Focus on ‘the 99% solution’

May 03, 2012 |
Rob Cassidy

Our eight previous White Papers have explored the early days of LEED; the “business case” for green buildings; life cycle assessment for building products; how buildings contribute to climate change; water conservation in buildings; and “net-zero energy” buildings (free downloads at:

Our ninth report, “High-Performance Reconstructed Buildings: The 99% Solution,” focuses on “reconstruction” in its many forms—tenant fitouts, retail renovations, adaptive reuse, historic preservation, renovation plus addition, etc.—because that’s where the money has been for many AEC firms since the collapse of the new construction market in 2007-8.

Renovation and reconstruction of existing buildings—what the New Buildings Institute and others are calling “deep energy retrofits”—may be the most practical way to achieve significant energy, water, and materials conservation. Because existing buildings represent 99% of total commercial building stock in any one year, they offer the greatest opportunity for reducing the 19% of U.S. energy consumption attributable to nonresidential buildings.

One point that came home to me as we were preparing this year’s report is the “disaggregation” of commercial building ownership in the U.S. Ninety-five percent of nonresidential buildings in the U.S. are small, less than 50,000 sf. In some respects, it’s easier to retrofit the Empire State Building than it is to “aggregate” many smaller buildings with multiple owners.

Another eye-opener (for me, at least) has to do with the buildings of the Modern era—all those poorly built, boxy structures from the late 1960s into the early 1980s. As Bradley T. Carmichael, PE, notes (WP40), these buildings were poorly insulated, with single-pane glass façades that just oozed wasted energy. Many were poorly ventilated, leading to mold contamination.

Modern buildings were relatively cheap to build; as a result, a lot of them did get built, which is why we have a deluge of them approaching the half-century mark and still sucking up energy by the kilowatt-hour.

There is also frequent reference in the White Paper to “The Greenest Building,” an important new report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab. Based on an analysis of six building types in four diverse climate zones, the researchers conclude that it is almost always better––on a life cycle basis––to renovate and retrofit a commercial building than it is to knock it down and build new.

Our experts also delve into the increasingly significant role of energy codes, notably the new International Green Construction Code, as well as the need for “continuous commissioning” to keep buildings functioning properly.

We conclude with an 18-point “action plan”–– specific recommendations for stakeholders in the reconstruction field to consider. One action item calls for AEC firms to look into a new business opportunity as “service integrators,” providing building owners with the full range of services they’ll need to retrofit their buildings.

Send comments to: [email protected]. BD+C

Rob Cassidy | Building Team Blog

Rob Cassidy (“ClimateGrouch”) is editorial director of Building Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

Related Blogs

Leadership or limbo: Moving to building green’s next level

3 PNC Plaza. Photo: John Marino via flickr Creative Commons

November 29, 2015 | Green | Building Team Blog

After interviewing more than 50 AEC firms for our Greenbuild Report in the November issue, I wonder if the...

Benjamin Kasdan, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, Design Director/Senior Designer with KTGY Architecture + Planning, Irvine, Calif. (Class of 2015 40 Under 40 winner)

October 26, 2015 | Building Team Blog

Are you an AEC superstar? The 2016 "40 Under 40" competition is now open for entries. Here are some helpful...

Competency-based learning: A glimpse into the future of higher education?

Photo: Xbxg32000 via Wikimedia Commons

October 16, 2015 | University Buildings | Building Team Blog

For better or worse, the higher education experience for many young Millennials and Gen Zers will not resem...

From Gehry to the High Line: What makes a project a game-changer?

El Peix sculpture in Barcelona, by Frank Gehry. Photo: Till Niermann via Wikimedia Commons

September 24, 2015 | Architects | Building Team Blog

Each year, there are a handful of projects that significantly advance the AEC industry or a particular buil...

Why AEC firms should be cultivating 'visible experts'

Photo: Cydcor via flickr creative commons

July 07, 2015 | Architects | Building Team Blog

A new study pinpoints the true dollar value of having knowledge leaders and market shapers on your team....

Tactical urbanism: Why bigger isn’t always better in urban revitalization

Each September, as part of Park(ing) Day, citizens, artists, and activists in more than 160 cities collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into micro parks, gardens, and art exhibits. Photo:

May 27, 2015 | Smart and Resilient Cities | Building Team Blog

A budding urban planning movement that is sprouting in cities across the globe proves that low-cost, small-...

Hackathons and RFCs: Why one developer killed the RFP

Image depicts design concepts from the hackathon winner, Pickard Chilton of New Haven, Conn. Photo courtesy Skanska

May 06, 2015 | Building Owner | Building Team Blog

In lieu of an RFP process, Skanska Commercial Development hosted a three-week "hackathon" to find an archit...

Chance encounters and the ‘action’ office: Do collisions spark innovation?

Google is among a handful of tech giants to unveil plans for “action” offices. Rendering courtesy Google, BIG, Thomas Heatherwick

March 29, 2015 | Office Building Design | Building Team Blog

Google, Facebook, Samsung, and Tencent have all unveiled plans for “action” offices designed to get their p...

The High Line effect: Placemaking as an economic development engine

Eight years into the transformation of an elevated section of New York Central Railroad’s West Side Line into a public park, the $273 million project is being hailed as a resounding win for the city. Photo: Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia Commons

March 02, 2015 | Cultural Facilities | Building Team Blog

As big money and eager tourists flock to Chelsea, cities across the globe are starting to take notice. Chic...

Add new comment

Your Information
Your Comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.
Overlay Init