Many older buildings are in need of extensive renovation to improve their energy performance. Often, this is seen as an opportunity to start again – demolish the existing building and rebuilding using modern materials. However, with construction timescales tightening and the spotlight on the climate crisis intensifying, is this always the best option?
The answer is of course dependant on the individual project in question. If you are faced with a structurally unsound building, with poor energy performance that isn’t functional for modern users, then knocking it down and starting again may be the more straightforward and probably far cheaper option. However, choosing to refurbish the building envelope can offer some key advantages over rebuilding.
Acquiring planning permission for refurbishment projects is often a simpler and quicker process when you are just looking to make alterations to an existing building. Rebuilds are also typically required to meet the same modern building requirements as a new build project, whilst there is a lot more flexibility with refurb projects. They can also be much less disruptive to the local area than demolishing – a key benefit in our increasingly busy urban areas.
Creating the structural elements of a building is typically the most expensive and time-consuming part of the build programme. If the core structure is sound, updating the facade is a quick and cost-effective way to transform the thermal, fire and acoustic performance and the overall look of the building, maximising the return on investment on the original structure and reducing the environmental impact of the project.
The environmental benefit is one of the most compelling arguments for refurbishment. Whilst it may not be possible to always bring older buildings up to the same levels of energy efficiency as those built today, it is not only the operational energy that needs to be taken into consideration. Embodied carbon is an often-forgotten value when calculating a building’s carbon footprint. It is mainly made up of the amount of carbon released whilst manufacturing, transporting and assembling the building materials, including extracting the raw material. This is often huge, particularly on commercial buildings.
Reusing demolished building materials is not always possible, resulting in much of that energy and carbon cost simply becoming rubble in landfill. The process of demolishing and transporting this waste will further increase overall carbon. Meanwhile, refurbishing the facade minimises this waste and also presents the opportunity to bring in more environmentally considerate building materials that have low embodied carbon, such as QuadCore™.
This seems an odd factor to bring into the rebuild vs. refurb debate. However, buildings play an enormously important role in our lives and identities. Some connect us to the past, others form the backdrop of our most important life events, others carry wider, cultural or societal significance. Whilst some demolition is necessary for cities and other urban areas to advance, emotions often run high when it comes to large-scale flattening and redevelopment of local sites.
If sensitively done, facade refurbishment allows for the retention of all the character and meaning of the existing building, whilst helping to refresh its appearance and bring it up to current standards, thus securing its future for generations to come.
Facades have an important role to play in a building’s construction. Their primary purpose is to provide weather resistance, protecting the structure and occupants from the elements. However, as the first aspect that people see when they enter or pass by a building, they are also vital for establishing identity and status becoming almost like pieces of art in the built environment.
Whilst it is not always possible, refurbishing an existing building’s facade is certainly worth exploring before plunging for demolishment. Continual advancements in material and system technology has helped to make this an even simpler option for architects looking to completely transform the way a building interacts with the wider world, from its energy and fire performance to its commercial value.
Article courtesy of Kingspan