Blog by Dr Craig Jones
There comes a time in the life of every building where extensive refurbishment is required. For many a building this seems to bring with it thoughts of starting again – essentially to demolish and ‘rebuild’. The normal practice in modern times seems to be the preference to demolish and replace. Whereas conservationists naturally prefer to retain existing structures so to repair them and bring them back to their former glory. This latter approach retains the existing character and heritage of a building, but proponents of the ‘remove and replace’ philosophy ague about their reduced energy performance. They argue that bringing an asset back to its former glory is no longer good enough, and that they can’t be brought up to modern energy efficiency standards without being entirely replaced. But what does the environmental analysis actually tell us, does it support refurbishment, or does it support replacement? This article takes a look at this intriguing question.
Whole life carbon – embodied and operational carbon
To answer this question correctly the embodied and operational carbon needs to be considered side by side, which is called the whole life carbon footprint. Let’s start by looking at embodied carbon. Embodied carbon is all too easily forgotten and is apparently concealed from our view. In fact, most people are unaware of the high environmental impact of making the products they consume.The average new build house in the UK releases around 45 tonnes CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) in its construction. This is enough carbon to:
- Power a UK light bulb continuously for over 450 years; or to
- Power a TV for 2 hours a day for almost 1,440 years; or to
- Drive around the earth almost 10 times; or to
- Drive all the way to the moon.
This is just the embodied carbon to construct a single UK house, which are also amongst the smallest houses in Europe and around a third of the size of North American homes. The amounts are naturally more significant for non-domestic buildings and for larger domestic estates.