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Careful renovation reduces carbon footprint and costs

Reuse and careful renovation produce a lower carbon footprint than new construction. At the same time, costs can be kept down.
– “Making new things should not be the norm, but rather we should use as much of what already exists as possible,” says Kristina Mjörnell, Head of the Business and innovation area: Sustainable cities and communities at RISE. 

Reducing energy use and phasing out fossil fuel energy sources are crucial for achieving the green transition. In the construction and property industries, accomplishing this usually involves extensive renovations where old systems and components are replaced with new ones. 

But what does it mean for the carbon footprint as a whole? Kristina Mjörnell, Head of the Sustainable Cities and Communities Business and Innovation area at RISE, provides an answer: 

– “Both new construction and renovation have a significant climate impact. By using the properties as long as possible and as intelligently as possible means we lower our carbon footprint.” 

Mjörnell emphasises what is referred to as ‘careful renovation’: 

– “It means trying to preserve the structures, materials, products and systems that can be preserved and looking at how to extend their service life instead of tearing out and installing new ones.”

This reduces both the overall carbon footprint and the costs of an often expensive refurbishment or major renovation. 

– “The carbon footprint will be lower since the energy consumed in production can be spared because there is no need to produce as much new material,” explains Mjörnell. “You also save on the cost of new materials and products as well as labour.” 

In addition to a lower carbon footprint and a lower cost, there can also be value in preserving older materials and interiors as relates to the cultural heritage aspects, and the quality often surpasses equivalent modern materials. 

– “There is a cultural heritage value and there is respect for the fact that someone has actually built and designed these buildings,” says Mjörnell. “What’s more, the materials may also be good and of high quality, such as charming old kitchens, ceiling mouldings, doors and so on.” 

Digital technology offers numerous possibilities

Planning needed

However, for a careful renovation to be successful, careful planning is required. Most importantly, a detailed and accurate inventory must be carried out. 

– “You need to carry out an inventory of the technical function of the building, and by that I mean the parts, components and systems,” says Mjörnell. “But there is also a need to inventory the cultural heritage.” 

Mjörnell underscores that it is important to engage in dialogue with those using the building: 

– “They also need to be able to have their say about what they appreciate in this environment, what they think is worth preserving and whether it’s something they want more of.” 

Digital technology is a tremendous help during inventory. Among other things, it enables existing buildings to be scanned in order to create a 3D model that can be used in the renovation. Another possibility is to label interior furnishings and objects with an individual ID to help with planning and logistics. 

– “An owner of several properties will know, thanks to the ID labels, where the items are, their condition, and whether they are accessible,” says Mjörnell. “Digital technology offers numerous possibilities.” 

Model for careful renovation

RISE works with careful renovation in several different ways, as well as with matters related to the field. For example, a model for careful renovation has been developed for property owners to use. RISE also works with circular material flows and how such a process can be quality assured. 

– “We also work with tools for decision-making in order to investigate which renovation measures make sense, how they affect the carbon footprint, and how much can be gained in terms of reduced energy use,” says Mjörnell. 

Although the construction industry has often been characterised by a throwaway culture, a change has taken place in recent years. Careful renovation is increasingly being seen as an option that, for the most part, provides a better end result for the environment. At the forefront of the change is public housing. 

– “This is where people have really started to think about this. We started talking about these issues 5-6 years ago and now we see that real change is happening in the industry –it’s wonderful,” says Mjörnell. 

We have to lower our carbon footprint, and all industries must help to achieve this

Possible to avoid rent increases

That public housing companies are beginning to embrace careful renovation is also due to the fact that it keeps costs down, which prevents the rent increases that frequently result from major renovations. 

– “It is the task of public housing to ensure that there is housing for everyone. There are many who need a relatively cheap apartment and who cannot pay for a newly renovated apartment,” says Mjörnell. 

But despite the positive changes, challenges remain. The biggest challenge is to get more people in the industry to think anew. Careful renovation may also require knowledge that many contractors today lack. 

– “Making new things should not be the norm, but rather we should use as much of what already exists as possible,” says Mjörnell. “However, few contractors specialise in renovation and preservation. It requires different work methods and skills compared to new construction.” 

But, according to Mjörnell, as the focus on reuse and sustainability increases in society, the construction and property industries have no choice but to adapt: 

– “We have to lower our carbon footprint, and all industries must help to achieve this.” 

Published: 2021-06-16
Kristina Mjörnell

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Kristina Mjörnell

Affärs- och innovationsområdeschef

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