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Revitalizing Your Existing Home Instead of Building a New Green Home

December 3, 2010

“The greenest building is the one that’s already built.”

Those are the words of Emily Wadhams of the National Trust for Historic Preservation on a recent NPR Marketplace segment: “This old house may be the greener one.” Although a new home is easier to make green, there may be more environmental benefit from improving an existing home.

As an architect who got into the field for environmental reasons, I believe that design should rest lightly on the existing world, protecting the natural environment and conscientiously re-using the built environment as much as possible. It takes a lot of energy to build a new building, and it generates a lot of waste to tear down an old one. As one of my architecture professors used to say, “Architecture begins with destruction.” For better or for worse, whenever we build something new, it replaces what was in that place before.

The design approach for LD Arch Design is to seek out the beauty and maximize the efficiency of that which is already there, keeping in mind that there are occasionally buildings that have come to the end of their useful life. I find it more challenging and rewarding to bring new life to an existing building, rather than tearing down the existing to build new. In the photo you can see original cedar siding juxtaposed with a new rain chain and rainwater harvesting system.

It is also a delightful challenge to reuse building materials in a new and interesting way.  At our home, we have been enjoying the look and feel of recycled slate blackboards that we are using for countertops. With some sanding to remove imperfections and a food-grade stone sealer, they become lustrous black surfaces that are resilient and easy to clean.

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