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Getting carbon reductions in existing buildings

  • 1.  Getting carbon reductions in existing buildings

    Posted 12-19-2018 20:15

    I'm starting this as a new thread because this is an important topic, and I'm re-posting Larry Strain's comment because it got swallowed up by the Girls Scouts discussion.

    The question is; how do we make the best effort on carbon reduction?

    Here's Larry:
    This is the critical question: How to upgrade our existing buildings to zero. According the  latest UN Global Status report, emissions from existing buildings are responsible for about 28% of global GHG emissions. Embodied emission from materials and construction are responsible for about 11%. 

    We are currently adding less than 2% to our building stock every year, so we can't build our way out of this with new net zero buildings, we need to fix what we already have. Another reason to upgrade existing buildings to zero is they have a much lower carbon footprint compared to building new net zero buildings.
    This is a hard thing to incentivize. Getting cities, universities and other entities with climate action plans, to recognize the importance of existing buildings and embodied carbon might be another path to make it happen.
    Besides envelope upgrades and adding PV's, I would add we should be converting existing buildings to all electric and eliminating on-site fossil fuels. This is another important strategy, especially in areas where the the grid is decarbonizing.
    Larry Strain, FAIA  LEED AP

    Betsy del Monte, FAIA, LEED BD+C
    Cameron MacAllister Group/ SMU
    Dallas, TX

  • 2.  RE: Getting carbon reductions in existing buildings

    Posted 12-20-2018 17:29
    I agree that decarbonization of the built environment is the central and overwhelming task for our profession. We also need to be mindful of urbanism, including transportation.
    We also need to practice what we teach in our personal lives.
    Holiday Cheers to all,
    Doug Kelbaugh FAIA
    Emil Lorch Collegiate Professor
    of Architecture and Urban Planning
    and Dean Emeritus
    Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning
    University of Michigan
    2000 Bonisteel Blvd., Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2069
    Mobile: 734 358-9587 Home: 734 827-2259

  • 3.  RE: Getting carbon reductions in existing buildings

    Posted 12-21-2018 08:57



    That indeed is going to be a huge task. We are going to have to demonstrate that there is a true financial value to an organizations bottom line by making the change. I believe that is only going to come with a total cost of ownership approach. As long as we as an industry focus ourselves and our clients on first cost, it will simply never happen. We have to see that over the long haul that it is costing us and them more not to act. I don't yet know if that is possible, but I believe it should. We may only be able to get them to a point where it does not cost them more to make a good carbon decision. The example I use is LED lighting because there is such a significant and short term improvement financially. For many who have made the decision not to use incandescent it is clearly demonstrating a return on investment. Not all decisions will be that clear cut. Unfortunately we first had CF bulbs which were a small saving on one front but caused more issues on other fronts, such as breakage and disposal. This was likely an issue based on the lack of research done in the facilities industry, not so see the unintended consequences of disposal of CFL. We need to understand not only the first cost and operating costs, but also the impact on end of life, productivity, and ultimately society. TCO will accomplish this if applied correctly. There is an ANSI recognized standard being developed by a committee at APPA which I co-chair. Part 1 - Principles was released in January 2018 and Part 2 - Implementation is planned to be released in 2019. There is yet much education, and data gathering to yet be done for true implementation to occur. If we look at how TCO is being applied in the IT industry, we can see the elements needed to make TCO successful. An independent company, Gartner, collects and scrubs information for comparison to other organizations so people can see how they stack up in several areas with their spending, so they can make adjustments and improve their long term profitability. In time, I see this happening with facilities and infrastructure also.


    I also believe that with the implementation of the ISO 55000 series and ISO 41000 series of standards more emphasis is able to be focused on asset and facility management. This focus from a broad spectrum to include CFO's will only help our cause. In order to be successful however, we will need to better understand what the financial implications are of carbon, sea level change, and all other aspects of climate change. We must get it out of the emotional and political arena and as sad as it is to say make it a more analytical financial decision. This is truly something that architects can and should continue to take a leadership role in. The steps we have taken thus far are in the right direction we just need to keep marching.




    (703) 909-9670


  • 4.  RE: Getting carbon reductions in existing buildings

    Posted 12-21-2018 15:31
    Edited by Richard Buday 12-21-2018 15:33
    "The question is: how do we make the best effort on carbon reduction?"

    Or put another way: How to move LEED and other sustainable efforts past carbon neutral? How to shift from slowing global warming to reversing global warming?

    For climate regeneration, new buildings must be not only Zero-Net-Carbon, they must also mitigate the adverse effects of existing structures and newly-constructed-but-unsustainable architecture. They must be carbon negative. As I've written on Common Edge, that's a heroic, if not a Herculean, task--and there's not much time to figure things out. The twelve-year countdown has begun.

    I think we can all agree there will be no single silver bullet to reversing global warming. "Drawdown" will take many forms.[1] Success will require equal parts new design approaches, new technologies, and changed human behaviors.

    Regarding design, practitioners will face no end of flak from owners pushing architecture that goes beyond today's LEED standards. As Deke notes, demonstrating the financial value of carbon-negative projects will be difficult if the return is measured in human lives or future generations, not dollars and quarterly reports. For this reason, I suggest the architecture academy should take the lead. Learning is a time of experimentation and invention. The definition of research isn't much different. Suitably mobilized and motivated, the academy is the profession's greatest laboratory for new ideas.

    Carbon scrubbing/sequestering technology, such as negative-emission concrete, shows promise. Beyond that, it's a little thin. Green walls/roofs, reimagining land use, and afforestation may offer the greatest hope.

    Architects modifying what building users and communities think and do could be the most abstract ingredient to success, and the most critical. As I've also argued on CommonEdge.com, architecture was the world's first mass-communication medium. At one time, buildings played a significant role in broadcasting the metanarratives of their day. At one time, storytelling architects changed the world. I believe they can do so again.

    [1] Hawken, P. (2017). Drawdown : the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. New York, New York: Penguin Books. https://www.amazon.com/Drawdown-Comprehensive-Proposed-Reverse-Warming-dp-0143130447/dp/0143130447/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=

    Richard Buday FAIA
    Archimage, Inc.
    Houston TX

  • 5.  RE: Getting carbon reductions in existing buildings

    Posted 01-29-2019 20:22
    I want to follow Richard Buday's excellent post, and his articles in Common Edge, with a plea for common sense when it comes to existing buildings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These structures have their limitations as "carbon neutral" entities. They can be re-piped, re-wired, and re-insulated to the extent possible given their material composition. They are generally not potential Zero Carbon buildings, nor should they be. We can let them leak a little in order to preserve their "breathable" natures.

    More important, we can encourage owners to save old wood windows because they have positive embodied energy and work reasonably well with new storm units attached. We can also encourage owners of buildings in dry climates, such as adobe structures, to maintain them in the traditional way, with new mud coatings on the exterior. Low tech renovation is as green as anything we can achieve with LEED Platinum credit. Let's not forget that.

    I have argued in The Vintage House that Americans save every good dwelling--single, double or muilti-family--that is available for renovation.  We have millions of units in this country that are worth renovating. Let's get to it.

    Mark Hewitt FAIA
    Mark Alan Hewitt Architects
    Bernardsville NJ

  • 6.  RE: Getting carbon reductions in existing buildings

    Posted 01-30-2019 17:37
    I love discussions about dilemmas, especially ethical dilemmas. One of my mentors (at least i think of him this way) remarked that real problems are never solved. They are, rather, re-solved. They take different forms. They never go away.

    In past ages when someone of great stature was found to have done something abhorrent, deserving of censure, that person's reputation was forever besmirched.
    Depending on the person's fame and renown his/her reputation would suffer accordingly, and in proportion to how many people knew the person.

    The same holds today, except that the circle of renown is much larger due to our much expanded information systems, largely but not exclusively the internet.

    As for the award itself it can well be argued that it should be withdrawn, annulled. If the institution giving the award knew of the transgression of the awardee prior to giving it the institution is grossly at fault and becomes untrustworthy. It has not done its job with due diligence. Its awards are less.

    If it learns of the transgression later, and if that is sufficiently severe, by maintaining the award the institution undermines their value. They will mean less to deserving recipients, both past and future.

    So, I'd argue that the principle reason for withdrawing an award is to maintain the value of the institution and the award for those who have earned it and for those who may receive it in the future.

    As for the wayward recipient the loss of reputation is a severe punishment with or without the actual tokens of the award - a plaque or medal being only symbols.

    Thus, we cancel awards to athletes who are found to have cheated. We cancel awards to scientists whose work is fraudulent. We do not tolerate students who cheat. We remove (or jail) politicians who have deceived or failed to uphold the duties of their office. We tear down the statues of disgraced former leaders. Some institutions, particularly those whose foundation is trustworthiness, have codes of honor. The military service academies are examples.

    Statues of Confederate Civil War generals are rightly removed because the motive of the institutions that erected them were far from whatever soldierly heroism the honored generals may have displayed. The motive was to create and uphold a myth of southern white superiority and to remind formerly enslaved African Americans that they were less worthy, that they should "know their place". In such a case the generals themselves have been used, not honored.

    The saddest thing is when an individual has, for the most part, lived an honorable and commendable life but who then does something really dishonorable- one thing is enough - to cast him/herself into the pit of disgrace. That follows forever. Just the mention of the name Marshall Petain - WWI hero; WWII collaborator and enabler - embodies the whole argument.

    Now, alighting from my soap box,

    Paul Spreiregen FAIA
    Washington DC