Can older buildings go green?

By Tracey Arial

Canadian builders who retrofit existing properties find it next to impossible to be certified for their environmental efforts.

Why is it more environmentally sustainable to rip down a building and build a new one?” asks Natalie Voland, the president of Gestion immobilière Quo Vadis and a board member with the Quarter de l’innovation. “Sure, it’s good for energy use, but that’s not all there is to an environmental footprint. When you rip down a building, you put all the garbage in a landfill. Three parts of the environmental movement are reuse, reduce and recycle, so shouldn’t we be reusing some of these old buildings?”

Voland brought her concerns to the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM)recently.

It’s just not possible to pay for the infrastructure upgrade on an old building with lofts,” she said. “For me to get a LEED certification, I would have to change my entire mechanical system.”

Voland once considered replacing an old steam heating system that made rooms either too cold or too hot with a new heating system, but found that it was too expensive. Instead, she hired engineer after engineer to figure out how to make the old system operate properly so that rooms could be climate controlled. It took months to figure out, but she finally did it.

Despite her success, there was no easy way to market the benefit with potential tenants.

The BREEAM representative told her that his organization might offer three types of credits for the project. Environmental credits could be attained for good waste management because she avoided throwing out all the plumbing and kept the original brick facia. Coming up with a way to make the existing system work better would get an innovation credit.

He also told her about the organization’s testing facilities so that building owners get updated information about good materials for retrofitting old buildings.

Voland says that BREEAM isn’t well known in Canada yet—only one building in Toronto currently holds BREEAM certification—but she expects that to change soon.

I’m very excited because it looks like we’re moving forward on something that works for us but that will work for others too.”

Note: This report appeared on page 32 of the Spring 2014 issue of Canadian Real Estate Magazine.

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