“Embodied Energy”: “The greenest building is one that’s already built.”

I am likely behind the times on some of this, so found it very interesting to learn about the concept of “embodied energy” — vs. “conspicuous conservation” — and why renovating what you have may be the smartest form of green building after all.

A Cautionary Tale
Amid our green-building boom, why neglecting the old in favor of the new just might cost us dearly.

By Wayne Curtis | From Preservation | January/February 2008

Show me the person who doesn’t love a green, environmentally responsible building.

Green buildings are good for you and good for society, and they’re absolutely everywhere these days—you can’t open an architecture publication without seeing a splashy spread touting some new sustainable project. The green building movement has even added to our vocabulary, albeit with ungainly expressions like carbon footprint and FSC-certified wood. READ PRESERVATION’S ENTIRE STORY HERE.


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  1. Zachary Vishanoff says

    Nike is tearing down my historic neighborhood fo a Nike-urbanism development. I have posted six videos about the problem at Youtube. To find them use the search at the Youtube website with keywords:nike university of oregon

  2. Just another Pam says

    This is an AMAZING article and has me reevaluating replacing the windows that make up the front of my house. I’m renoing and had them recaulked inside and out as well as properly insulated before putting on new trim but was still saving up the multiple thousands of dollars required to replace them when I read another negative article about vinyl windows but this has pretty much tipped the balance to keeping the double paned wooden framed windows. Better air circulation to deal with winter condensation on all the windows including the ones that were replaced before I moved here seems a much better idea once you know the whole story.

    Thank you! Great article for many reasons, too bad it seems not too many people read it.

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Pam, I have been convinced that replacing double pane windows is not a wise investment. “Green up” by ensuring you have a high-performance furnace… by getting professional air sealing… by adding insulation to your attic. For windows: Yes, caulk… consider exterior storms… consider window treatments that prevent convection — including “Window Quilts”. Turn down the thermostat. Live small.

  3. Frank French says

    Ah, renovation. Guess I’m living the dream in our nothing special 1400 sq ft bi-level. We started with the idea of moving the kitchen (a 1980’s reface) then a door, then asbestos lined ducts were removed. We have ended up with foam insulation, new electrics, and soon a new retro influenced kitchen (curved cabinet doors here and there) with in floor heating and cork floor. Cost a fortune, cheaper than tearing it down and building new? Yes… great location, house was built in 1954 (said so, heating inspection on the asbestos coated ducts) Think we’ll put solar PV on the garage (only spot) But I’m not paying nine hundred bucks for hall lamps no matter how retro they are.. though they are rather cool. Embodied energy says a lot. thx.

  4. says

    Hello there, great article!
    Here’s a llittle bit of a twist on it, but still with preservation in mind…the bottom line is, I think we’re all on the same page when it comes to preserving our heritage and retrofitting and remodelling the millions of existinghomes in this country that could benefit from energy updates that could save millions of dollars and also lower our carbon footprint.


  5. Nathanael Kitchen says

    I was convinced I was losing most of the air through my exterior doors but was considering replacing the windows in our 1956 custom ranch because of conventional wisdom. Glad I read this. Now I am thinking about having the fireplace checked out. Great article. Will keep our single panes. We both hate the look of new windows anyway.

      • Nathanael Kitchen says

        Pam, what about the air sealing you mentioned? Is that complicated. Any idea who to call, AC company, or electrician, or is it specialized? Any info would be golden. Or links to previous articles. Im still a newbie.

        • pam kueber says

          I had free energy inspection sponsored by the local utility. Then, the not-for-profit that did the inspection recommended, then set up the air-sealing. It was free. It was part of the federal energy conservation legislation that, I believe, is still in place… So I would say, start with your local utility.

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