Managing Director of Grayling Properties, Peter Horgan shares his thoughts on how the preservation and refurbishment of older structures can be a key factor in achieving a net zero and sustainable future across the real estate sector. There is a strong case for retrofitting existing buildings. Repurposing of disused buildings avoids unnecessary carbon emissions and preserves the fabric of our towns and cities. We just need to reimagine them for a net-zero future.
Reduction in Embodied Carbon Needed
According to the Environment Protection Agency, in Ireland we produced just over 6.2 million tonnes of construction and demolition (C&D) waste in 2022. C&D waste is the largest waste stream produced in Ireland and represents one third of all waste produced in the European Union. Against the backdrop of the climate emergency, the demand for net zero carbon buildings is increasing. Given that the built environment accounts for around 39% of global emissions, significant reductions in both embodied and operational carbon need to be achieved.
As previously stated, buildings are currently responsible for almost 40% of global energy carbon emissions: 28% from operational emissions, from energy needed to heat, cool and power them, and the remaining 11% from materials like concrete and steel, and construction. As the world’s population approaches 10 billion, the global building stock is expected to double in size. Carbon emissions released before the built asset is used, what is referred to as ‘upfront carbon’, will be responsible for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050, threatening to consume a large part of our remaining carbon budget. Therefore, the built environment sector has a vital role to play in responding to the climate emergency, and addressing upfront carbon is a critical and urgent focus.
Utilise existing buildings as a resource
Disused buildings may be seen as a resource too; by protecting and updating them effectively, we can avoid expanding the embodied carbon inherent in new developments. This is something that we are very passionate about at Grayling Properties, our team has a strong track record of refurbishing disused buildings to give them a new lease of life. Since 2015, we have retrofitted more than 1,000 apartments. We believe the best and most sustainable way of preserving buildings is to make them relevant, useful and fit-for-purpose for their owners and occupiers.
Repurposing existing structures is key to enabling a retrofitting culture. Empty spaces in built up areas can become rejuvenated homes, and the town centres can become vibrant, energetic spaces again, albeit with mixed and enhanced purposes. To reach our goal of a net zero future we need to focus on the transformation of the current building stock, transforming older buildings into the comfortable homes the modern city-dwellers desire. As well as building refurbishments the focus should also be on using energy-efficient technology, low-carbon and circular materials.
Transformative Real Estate is Key
Given that 80% of the building stock that will exist in 2050 is already built, retrofitting the transformation of real estate will be key to achieving Net Zero. Not only will retrofitting abandoned structures and repurposing developments improve overall energy efficiency but it will also lead to a better standard of living, impacting the surrounding communities and economy.
Rathmines House is one development that our team is really excited about. This project will see a commercial office building transformed into a co-living space providing premium city living and amenities for our residents with more than 110 units, extending the life cycle of the asset by an additional 30 years. The concept came into the mainstream back in 2018 and is particularly popular among young professionals, providing them with an opportunity to live and network with like-minded individuals in comfortable high-quality accommodation. The advantages go beyond the development itself but also impact the wider community revitalising local areas and generating a boost for the local economy.
Our team has always had a keen interest in striving to revitalise our cities by retrofitting and restoring old Georgian buildings. Over the years we have modernised several disused structures, giving these buildings a new lease of life and allowing us to achieve our goal of creating vibrant and energetic villages within city centre locations. To re-imagine these older buildings the public and private sector need to work together. The floor plates of older buildings do not always work with modern regulations regarding apartment sizes and construction. Therefore, we believe there is a need to be flexible and pragmatic when applying them to existing structures. We believe micro-living (in the form of co-living or other forms seen elsewhere) which is very popular on the continent and suitable to city centre locations should be considered for existing city centre structures.
The retention, rehabilitation and reuse of older buildings can play a pivotal role in the sustainable development of the city. Dublin City contains many examples of buildings that are well designed, soundly constructed and fit for continuance of use. In many cases they make a positive contribution to both streetscape and sense of place. In some cases they also serve to protect underlying deposits of archaeology. Equally important, the retention and reuse of older buildings can benefit the environment through the reduction in waste generation.