Where renovation of an older building makes more dollars and recycling sense than tearing down and building new. Isn’t this what some people had in mind about the old historical Rockford Amerock building?

Recycling: Turning the old into something new

Reusing existing structures is recycling at its best. Not only is the embodied energy preserved, but avoiding demolition also reduces the financial and environmental costs of hauling debris and waste materials off to a landfill. Energy and money are spent in rehabilitating structures, but seldom come close to the costs of a new building. As Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation pointed out at the 2008 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo: “Demolishing a 500,000-square-foot building creates 40,000 tons of debris, enough to fill 250 railroad boxcars, a train two miles long, heading for the landfill. Constructing a new 500,000 foot building would release as much carbon into the atmosphere as driving a car 30 million miles. It takes 35-50 years for an energy efficient new home to recover the carbon expended to construct it.”

Personally I never thought of these other total cost factors in the building and remodeling trades

The dollars and cents of preservation

The cost advantages and environmental impact of new construction versus recycling older structures are important to keep in mind as urban areas are revitalized. Hopefully, these factors are enough to keep developers and planners from making the same mistakes seen during the urban renewal period of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, when whole blocks of historic structures were wiped out to build new neighborhoods and commercial areas. Reusing an older structure and creating appropriate in-fill is a challenge, and requires significant vision from the architect.

It is often simply easier to wipe out the old and start with a clean slate. But if you take into consideration the entire cost in dollars and energy of this approach with demolition, landfills, creating new infrastructure, and new construction, the challenge is one that the architectural profession needs to embrace more ardently. Further, not only is reusing an existing structure and infrastructure an appealing option for the cost and environmental advantages of recycling a building versus building new, but studies show that dollar for dollar, historic preservation is one of the highest job-generating economic development options, as illustrated in the 2005 presentation, “The Economics of Historic Preservation” by Don Rypkema:

  • In Michigan, $1 million in building rehabilitation creates 12 more jobs than does manufacturing $1 million worth of cars
  • In West Virginia, $1 million of rehabilitation creates 20 more jobs than mining $1 million worth of coal
  • In Oklahoma, $1 million of rehabilitation creates 29 more jobs than pumping $1 million worth of oil
  • In Oregon, $1 million of rehabilitation creates 22 more jobs than cutting $1 million worth of timber
  • In Pennsylvania, $1 million of rehabilitation creates 12 more jobs than processing $1 million worth of steel
  • In California, $1 million of rehabilitation creates five more jobs than manufacturing $1 million worth of electronic equipment
  • In South Dakota, $1 million of rehabilitation creates 17 more jobs than growing $1 million worth of agricultural products
  • In South Carolina, $1 million of rehabilitation creates eight more jobs than manufacturing $1 million worth of textiles.

The Advisory Council for Historic Preservation further observes that, “These are not just temporary construction jobs but also permanent jobs of various types, including continuing building repair and maintenance. As past studies have found, there are both direct and indirect economic effects from historic preservation, and there is an economic multiplier effect that ripples through the economy.”

We at Freedom Builders & Remodelers enjoy the renovation of older establishments, preservation of timeless works of architectural art as well as new innovative designs. To marry the two is an art unto itself. Sometimes extremely challenging, the finished product is a lifelong sense of gratification and accomplishment.

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