New Brunswick

Keeping old buildings is best option for environment, engineer says

A Fredericton engineer advocates putting more value on maintaining older homes than building new ones.

Renovation can be cheaper than new construction in the long run, Tom Morrison says

The historic Risteen House in Fredericton is an older property at risk of being torn down to accommodate new construction. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

A Fredericton engineer advocates putting more value on maintaining older homes than building new ones.

Tom Morrison, principal engineer at Heritage Standing, a structural engineering firm specializing in historic buildings, said conserving older buildings should be seen in the same light as other environmentally friendly practices, such as not using single-use plastics.

He said a lot of new construction is focused on being the cheapest for the space.

"A lot of the new shopping centres and whatnot are buildings that are designed to last about 40 years, 50 years," said Morrison.

"I think it's more valuable that we look at how we continue to use our existing buildings, and there's a lot that backs up the fact that it is better to keep using our existing buildings."

Cost savings

Morrison said there is a belief that maintaining older buildings is too expensive, but that's not necessarily the case.

When builders usually cite the cost savings of replacing an old building, they simply calculate the cheapest construction that can take place for the required square footage, he said.

They often don't take quality into account, which can drive up prices later on.

"They're saying, 'Oh, it's cheaper,' but they're not considering the fact that the building they've got there, the materials that will last another 500 years if you take care of them," said Morrison.

"Some of the new materials and techniques, they're not designed to last that long."

Local economy

Apart from the economic benefit of durability, Morrison said there is another economic benefit.

He said renovation of old buildings puts more money into the local economy compared with new construction.

"You're hiring a lot more skilled labour," Morrison said.

"You're using people that are around, as opposed to importing materials and using kind of just low-skilled labor."

Morrison will be hosting a workshop today in Moncton for people involved in construction to improve best practices related to older buildings

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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