A report from the Brookings Institution projects that between the year 2000 and 2030 we will have demolished and replaced nearly 1/3 of all existing buildings, largely because the vast majority of them weren’t designed and built to last any longer. How much energy will it take to demolish and replace those buildings? Enough to power the entire state of California for 10 years.
Historic Tax Credits have rehabilitated 217 million square feet of commercial and residential space in the United States over the last ten years, saving over 17 million tons of waste, 372 trillion BTU’s of energy and 3 billion gallons of gasoline. The Tax Credits saved carbon emissions in the equivalent of an automobile traveling 680 billion miles, or the equivalent of traveling from earth to the sun and back three and one-half times.
It’s often alleged that historic buildings are energy hogs – but in fact, some older buildings are as energy-efficient as many recently-built ones. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency suggests that buildings constructed before 1920 are actually more energy-efficient than buildings built at any time afterwards – except for those built after 2000. Furthermore, in 1999, the General Services Administration (GSA) examined its buildings inventory and found that utility costs for historic buildings were 27% less than for more modern buildings.
It’s not hard to figure out why. Many historic buildings have thick, solid walls, resulting in greater thermal mass and reducing the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling. Buildings designed before the widespread use of electricity feature transoms, high ceilings, and large windows for natural light and ventilation, as well as shaded porches and other features to reduce solar gain. Architects and builders paid close attention to siting and landscaping as tools for maximizing sun exposure during the winter months and minimizing it during warmer months.
Among other things, we need incentives to encourage reuse and energy upgrades in older buildings. In the past ten years alone, historic tax-credit incentives have sparked the rehab of more than 217 million square feet of commercial and residential space – and saved huge amounts of energy in the process. We must insure the continued availability of these tax credits, and expand their use in older buildings that are not necessarily historic but still re-usable. Thus, the national emphasis on Historic Districts which provide tax credits for historic buildings and those buildings that contribute to the aesthetics of a historic district in some way but do not qualify as a historic property on their own.
Community cores encourage density, walking, biking and have inherent ecological advantages. Ideally, downtown locations produce a system where people can live close to where they work, shop and play. That close proximity means a lot less driving, which is great for the environment. Think about it: if everyone could reduce his or her daily driving by just ten miles per day, and the average US car gets 21 mpg and their are 190,000,000 drivers in the U.S.- we could save 33,023,809,524 gallons of fuel per year. And, because people in the Flint Hills Region already spends over twice as much of their budget on fuel as the national average, we would have a lot more money available for spending on other types of goods and services that boost our local economy.
Additionally, each gallon of unleaded fuel contains 19.643 pounds of CO2, which means that drivers in the United States reducing their driving mileage by just 10 miles per day over a year would prevent648,686,690,479 pounds of CO2 from entering our atmosphere. You read that right: 648 BILLION pounds or 324 million tons of CO2.
Preservation plays an important role in entrepreneurship. From Donovan Rypkema: : “85% of all net new jobs are created by firms employing less than 20 people. One of the few costs firms of that size can control is occupancy costs/rents. In both downtowns but especially in neighborhood commercial districts a major contribution to the local economy is the relative affordability of older buildings. It is no accident that the creative, imaginative, small start up firm isn’t located in the corporate office “campus”, the industrial park or the shopping center – they simply cannot afford the rents there. Older and historic commercial buildings play that role, nearly always with no subsidy or assistance.”
Lets celebrate Earth Day today and every day! Lets remember that although picking up trash and recycling is very important to our future, we need to go beyond those efforts. Preservation and creating more sustainable communities that use less energy by their very design result in major environmental benefits. Pick up trash and recycle, but also talk to your elected leaders about creating density, keeping greenfield areas green, promoting walkable/bikeable communities, preserving buildings and supporting our community core. We can’t consume our way to a sustainable planet, but we can change our behavior to support a greener future.
See this article and much more in this week’s Emporia Main Street E-newsletter!