Environmental benefits of refurbishing empty homes overlooked

Bringing empty buildings back into use is a far more effective way of cutting carbon than building new ones from scratch, no matter how green they might be.

This is the conclusion of research published this week by the independent campaign group the Empty Homes Agency.

While a single-interest pressure group like the EHA might be expected to come to such a conclusion, the evidence it presents in its report, New Tricks with Old Bricks is compelling.

It is self evident that the process of demolition and rebuilding means that the energy used in the original construction goes to waste but the full significance of the loss of this embodied energy has until now been overlooked, claims the EHA.

The report's headline claim is that the CO2 emitted as a direct result of constructing a new building may be three times higher than generally supposed.

It also argues that building a new home emits almost five times as much carbon as a comprehensive refurbishment of an equivalent size existing property.

According to the agency there are over 250,000 empty homes in the UK which, if upgraded to meet higher energy efficiency standards, could cut the carbon cost of the national drive to create three million new homes by 2020 by up to 8%.

Henry Oliver, the EHA's policy advisor, said: "Lots has been written about the relative merits of old versus new buildings in terms of the energy used and carbon emitted in every day use.

"But the energy embodied in buildings has in contrast been largely neglected. This report covers new ground by revealing just how much of the carbon emitted over a building's lifetime is accounted for by initial construction.'

"This research only looked at a small sample, and more work needs to be done. But one thing is clear: if we're interested in quick wins to minimise the amount of CO2 we pump out in the next 50 years or so, we need to place far greater emphasis on reusing the buildings we've already got and less on building new ones."

Sam Bond



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