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Reusing old buildings is greener than new build in fight against climate change

New research published by the Empty Homes Agency with support from the Building and Social Housing Foundation suggests that the advantages of older, existing housing are being seriously overlooked in the fight against climate change.

The research report, New Tricks with Old Bricks – how reusing old buildings can cut carbon emissions[i], addresses a significant gap in our knowledge about the relative carbon benefits of old and new buildings.

The report suggests that embodied carbon – the CO2 emitted as a direct result of constructing a new building – accounts for nearly three times as much of the building’s lifetime emissions as has been generally supposed[ii]. Moreover, new construction emits more than four-and-a-half times as much CO2 per square metre as comprehensive refurbishment of an existing home[iii].

Over 50 years, the combined CO2 emissions from construction/refurbishment and daily use show existing homes can be just as green – if not greener – than new ones, but with the benefit of much lower embodied CO2.

If the 288,000 long-term empty homes in England[iv] were re-used and upgraded to higher energy efficiency standards as part of the Government’s plans for three million new homes by 2020, the research results suggest that the immediate carbon cost could be cut by 8%, or more than 10 million tonnes[v].

New Tricks With Old Bricks (PDF document, 663Kb)

Stitch In Time (PDF document , 976Kb)

This saving is equivalent to taking 3.3 million cars off the road for a whole year, the entire annual household CO2 emissions of a city one-and-a-half times the size of Birmingham, or every household in Reading going zero-carbon for 26 years[vi].