While much research in recent years has explored the merits of constructing new green buildings, there’s relatively little data available on the economic and environmental benefits of building reuse. That soon will change thanks to a partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation; Portland, Ore.-based Green Building Services; and Seattle-based Cascadia Green Building Council. The three groups are joining forces to design and execute a study that has the potential to reshape the way people think about the existing built environment.

The study will quantify the value of building reuse in a number of different situations. For example, the study will examine the types of environmental impact avoided when homeowners reuse and retrofit an existing house rather than when they tear it down and construct a new green home in its place.
“This study provides us with a unique and crucial opportunity to help people understand the environmental value of building reuse,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. “Ultimately, it is our hope that this study will provide the green building industry, residential and commercial building owners, developers, and policy-makers with the information they need to make informed choices about the reuse and retrofit of existing buildings.”

Ralph DiNola, principal at Green Building Services, said, “Buildings consume approximately 40 percent of all energy used in the U.S. So they are a big part of the problem, and by necessity, they have to be an integral part of the solution. As we work to dramatically reduce the operating energy of buildings, the energy and environmental impacts embodied in the building’s structure become a more significant part of the equation. With this study, we aim to provide real clarity about these impacts.”

The study, which is made possible by a grant from the Summit Foundation, will employ a lifecycle assessment (LCA) evaluation to look at the differences between energy, carbon, water and other environmental impacts in new construction and building reuse. The LCA study will examine a variety of building types in four regions of the United States with the goal of gaining a sophisticated understanding of when and why building reuse makes the most fiscal and environmental sense.

“Throughout their lifecycle, building materials are responsible for a whole range of adverse environmental impacts—from destructive resource depletion and energy-intensive manufacturing, to accumulation of toxins after their disposal. This important study will provide key missing data for the green-building industry as we advocate for lower environmental impacts through building and material reuse,” said Jason F. McLennan of the Cascadia Green Building Council.

The study is expected to be completed in early 2011.