By Ric Cochrane
For four years now the Preservation Green Lab has focused on the nexus of historic preservation and sustainable design to promote building reuse and retrofit through innovative policy and technical solutions. Our latest report, released today, pushes this work even further by providing a path to economic vitality and revitalization for thousands of communities and businesses nationwide.
Realizing the Energy Efficiency Potential of Small Buildings summarizes two years of research into the opportunities and challenges of delivering energy-efficiency strategies to small buildings. The small buildings sector (made up of structures 50,000 square feet and under) contains 95 percent of all commercial buildings by number, and represents 47 percent of the energy consumption in all non-mall commercial buildings.
With funding from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy, the Green Lab collaborated on this research component with the New Buildings Institute, a national leader in energy-efficiency policy.
This research is important for two reasons.
First, small buildings are the physical foundation of social and economic life in thousands of communities nationwide. Small buildings form the collective heritage of cities and towns, they are the drivers of economic development, and they are valuable assets that provide the basis for revitalization efforts in vulnerable communities. Smaller, older buildings typically house locally-owned small businesses that rely on affordable rents and unique, flexible workspaces. Similarly, small multi-family and mixed-use buildings are often the lifeblood of a city’s affordable housing stock. Neighborhoods and districts made up of these buildings are rich in history and offer people a common identity and sense of place.
Second, most communities desperately need the investments that are readily available through energy-efficiency improvements. We identify the potential savings in the small buildings sector as almost one-fifth of all national commercial building energy consumption. This means if small buildings and businesses took advantage of readily available energy-saving improvements, they would reduce the overall energy used by national commercial buildings by almost 20 percent. Small neighborhood businesses such as restaurants, grocers, and retailers can improve profitability by more than 10 percent by making strategic investments in energy efficiency. Implementation of energy efficiency measures in the small buildings sector can potentially generate 580,000 permanent new jobs in the energy services and construction industries.
Regrettably, small buildings are regularly overlooked in the energy services market, due to the complexity of the building stock, limited resources of building owners and small businesses, and small profit margins available to service providers when buildings are addressed individually.
Our report addresses each of these challenges, offering a roadmap for national stakeholders which includes policy and technical solutions essential for maximizing energy efficiency. These recommendations focus on the importance of a national scale in deploying technology solutions that will streamline the energy-retrofit delivery model, thereby providing access to energy efficiency for the millions of building owners and small businesses that simply don’t have time or resources to pursue improvements.
In most cities and towns, making use of existing built assets provides an opportunity to follow a reliable and immediate path to prosperity that is both equitable and environmentally sound. The Green Lab’s Small Buildings report focuses on realizing the value of small buildings and using energy-efficiency improvements to improve the profitability of building owners and small businesses. This combination of preservation plus sustainability means we can capitalize on the value of our buildings to create community value.
We’re proud of the study and in the near future, we will be testing some of the recommended strategies in key demonstration communities nationwide. We welcome your help in spreading the word about this important work, and also your feedback—let us know what your community needs.
Ric Cochrane is the associate director of projects, Preservation Green Lab at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.