Greening Older and Historic Buildings

The construction, operation and demolition of buildings accounts for well over 40% of the United States' carbon dioxide emissions. Reusing and retrofitting our existing built resources is the first step to cutting these emissions and ensuring that our communities are greener, more livable, and healthier. 

In 2012, The National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab released a groundbreaking study quantifying and comparing the environmental impacts of new construction and building reuse. The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse finds that in almost every case, the reuse of existing buildings results in fewer environmental impacts over their life span compared to demolition and new construction.

But as The Greenest Building demonstrates, reusing buildings alone isn’t enough to satisfy environmental responsibilities. The study finds that the greater benefit comes from reusing and retrofitting existing buildings. Such retrofits help to conserve the earth’s resources and reduce climate warming emissions and also directly serve preservation goals: greening buildings helps owners save money, makes these buildings more attractive investments, and helps secures their survival over time.

We don't discount the value of new, green construction – in fact many green technologies can and should be applied to existing buildings to improve performance.  But new construction – no matter how green – still uses energy and other natural resources and generates construction waste that clogs landfills.  That’s why the National Trust for Historic Preservationists leading by example with its rehabilitation of the historic Emerson School in Denver and is dedicated to developing resources and that make it easier to reuse and green older and historic buildings. 

Whether you are a historic home or building owner, developer, policy maker, historic commissioner member, or preservation practitioner, the National Trust offers important information, research and analysis to help you make the most of your building.

Weatherization Guide: Want to reduce your carbon footprint? The best place to start – and to get real bang for your buck – is at home. From information on the benefits of home energy audits to tips and strategies on how properly insulate your historic or older home, this guide will help you weatherize the right way.

Preservation Leadership Forum Members Only: March 2013 Forum Focus: Putting the Saving Windows, Saving Money Report to Work.

Solar Panel Guidance: Historic sites and structures can be preserved while accommodating the need for solar access. Check out the National Trust’s solar guidance for best practices, tips, case studies, and also how to develop guidelines for solar installations in your community.

Green Windows: New research produced by the Preservation Green Lab offers insight for homeowners weighing the financial and energy tradeoffs between replacing or repairing older, less efficient windows.

Valuing Building Reuse: A groundbreaking study produced by Preservation Green Lab explores the environmental value of reusing buildings rather than demolishing them to replace with new construction.

Preservation Leadership Forum Members Only: May 2012 Forum Focus: Putting The Greenest Building Report to Work for Historic Preservation