Cascadia Region Green Building

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Ecotrust/Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, Portland, photo by Brian Libby

For all the progress that's been made over the last decade (and more) advancing green buildings, most of that has focused on new construction. It's the same on the research front: Lots of studies have done analyzing the merits of constructing new green buildings, yet there’s relatively little data available on the economic and environmental benefits of building reuse.

That will soon change thanks to a new partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Portland-based Green Building Services and the Cascadia Region Green Building Council. The three groups are partnering on a large, unprecedented study that will quantify the value of building reuse in a number of different situations, such as environmental impacts avoided when homeowners reuse and retrofit an existing house rather than tear one down and construct a new green home in its place.

“We can’t build our way out of the climate change crisis, " said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust, in a press release. "We have to conserve our way out, and this study provides us with a unique and crucial opportunity to help people understand the environmental value of building reuse.”

Buildings consume around 40 percent of total energy use in the United States. "So they are a big part of the problem, and, by necessity, they have to be an integral part of the solution, " added Ralph DiNola of Green Building Services."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.”

Gerding Theater at the Portland Armory, photo by Brian Libby

The study, funded with a grant from the Summit Foundation, will employ a Life Cycle 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 several building types in four regions of the United States. The research, team members say, requires a comprehensive understanding not only of existing buildings, building materials and methods, but also of the numerous development forces at play in shaping the built environment, many of which cannot be easily quantified.

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