Thursday, March 7, 2013

Commentary: Embodied Energy and Adaptive Reuse

The following commentary was sent to The Eye by Jennifer Saines. The Eye welcomes commentary from any position.  
So-called green building practices are not always “sustainable”; they certainly are not when compared with the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. Erasing one building to erect another isn’t necessarily a step forward in the energy-saving game. Economist Donavan Rypkema illustrates this idea by explaining that the energy it took to make an existing building is energy being thrown away when it is demolished:

Embodied energy is defined as the total expenditure of energy involved in the creation of the building and its constituent materials. When we throw away an historic building, we are simultaneously throwing away the embodied energy incorporated into that building. So we start with the energy embodied in the building then add the energy expended tearing it down and hauling it to the landfill. What have we wasted? Over 56,000 gallons of gasoline.

Most of the “green building” movement focuses on the annual energy use of a building. But the energy embodied in the construction of a building is 15 to 30 times the annual energy use. A recent study in Great Britain indicated that it takes from 35 to 50 years for an energy efficient new home to recover the carbon expended in constructing the house.

Razing historic buildings results in a triple hit on scarce resources.... You’re a fool or a fraud if you claim to be an environmentally conscious builder and yet are throwing away historic buildings, and their components.

Centerplan’s “green” mission to manufacture solar panels is undercut by their real world practices. The Middletown Press building, for instance, was razed to build a drive-thru Rite Aid, and their present proposal calls for the demolition of three historic houses in Washington Street’s National Historic district.

You may remember we lost the Shiloh Baptist Church at the intersection of East Main and Saybrook Road in 2009. A developer and the church congregation agreed to replace the church with a drive-thru chain pharmacy in exchange for a newly built church. Before the old structure was demolished I heard that lots of folks went and reclaimed some of the great interior work. So at least some of that “embodied” energy was salvaged, but it’s small consolation every time I pass by the soul-less Walgreen/CVS corner that had been so beautifully anchored with not only beauty but also, as Rypkema says, “ the meaning and memory of our town built up over generations”.

Commercial development of the kind proposed by the proposed zoning amendment will not increase Middletown’s tax revenues. Demolition of the existing historic buildings will actually decrease the city’s tax revenue on the one site studied.

Read more: Donovan D. Rypkema.


Catherine Johnson said...

Brava, Jen! This is at the heart of why we should reinforce recycling buildings: someone built it expending an enormous amount of energy:cutting down the trees, moving the materials, sawing and nailing them together, plastering and finishing it. And not in the days of power tools.

We have no entity in city hall nor mechanism in our regulations to promote RETAINING buildings, or moving them as a last resort. The city is the biggest promoter of demolition (Read link below) and we've lost more buildings in the past 20 years because there's not another point of view being put forward.

There is no discussion. The article describes the building as "dilapidated" so
it is being removed. What's it guilty of? Being ugly outside? So it's covered with brown
asphalt shingles: big deal! It's a greener building than one you have to drive to and from work in the suburbs. It's green because it's tiny and shares a wall with another building. It's in the center of town and on the bus line to Hartford: that means you can access your daily needs by foot and potentially work regionally, all without having to own a car.
It exists, therefore, it's a head start for someone who wants to own a little place to live or work.

Once it's knocked down, it will not likely be replaced (cost: $175,000). Why instead can’t the city sell it for $1 and offer the $30,000 to the new owner for renovation, and let’s keep another family downtown and the tax flow coming in?


Mr. Fixit said...

There is a bad URL for the reference link at the bottom of the article in the link re Donovan D. Rypkema. You have a space prior to the hyphen within the term "/wp-content/" It doesn't belong there. Remove it and the link will work as noted below

Shane said...

Catherine, you are 100% correct in your assessment of this absurd nonsense imposed upon our downtown community. Your tenacity I applaud.

Anonymous said...

For those of us with longer memories, there once was an extension of the Russell Library, housed in a donated Russell Company building, where there is now the 24 Hour CVS parking lot.

TPTB in Middletown have been consistently choosing money over memories for more than half a century, at least.

Anonymous said...

It's not that I don't agree with saving buildings and history and heritage. I do. But, can we at least acknowledge that the things you complain about most consistently are things that the majority of people enjoy? Your beef with drive throughs is elitist. People like drive throughs. People like drugstores and they like Starbucks. The campaign against drive throughs won't be won in a city with a lot of people when only a few want to intentionally keep conveniences out. The trouble with this conversation is that it's insular and by its mere tone keeps people with other points of view from joining the discourse.

Jennifer Proto said...

Dear Anonymous 3/12 @ 12:43pm,
You use a lot of big words in your name-calling, but you don't seem to know what they mean. You call people like me "elitist" because I don't want my toddler inhaling exhaust fumes when she plays in our backyard? Elitists believe they are entitled to priviledges at the expense of people who can't be "inconvenienced" to get out of their car to buy their morning latte in exchange for a cleaner enviroment for us all. You claim that the public discourse on this zoning issue is insular, yet the fact that you've posted your point of view proves that it is not.

Jennifer Saines said...

To Anonymous at 12:43,

I do acknowledge that people enjoy fast food and drive throughs. And I acknowledge that they exist and thrive in this very town. All residents have the right to patronize the many and varied establishments that provide such service. But they do have a terrible impact upon the environment--both on the air we breathe and the visual quality of our environment. Therefore I do not think that they are appropriate for these neighborhoods, which include Washington St. and South Main St. and Newfield St. I think that the homeowners in these areas will suffer from the loss of the quiet enjoyment of their homes as well as a decrease in their property values. I do not understand how this argument can be misconstrued as elitist.

If you do believe in the value of heritage and history and architecturally notable buildings, just how would you provide for their protection? How do you propose we reconcile the conflict between so called "convenience" and our heritage? Would you be willing to have one of these so called "conveniences" abut your back yard and wipe out your property values?

Please, take a risk and put yourself out there and write a comment or a piece with information to support your opinion in a healthy way, and stop labeling as "insular" and "elitist" those of us who try to do so.