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New Build or a Renovation - Which is Greener?

By: Susan Hunt MA - Updated: 3 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
New Build Renovation Building

For decades it seems the British were obsessed with new buildings and no mercy was shown to traditional – and often beautiful architecture - which stood in the way.

Fortunately, many older buildings are now protected by listed building status and planners finally seem to be coming around to the idea that new build is not necessarily better.

Opting to refurbish or renovate an older building can have many advantages, both financial and environmental and it ensures that some glorious buildings aren’t lost forever.

But sadly, some buildings are just not suitable for conversion or renovation due to a variety of factors from foundation strength or plot size to internal layout which cannot be altered for technical reasons.

Expert Advice is Needed

So, you will always need to get professional advice on whether your dream to turn a Victorian brick barn into a family home for five is feasible or financially possible.

It may be that the cost of a range of different considerations such as foundation strengthening and tailor-made windows and doors makes it too expensive to contemplate.

You also need to consider that retro-fitting many environmental features such as additional insulation or more efficient heating will be more complicated and often more expensive than for a new-build.

Have the Options Assessed

But there are so many advantages that it is definitely worth making the effort to investigate the possibilities.

In the case of a large building such as a school or college, for example, renovation can be done over an extended timescale. Often, each separate building or wing can be refurbished at a different time or during holidays so that total closure is not necessary.

This makes it a very attractive alternative to demolishing and re-building where often the whole operation will need to be moved to a different site while this takes place (unless the site is large enough to allow for a new building to go up before the old one comes down.)

And of course, demolition is a pretty environmentally-unfriendly operation. Huge vehicles are needed both to remove the debris and bring in new building materials and the operation creates large amounts of noise and dust.

So Which IS best?

At the moment, it seems, researchers have no definitive answer because so much depends on what is currently standing and what is required as an end result. In many cases, comparing the options leaves little to choose between the two in terms of cost.

Basically, if the structure of the building involved is sound and the renovation will be mostly internal and based on altering room layouts, then renovation is usually the cheaper option.

And in this type of case, it is also often the best environmental option. According to research carried out by the government, simple renovation will save up to 70% on materials and embodied C02.

Consider the Waste from New Build

It is currently estimated that 25% of the world’s virgin wood use is down to construction and operation of new buildings – and new build projects also generate massive amounts of solid waste.

Finally ....

there is no hard and fast rule. Every project has to be considered on an individual basis and an expert in environmental measurements will need to weigh up the benefits and drawbacks of both options.

But if the most environmentally-sound option turns out to be new build, you might still be able to reduce its impact by reclaiming timber, pipework, fixtures and fittings from the old building.

You can also ensure that C02 emissions from the new building are reduced to the bare minimum by using micro-generation technologies and eco-insulation.

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