As the Idaho Green Expo concludes, it’s fitting to explore how preserving historic structures such as the Armory represents sustainable development and energy savings. Preservation supports environmental, economic and social sustainability in several ways. Here are some excerpts from a white paper on the topic prepared for the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
1. Embodied Energy
Conserving buildings preserves embodied energy (energy expended to create the materials and construct the building), and reduces the need for new materials.
2. Life Cycle Assessment
Life cycle assessment (LCA) reveals that retaining and rehabilitating buildings is more environmentally friendly than new construction. The Canada-based Athena Institute has developed a life cycle assessment tool that helps illustrate the numerous environmental merits of building conservation.
3. Waste generation
Preserving buildings reduces waste in landfills. Demolition of housing produces an average of 115 lbs of waste per square foot, while demolition of commercial buildings generates approximately 155 lbs of waste per square foot. For the Armory, this means we could potentially avoid sending 6.2 million pounds, or 3,100 tons of waste to the Ada County landfill.
4. Sprawl reduction
Preservation reduces sprawl, by encouraging the continued use and revitalization of our existing community. Preservation reduces pressure for development on the urban fringe, and thereby reduces accompanying environmental impacts of sprawl, such as loss of natural habitat, increased reliance on automobiles, and development of environmentally and economically costly infrastructure. This is particularly true of the Armory site and structure, situated at the crossroads of the North End, East End, Downtown and Foothills neighborhoods and within walking/biking distance of major employers in Boise’s core.
5. General operating efficiency
It is often alleged that historic building are energy hogs, and therefore should be demolished rather than rehabilitated. In fact, some historic buildings are more energy efficient than more recently constructed buildings. While some historic buildings may indeed perform poorly, data suggests that many outperform modern buildings. Numerous green rehabilitations of historic buildings also prove that where building energy performance is lacking, it can be improved in a way that is sensitive to historic fabric.
Keep in mind that the Armory is currently on Boise’s geothermal system, meaning a 30% reduction in heating costs relative to 2007 prices, and increasing savings as energy costs continue to spiral upwards.
There is a common perception that windows are a major source of heat loss and gain. Yet retaining historic windows is often more environmentally friendly than replacement with new thermally resistant windows. Government data suggests that windows are responsible for only 10% of air infiltration in the average home. Furthermore, a 1996 study finds that the performance of updated historic windows is in fact comparable to new windows. Window retention also preserves embodied energy, and reduces demand for environmentally costly new windows, typically constructed of vinyl or aluminum.
7. Economic development
Historic Preservation spurs economic development. Numerous studies indicate that preservation serves as a catalyst for additional investment in communities.
8. Job creation
Dollar for dollar, preservation creates more jobs than new construction. Several studies and an economic input-output model developed by Carnegie Mellon University demonstrate that preservation activities create more jobs than new construction.
9. Economic competitiveness
Historic resources can increase economic competitiveness by helping create a dynamic environment that draws highly skilled workers. Quality of place is a draw for an increasingly mobile, talented, and sought after class of workers. Historic buildings contribute to the richness and diversity of the built environment, and help to create dynamic places that attract talent.
10. Small-business friendly
Historic buildings are friendly to small-businesses. Older buildings often offer more affordable rents, and are a good match for the space needs of small businesses.
11. Service-based economic growth
Preservation promotes service-based economic development. As noted in argument 8, preservation is more labor intensive than new construction. Dollar for dollar, preservation creates more growth than new construction, while using fewer natural resources.
12. Affordable housing
Preservation is a powerful generator of affordable housing. Equity is a core tenet of sustainable development, and affordable housing is key to achieving equity. Historic buildings have served as a valuable source of affordable housing.
13. Enhanced building efficiency
Improving the energy efficiency of historic buildings makes them more economically sustainable to operate. An increasing number of case studies demonstrate that the energy performance of historic buildings can be improved in a way that is sensitive to historic fabric.
14. Higher-wage job creation
Generator of High Quality Employment. Preservation requires more specialized skills, generating higher-wage employment.
Read the attached white paper for more details about these 14 points.
Historic Preservation as Sustainable Development