Is upcycling buildings viable?

Is upcycling buildings viable?

How we can make our buildings more sustainable is of vital concern. It isn’t only about their running – it’s also about their construction. In the UK, the construction industry accounts for 60% of all materials used, creates a third of all waste and generates a staggering 45% of all CO2 emissions. At the current pace, we’re set to triple materials extraction in the next three decades.

It’s not news that if we’re going to stand a chance of averting climate crisis, we need to start recycling. This applies to all aspects of our consumption, not least the resource-gobbling construction industry. Essentially, upcycled buildings are projects made from reclaimed or 100% recycled materials. But are upcycled materials a viable option? In short, yes – and here’s why.

Significant reduction in CO2 emissions

The first point feels obvious, but it’s definitely worth mentioning quite how significant the cut in CO2 emissions is if a building is made of entirely reclaimed materials. Take Resources Row,a housing development designed by Danish architects Lendager.

The development is made from the reclaimed bricks from the demolition of Copenhagen’s enormous Carlsberg brewery. Initially, it was thought that the structure’s bricks couldn’t be reclaimed, as the mortar cement made them difficult to separate. However, in an ingenious move, Lendager contractors used angle grinders to slice up chunks of brick to make square panels. The results were a striking patchwork effect – and an astonishing 50-60% reduction in emissions in comparison to conventional methods.

Healthier planet, healthier bottom line

I would imagine that many developers would be thinking that this all sounds very well and good – but what about the cost? Usually, the value of building materials is roughly equal to 18% of the original construction cost. If a building is demolished, usually, the owner would have to absorb the cost of disposal.

However, if the materials are upcycled, this represents a significant opportunity. Instead of being burdened with the cost of disposal, building owners now have an asset. According to a Dutch study, 2.6m tonnes of building materials “released” through renovation and demolition in Amsterdam every year has a value of €688m.

Saving money and the environment

Certainly, the numbers are compelling. With increasing incentives for upcycling, such as pressure to remove the VAT from renovation and refurbishment projects, it seems like such methods are becoming as affordable as they are environmentally friendly. With creative and attractive results like Resources Row, who knows what the upcycled future may hold.