Renovate for a sustainable future

As the construction industry currently accounts for around 40% of the total carbon emission, Denmark has set an ambitious aim to reduce its emission by 70% no later than 2030! The transition starts with preserving rather than new-building as analysis finds renovation to be cheaper and greener.

The Danish study on the consequences of construction has revealed that renovating is not only a more climate-friendly but also an economically sound choice, as opposed to constructing new buildings – writes Ramboll, the global engineering, architecture and consultancy company to conduct the study.

Easiness is not a key metric

However new construction might seem easier compared to the complex task of renovating, it is not the path to a greener future. As “easiness” is not the key metric for a low-carbon economy, the sector needs to increase the use of renovation – highlights the consultancy company, whose study confirms that renovation has a lower carbon impact compared to building, and is typically cheaper also.

Four key insights

The experts, assessing 16 cases, ranging from family homes to tower blocks, non-residential buildings and public buildings using life cycle analysis (LCA) and life cycle cost analysis (LCCA), found that:

  • Renovating is better for the environment and the economy
  • Carbon emission in new constructions depends on materials used
  • The scope of renovation determines the degree of carbon impact
  • Carbon impact differs relative to a construction’s life cycle

How can renovations be more climate-friendly?

“The reason for the remarkable difference (between renovation and construction) can be found in the amount of greenhouse gasses released during the entire life cycle of the materials – with many more virgin materials going into building new. All the way from the extraction of the materials to the transport, the actual construction and demolition of the old building. With this in mind, new-build is far more polluting than renovation” – explains senior expert, Peter Andreas Norn.

For older buildings, most carbon emissions are related to excessive heat, water, and electricity consumption, while new constructions burden the environment mainly with materials like concrete, steel or bricks. The report finds that wooden constructions are less polluting compared to conventional building materials.

50-year life cycle

Ramboll finds that for renovation scenarios, carbon emission is relatively high at the beginning but later, the curve evens out. In comparison, carbon emission from new-build is shown to be notably higher than that of renovation in the first 30 years period of time. An increased focus on renovations rather than new-build will therefore enable a positive contribution to the work towards the reduction of carbon emission.

The 50-year life cycle analysis shows that there is a remarkable difference as to when carbon emission occurs in the processes of renovation and new construction

National study with global potential

“The analysis is based on Danish cases, but it can easily be transferred to other countries as well. There is a huge potential to globally reduce carbon emission if relevant stakeholders adapt these insights and rethink the way that we currently work within the sector” – concludes Peter Andreas Norn.



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