Retrofitting vs. New Construction

Wrecking ball in use during demolition of the Rockwell Gardens housing project in Chicago, Illinois, February 2006. Image Credit: Paul Goyette via Wikipedia.

The variety of green building options often leads to confusion and unanswered questions. One of those involves a much debated question: retrofitting or new construction? Should building owners retrofit their existing buildings to conform to green building standards? Does it make more sense to tear down an old building and build an entire new green structure?

Of course, the question hardly applies to existing buildings that are beyond saving, so to speak. These buildings could no longer benefit from any retrofitting techniques because any attempt to do so could not possibly counteract the damage it will nevertheless continue to do to the environment.

The controversy has particularly gained traction in the US, with the proposal to demolish the Martin Luther King Elementary School in Massachusetts. Some local residents are opposed to the proposed demolition, saying that it is not “sound” to replace it with a new one.

The proposed new building will be equipped with green whistles and bells, natural daylighting, efficient electrical and mechanical systems, and improved insulation. The goal is to construct a net zero building—far from its current status.

The question has somewhat been answered by a study entitled Preservation Green Lab: National Trust for Historic Preservation, where retrofitted or rehabilitated buildings were compared to new ones that conform to existing green standards. The study made use of the Life Cycle Assessment tool, and found that retrofit buildings are more ecologically friendly than constructing a new one.

On the other hand, most construction firms and building owners put value on “starting over.” Another factor to consider is that most lessees would rather occupy a new building than a retrofitted one.

At Norsteel, we believe in cost-efficiency and the merits of either side. There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to retrofit or construct a new building altogether, such as occupancy, costs, and environmental impact. Would you rather have your existing building retrofitted or demolished altogether to pave the way for a new one?

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