An Alternate Path to Greening Baby Boomer Buildings

Imagining sustainability in 2030

Baby boomers have forced people to think differently about aging. They are learning new technologies, exercising to stay healthy, and working longer. It seems that age is relative to how well the existing structure (body) is maintained and upgraded as new information is introduced. There are certainly some similarities to aging, existing buildings, isn’t there?

Out of every 100 buildings there are 95 that can be called baby boomer buildings. These are buildings that have been around a while but have lots of life left in them. If new life can be breathed into baby boomers, why can’t green life be breathed into baby boomer buildings. LEED v4 thinks it is a possibility. Transforming old(er) buildings makes sense because there are so many of them that are out-of-shape in terms of their green-ness. They need some new technologies, more efficient use of energy, and the ability to work longer but greener.

LEED v4 enhances operations and maintenance standards for existing buildings. However, the existing buildings can actually be viewed from a new building perspective, if owners and operators focus on operational best practices and incorporate as many new buildings designs and materials into existing buildings. After all, baby boomers can get tattoos (and do) and text just like Gen Y. Maybe the boomer tattoos don’t completely cover their arms and necks and their texts are not filled with cryptic messages  like “GTG”, but they are still adopting modern practices.  A few tattoos never hurt anyone!

Agreeing that existing buildings can be reused, renovated, and updated, what modern strategies should be considered? LEED v4 has plenty of “tattoos” for modernizing baby boomer buildings. There are new heat island reduction requirements for vegetated roofs, metering options for indoor water use reduction, methods for optimizing energy performance, ways to improve indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency, ideas for enhancing interior lighting, and suggestions for greener purchasing policies. The big difference between baby boomer people and baby boomer buildings is that people cannot get get younger, but an existing building can get greener.

One of the important premises of LEED v4 is integrated building performance. New buildings will have features like automated demand response energy systems and high-tech metering for dynamic assessment of building performance. So how can an older, existing building possibly take advantage of the LEED v4 premise of integration since the energy systems are already in place? One way is to pursue an alternate compliance path. A pilot credit called Energy Jumpstart is a minimum energy performance prerequisite that enables existing buildings to significantly improve energy efficiency, earn an Energy Star score under the new standard of 75, and qualify for EBOM certification.

Just like anti-wrinkle cream is designed to make the baby boomer more attractive, the alternate compliance path to the Minimum Energy Efficiency Performance makes updating energy performance in older buildings more attractive. It’s like the anti-wrinkle cream of EBOM, but the wrinkle removed is the difficulty many older buildings would have meeting an Energy Star score of 75.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER NO WORDSCan existing buildings ever be as green as new construction? It is certainly worth exploring in light of LEED v4 and considering 95 percent of all buildings fall into the existing category. Every green improvement made to existing buildings benefits the environment. New construction does not have a monopoly on sustainability. The Green Building Research Institute believes this is such an important topic that it developed the course Better Late Than Never: Recharge, Renew, Rejuvenate Your Existing Building which is available March 5, 2014.

Baby boomer buildings, just like baby boomers, have a lot of life left in them. Do you know some affordable, innovative strategies for greening existing buildings?

  • R Pfaffmann  February 20, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Can you say “Carbon footprint” The greenest building is the one that already exists!

  • Steve Black  February 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Greener than new.

    Consider the carbon foot print of the structure and cladding, making, hauling and placing the frame and skin of a buidling leaves a giant footprint, even if materials are locally sourced. Now consider the emissions of all the single occupant vehicles of all of the workers and the various pieces of heavy equipment that it takes to build new.

    Stopping water and air infiltration, adding insulation, changing out controls, changing out lighting are much smaller carbon footprint activities that go a long way toward greening up an existing building. If you have more money to upgrade windows, the glass and aluminum are highly recyclable and do not weigh much as compared to the structure.

    Re-purposing existing makes it easy to be green.


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