Retrofitting every last building in the country to reduce carbon emissions through energy efficiency is not as farfetched as critics would have you believe.
Republican members of Congress are salivating at the opportunity to denounce as wildly impractical the all-encompassing retrofit proposal contained in the Democrats’ aspirational “Green New Deal".
Getting every structure in the nation up to snuff, they say, would be prohibitively expensive for openers.
But the Green New Deal should not be summarily dismissed, especially in light of the 12-year timeframe that scientists estimate we have in order to mount an effective response to climate change.
Furthermore, retrofitting a building in many if not most cases doesn’t entail tearing down and starting from scratch to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Retrofit can mean ‘upgrade” as easily as “demolish”.
An acceptable retrofit can frequently constitute a piecemeal intervention such as a ventilation system, solar panel, or something seemingly as modest as a set of bike racks.
Buildings under construction or in the planning stage could start off on the right foot by emulating the six-year-old Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington. A spokesman for the Bullitt Foundation, which oversaw construction of the building, described it as “the greenest commercial office building in the world.” It certainly has some credentials. The building has a self-contained capacity to generate its own energy and water supplies thanks to solar roofing and cisterns to catch rainwater.
The kicker is that all the technology and material used in the Bullitt edifice can be found on conventional construction sites around the world. There is nothing wildly premature or exotic about Bullitt’s installation of such items as composting toilets or elongated windows to maximize sunlight.
The initial cost of Bullitt Center was 23 percent higher than its conventional counterparts in Seattle, but most of the increase can be attributed to the excess permitting by authorities unfamiliar with the building’s ecological engineering. Therefore, the higher initial price tag should be more than offset over time by energy savings from amortization and built-in recycled natural building blocks.
Retrofit projects are sprouting around the country, jumpstarted by professional-oriented certification outfits such as the Green Building Council and the Green Building Institute. To reduce energy use, our Defense Department is in the process of upgrading many of the 300,000 buildings on 500 installations throughout the world.
While expansive retrofitting may indeed be an achievable goal of the Green New Deal, there is no dispute that it will be a daunting task.
Energy experts note that there are millions of commercial buildings in the United States awaiting some degree of retrofitting that, upon completion, are estimated to reduce the Nation’s greenhouse gas output by as much as 40 per cent.
Despite the challenge, streamlining the Nation’s building stock is not “fool’s gold”.