Sustainable homes are often associated with brand new construction. However, updating older homes has many environmental benefits. Older and historic homes tend to be more energy-efficient in their design since they were built before many utilities were available. These houses also tend to consist of more durable materials, such as brick or stone.
Research predicts that up to 82 billion square feet of current infrastructure in the United States may be demolished between 2005 and 2030. If even a small portion of these buildings were sustainably restored, it could save money and benefit the environment.
Here are five main benefits of updating older homes.
No New Construction
Embodied energy is a standard used by green builders to measure the total energy involved in a building's life cycle. Constructing a home tends to use more power than its everyday operating costs for up to 30 years.
Even if a residence is built sustainably, the carbon footprint of new construction is still higher than renovating older buildings. This phenomenon is why some architects argue that the greenest home already exists in the form of the older house.
Older homes, especially those built more than 50 years ago, tend to be constructed with sturdier materials such as wood and brick. Many materials used in residential construction today are mass-produced for cheaper, more readily available supply. However, this can often mean a lack of quality.
Updating older homes allows homeowners to renovate certain parts of the house while still reusing key materials. There are also many recycled and reclaimed options for items such as doors and windows.
Depending on the time period, contractors most often created older homes to fit their climate and landscape. Sustainable features such as passive solar tend to be more prevalent. By reusing the energy-efficient blueprint of these houses, green builders can make updates while still maintaining the infrastructure's integrity.
Older homes naturally kept the house cold in the summer and warm in the cooler months. Many were also made to accommodate water capture. This characteristic makes it easy to improve upon existing landscaping by adding rain gardens in run-off areas or using rain barrels to collect water at drain spouts.
Older homes also tend to have more mature trees, which can keep the house cool in the heat and improve the effectiveness of indoor air conditioning.
Green builders and historic preservationists are beginning to work together to save historic homes while still allowing the structures to be updated. While it is important to preservationists to retain the integrity of older homes, many are now realizing that allowing a few essential updates may make the difference in their survival.
Preserving existing material reduces the carbon footprint of demolition, a process that often results in usable materials ending up in the landfill.
The Greenest Home Is Already Here
The environmental benefits of older homes rival those of building brand new green ones. Builders constructed many old and historic houses to fit their specific climates and used more durable and sturdy materials than with newer homes. Updating older residences can also be cost-effective since homeowners can often renovate certain features rather than tear down the entire structure.
With the high carbon footprint of construction and the significant percentage of homes predicted to be demolished in the next decade, it might be time to pay attention to these older buildings by adding a few green features to their already eco-friendly infrastructure.
Written by Holly Welles
About the Author
Holly Welles is a freelance writer with a focus on green building and design. She regularly writes for Environmental Magazine, Home Energy magazine and other online publications. More of her work can be found on her blog, The Estate Update.
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