Okay, so truth be told, I know very little about how commercial buildings work. For the past few years, I’ve saved, chiseled, sistered, scraped, painted and crawled around in any house that would let me in, trying to better understand how they work and how to make them more efficient and sustainable. Fortunately, the police were never called. Now I feel it’s time to get a grip on how the insides of those big, crazy multi-unit buildings work.
Tuesday, I was fortunate to be sponsored by Restoric, LLC and Northwestern University to attend the Green Retrofit Conference, which did indeed focus on commercial buildings. http://tiny.cc/tly2A/. It was an interesting day, and I frantically scribbled notes between bites of bagels, muffins, ravioli and cake (it was rather like being on a cruise ship!). Here are a couple of green preservation highlights from Michelle Russo, LEED AP and Director of Green Content & Research Communications for McGraw-Hill Construction:
• Growth in green retrofits is occurring more rapidly than growth in new green buildings
• Green retrofits and renovation is projected to grow 20-30% in the next 5 years
• Commercial buildings from all time periods are being retrofitted, the highest percentage are only 16-30 years old. 67% of buildings are 45 years old or less.
Perhaps this data is no great surprise considering that buildings built in the 1980s and 90s were the most inefficient buildings ever built, and we’re only demolishing and replacing 1-2% of buildings right now and in the midst of a recession. That said, this is a time of great opportunity for preservation. If, for the next few years, owners focus more on retrofitting their existing buildings vs. tearing down and building new because they don’t have the money to do so, the market and technology will swing towards retrofits, and systems will continue to improve. According to the McGraw Hill study, building owners who have already done green retrofits on one of their buildings are much more likely to continue to do so on future buildings. Less money means more creativity, innovation, and reuse.
As utility rates increase over the next few years, more efficient systems combined with occupancy sensors, faucet aerators, etc. will make a huge difference in costs to commercial building owners. Many building owners and management companies are also trying to convince tenants to change their habits through education and by showing them the financial results of changes that have already been made. Arguably, this is the most important piece of the green pie (perhaps it is a keylime pie?).
And so, the great irony is that the recession is going to buy us preservationists some time. Wacka wacka.
Other highlights of the conference, such as the plan to green Willis Tower, will follow in the near future. If you want a teaser: How do you green a super tall skyscraper made entirely of walls of single-pane glass in a way that makes economic sense? Yeah, you don’t.