Are old buildings spooky or sustainable?


Fans of horror and Halloween know better than to mess around with old and abandoned buildings. Fear of ghosts, ghouls, and haunted houses emerge every October, but inside those abandoned buildings lies more than something to fear. In fact, Rethos is here to ask the question, are old buildings spooky or sustainable? With forty years of experience in historic preservation, building material reuse, and deconstruction, we are here to share five reasons why old buildings aren’t bad news at all.


1. New building material is expensive, resource intensive, and oftentimes unneeded

New buildings are popping up everywhere. While they may seem like the essence of convenience and luxury, a large portion of new materials aren’t built to last and are very costly—financially and environmentally. To make way for these new structures, many old buildings are demolished and the materials are sent off to the landfill. The new materials can be coming from anywhere and have a considerably large carbon footprint before they even arrive at the construction site. Here at Rethos, we believe that old buildings should be cared for and renovated to meet housing and developmental demands. If a structure can be repurposed, it should not be torn down and create unnecessary waste.


2. Existing buildings have a cultural and historical significance to communities

Beyond the economic value of existing buildings, many structures have social value and a deep historical significance to communities. While old buildings in movies may tell a horror story, we believe these old buildings to tell the stories of community development, collaboration, and vitality. Moreover, Building Green reports that developers and building projects often lack any efforts to enhance equity, affordability, and accessibility. The stories told by buildings are powerful ones and should be preserved and shared, particularly for communities with histories facing erasure. Rethos remains dedicated to making historic preservation more inclusive and is committed to advancing equity in the work we do.


3. Buildings are full of materials that can be salvaged and repurposed

Even when buildings become too worn-down to be safely repurposed, they are never worthless. Up to 90% of materials can be salvaged from deconstruction projects in the Twin Cities, according to Hennepin County experts. These materials can be sent to reuse warehouses and eventually repurposed into new construction projects. Whatever is left can be responsibly recycled and discarded. This saves emissions from transportation, contributes to the local economy, and diverts functional materials from being sent to landfills. Not only are repurposed materials sustainable, but oftentimes, they are more durable and higher quality than virgin materials. For instance wood from older homes typically has more tree rings, making it more durable than recently manufactured lumber. Reusing old building materials also gives new dwellings character and makes them more inviting, comfortable, and unique! Rethos is proud to incorporate deconstruction and reuse to promote more responsible and equitable building practices in Minnesota and beyond.


Man deconstructing a building
Photo: Hennepin County
4. Deconstruction + salvage projects provide jobs, support the local economy, and offers the community resources

Rather than something to avoid once the sun goes down, old buildings can be a catalyst for community vitality, opportunity, and development. Caring for and giving life to old buildings allows residents and communities to reinvest in nearby property. With the help of Rethos’ educational network, they can also learn the skills necessary to maintain existing and historic structures. Additionally, repurposed and deconstructed buildings can spur the local economy. Rather than paying for new materials and subsequent transportation, developers can spend that money on labor and knowledge in the community, strengthening the economy they live in. Deconstruction and salvaging materials also supports local reuse stores and offers them opportunities to continue the important work they do for the community.


5. Helps communities reduce their carbon footprint & minimize waste going to landfills

Rethos is committed to sustainability and believes that the greenest option is the one that already exists. A 2012 study done by the Brookings Institute estimated that nearly a third of existing buildings in the United States will be demolished and replaced between 2005-2030. By advocating for preservation and rehabilitation, community projects divert unnecessary waste from filling up landfills and result in far lower levels of carbon emissions from the transportation of raw materials. This helps keep value and materials in the places that need them the most and contribute to a more sustainable and responsible method of development and construction.


 
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