Monday, March 17, 2008

Regenerating empty homes, better than new eco-homes?

The Empty Homes Agency in the UK claims that in order to reduce our carbon footprint "we ought to be focusing on making full use of refurbishing existing properties, rather than demolishing them to make way for new developments ".

In England there are 288,000 homes that have been empty for more than six months. The Empty Homes Agency thinks that if these homes were made use of, rather than knocked down to build new homes, that CO2 emissions could be reduced.

Conversely, it can be argued that since new homes are well insulated they can eventually make up for the large amount of emissions released during their initial construction because of their overall lower energy costs. But it can take several decades - in most cases, more than 50 years - for the figures to eventually balance out. The Empty Homes Agency claim that although new-builds can last for more than 50 years, their quality can 'sometimes be poor' and that it is likely that a new-build house will need refurbishing once it gets to that age.

From this I take that the emphasis in home-building in the UK should be two-fold:
  1. The regeneration of empty homes and the integration of facilities to enable energy-efficient living in them;
  2. Where new homes are built, these should be energy-efficient (ideally carbon-neutral!) and with a very long life expectancy.
From my social-scientist point of view the regeneration of empty homes should be recommended for the secondary benefit of the wider community. Empty homes are usually located in the centre of built up areas, often inner cities. The regeneration of these areas (N.B. this is very broadly-speaking and generalised) would not only increase the good-quality housing stock, but it would also bring new services and job opportunities to the area and increase the community's sense of pride and respect for where they live.

Perhaps there are some lessons learned here for corporate construction... maybe more emphasis should be put on regenerating / refurbishing office buildings and equipping them with energy-efficient technology rather than building from new? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Jodi "Millennial 4 Earth" Williams said...

I totally agree with this and have had some major arguments with my in-laws (who insist upon moving into brand new homes far out in the 'burbs).

Another major reason to look to reusing existing housing stock: it reduces the spread of urban sprawl...meaning less farmland/greenfields/forests taken for housing; less need for expanding utilities and roads; not expanding commutes; etc.

Also, I recently read an article on Planetizen that demonstrates how many of the brand new housing communities in the US are becoming slums - with the mortgage crisis, people who bought new construction are no longer able to afford their homes and are abandoning them. Properties are falling into disrepair and are being taken over as crack houses or resting places for squatters.

Of course, I can't find the article now, but a quick google search of "suburban slum" gives you lots of links to some scary realities.

happy clinical depressive said...

As far as I am aware, the suburban slum is a phenomenon that we have not experienced in the UK. Although it is something I know that is a problem in parts of Europe, namely France, but i think this may be more for reasons of social breakdown and high unemployment rates rather than financial.

Our 'slum' areas are still, in the main, confined to inner cities and mid-20th Century-built council estates, which are now in a state of disrepair due to the poor material fabric of them. The government is now going through a programme of refurbishing or demolishing these estates.

The backlash of the credit crunch is only hitting the UK now, it it becoming difficult to secure mortgages, and if you have one to make the repayments. The suburban slum may well be something that will be on the increase over here in the next few months with all the financial doom and gloom forecast... I will keep you posted.

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