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Adaptive Reuse is Even more Sustainable with LEED

Adaptive Reuse is Even more Sustainable with LEED

Posted: September 30, 2022 | Tradewinds

Photo: Roebling Lofts

Historic buildings and districts serve as part of a community’s specific economic and cultural identity, embodying the past and representing continuance into the future. Plus, the brick exteriors and large windows of America’s old factories lend themselves well to attractive, light-filled residences. According to data from RentCafe, the past 10 years have shown an all-time high in old buildings being converted into apartments, with around 800 projects completed. In addition, 65% of those projects were targeted to low- and middle-income residents.

A natural fit for green goals like using currently developed sites, valuing walkable neighborhoods and providing access to public transportation, such projects find LEED certification helps support their sustainable adaptive reuse. Take a look at two residential projects in the Northeast:

Tilley Lofts | Watervliet, New York

Formerly housing part of the John S. Tilley Ladders Co., operations complex, the LEED Platinum Tilley Lofts supported the manufacture of ladders and scaffolding from the 1880s until 2004. Not many years later, a team came together to transform the historic building into loft-style apartments.

In 2015, the project earned the LEED Homes Award for Outstanding Multifamily Project for its exemplary energy efficiency strategies. According to its website — and using an appropriately 19th century metric — the energy Tilley Lofts saves is equal to one shovelful of coal every 20 minutes, or 88 tons of coal burned a year.

Roebling Lofts | Trenton, New Jersey

The LEED Gold Roebling Lofts in Trenton are a prime example of a manufacturing facility that has been restored into a thriving multi-use building. The 1917 wire-rope factory belonging to John A. Roebling’s Sons Co. provided the wires for the famous Spirit of St. Louis flight in 1927, as well as numerous other aircraft and major suspension bridges in the U.S.

This adaptive reuse project by Clarke Caton Hintz preserves the building’s exterior masonry, steel and heavy timber framing, and even original items from the facility, like the wire rope testing machine (now in a place of honor in the lofts’ fourth floor lounge). From solar panels on the roof to recycled materials for kitchen and bathroom counters, Roebling Lofts has prioritized sustainable choices. Plus, it achieved 10 out of 10 Water Efficiency credits and high Indoor Environmental Quality credits, especially for use of low-emitting materials.

The project received a Federal Historic Tax Credit, which required that it meet specific standards for the treatment of historic properties, says John Hatch, LEED AP, of Clarke Caton Hintz. “Of course, preserving a building in an urban location is inherently ‘green’ … but to make the project as sustainable as possible and meet our historic preservation goals required some in-depth discussions with folks in Washington at the National Park Service. Ultimately, the project was certified LEED Gold, received the historic tax credit, and received historic preservation awards from the City of Trenton and the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office,” says Hatch.

“The greenest building is the one that already exists,” Carl Elefante, former president of the American Institute of Architects, once said. Among the various types of green building projects, adaptive reuse is one that makes special sense from the standpoint of embodied energy. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it can take 80 years for a new building to overcome the climate change impacts created by its construction. 

Please visit the September/December 2022 issue of DCD for more.