The Greenest Building

Early money from grants and generous contributions from folks here in New Bern have gotten us off to a good start with the King Solomon’s Lodge #1 restoration. Thanks to all! Preservation like this is the “greenest” option, after all.

The concept of being green is all about lowering the cost to our environment, both before and after construction. After construction, a green home will use less energy, generally speaking, than a home built without using green technology. But does that make the modern home greener? The answer is―not always.

Over the holidays, a friend described a wonderful energy-efficient home she’d visited last summer. I was glad to hear about those new technologies, since I’m a bit of a nerd that way. But an older home had been razed to make room for the new house. So as she told me about her friend’s ultra-green home, I couldn’t help remembering something Preservation NC’s Myrick Howard said at our Annual Meeting a couple of years ago: “The greenest building is the one already built.” It’s said that architect Carl Elefante at Quinn Evans in Washington, D.C. first coined that phrase.

As efficient as new, LEED-compliant or energy-efficient homes are after they are built, the process of building may not be quite as “green” as you might think. Raw materials are processed, shipped, packaged, delivered on site, unpackaged, and assembled, the packaging discarded into landfill. All that work requires lots of resources and energy. Carbon dioxide emissions, if you will. Though as it also stimulates our economy and creates jobs, if you’re building on an empty lot, by all means make your building energy efficient.

But if the energy-efficient structure replaces an older structure, the “green” picture changes. Apart from the cost of manufacture and transport of new building materials, the EPA estimates that 548 million tons of demolition debris is generated in the United States yearly by new construction projects. For comparison, that’s three times the amount of household waste put into landfills each year. Demolition waste is, by far, the leading component of landfills nation-wide.

Of course restoration expends resources and creates waste, too. But on average, restoration of a home or building like King Solomon’s Lodge #1 generates an estimated 10% of the waste of new construction. And preservation employs a lot of people and helps stimulate our economy by using, in a more limited way, new products and materials. Preservation doesn’t just keep beautiful workmanship alive for future generations; it is also the “greener” option.

So we can be proud that even our possibly-drafty, energy-inefficient historic structures net out as quite green, actually. And when we restore and upgrade to incorporate green options like recycling rainwater, installing high-efficiency appliances and HVAC, improving insulation, and incorporating solar energy where practicable, we can create housing that is among the greenest in our city.


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