demolishing an older building, particularly in congested urban areas. Fourth, restoring older buildings often leads to further efforts in the same neighborhood, one way that cities revitalize themselves. Fifth, you are not adding building debris to landfills and causing more traffic in congested areas from waste pickup and disposal.
The LEED rating system recognizes the benefits of building reuse by awarding up to three points for maintaining 100% of a building's exterior and 50% of the interior structure, excluding non-structural roof materials and windows. It's often necessary to replace or upgrade a roof, and of course, you may want to install more energy-efficient windows in the building (replacing windows is harder for historic renovations). One drawback: older buildings were designed long before we knew much about earthquake engineering. So, in seismically active zones, there is often a significant cost associated with structural reinforcement to protect people and property in the case of an earthquake.
One final good reason: renovations can offer quicker occupancy, with less permit hassles, than tearing down a building and starting fresh. (This may not be true for historic renovations.) For homes, building renovation is part of the way in which cities renew themselves. Just as our bodies replace many of their cells at regular intervals (seven years is often cited), cities replace or renovate their housing stock at regular intervals, typically 50 years or so.
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