Could Decreasing Demolition Cut Carbon Emissions In The Construction Industry?

13th October 2021

Could Decreasing Demolition Cut Carbon Emissions In The Construction Industry?

Tackling the ever-growing issue of climate change is becoming more and more of a hot button topic in recent years, and many are looking to several industries for answers as to how they intend to do their bit for the environment.

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Making the construction industry greener is a mammoth task, but there are many ways to improve the situation, and experts looked in to one of these methods at length to monitor the effects of demolition versus refurbishment on the environment.

In a report published by the Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering at University College London, it is stated that:

“The UK building stock includes an estimated 28 million properties. These include approximately 22 million residential and 6 million non-residential buildings, which are responsible for around 26% and 18% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions, respectively”¹

It has now been suggested by experts at the University of Bath that there is a way to improve the situation that has been overlooked until now.

There is often debate on the best way to undertake a construction project, refurbish and restore, or demolish and start again. However, it has been made clear that the latter method incurs a hefty cost on the environment in a number of ways, as explained by Dr Will Hawkins, lecturer in the University of Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering:

“Producing materials to make new buildings releases huge amounts of CO2 and depletes natural resources. All too often, perfectly safe structures are demolished to make way for new developments, and this also creates considerable unnecessary waste.”²

If the UK construction industry hopes to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, all options must be considered.

When it comes to demolishing any residential or commercial building and starting from scratch, many see a number of benefits to this approach, including having a project that is fully constructed to yours or your client’s specifications, and not having to worry about sacrificing on desired features due to the construction limitations of an existing building. But of all of the perceived benefits of the demolition approach, it seems the financial incentive of adopting the out with the old in with the new mentality is the most inviting to the construction industry. Certain building improvements and refurbishments are subject to VAT, whereas new build projects are exempt from this, which could be the difference between a cheaper or more expensive option. On the other hand, the process of demolition, especially explosive demolition, can destroy surrounding landscapes and can release toxic chemicals in to the atmosphere.

In the UCL report previously mentioned, several experiments testing demolition versus refurbishment were analysed, and while some came out in demolition’s favour, and some results were inconclusive, the general consensus was that refurbishment causes less environmental damage overall.  This is due to the fact that many refurbished buildings had a lower LCCF (Life Cycle Carbon Footprint) than new builds.

Several suggestions have been made to rectify this issue, including a call for the government to remove the VAT on property refurbishments, to eliminate the financial advantage gained via demolition. As well as this, several groups within the construction industry are calling on companies to move away from new build projects and focus more on restoring perfectly good and some even structurally sound buildings, to protect the environment, reduce carbon emissions and massively reduce construction waste.

So next time you’re about to take on a massive renovation, stop and think about how all of that hard work will be worth it knowing you’ve done your bit for the planet, and restored a derelict building to its former structural glory.


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