The University of Washington made the bold decision to renovate numerous buildings within Tacoma’s Warehouse District to provide needed growth. The decision was not a small one in regard to the dollars spent per square foot. On average, a historically renovated building can cost 15% – 40% more than a contemporary building housing the same use. A very valuable by-product of this sustainable renovation endeavor was the retention of a tremendous amount of embodied energy including human, natural and cultural resources that were saved... life cycle cost considerations in the most comprehensive sense.
Many of the current sustainability benchmarking systems provide very little acknowledgement of the energies contained within an existing building. Each piece of lumber or brick in the renovated building holds the energy of the original harvesting, manufacturing and installation of those materials. Retaining an existing building is the embodiment of what reuse and life cycle costing address. The retention of buildings must be considered as we work towards lowering the carbon footprint of our architectural and operational endeavors. 40% of an existing building's energy is contained within the existing envelope; the other 60% is what has been expended to operate the facility. If it makes sense for utility companies to encourage us to use less power given the increasing cost to produce the power... shouldn’t we be considering a similar value in using less new building material by retaining what exists?