It used to be that a stick shift car was the most economical car one could own. That is no longer the case; electric shifting has increased in efficiency so much that it has become the default in modern vehicles. The same is true for the old boilers and furnaces in our buildings. The day will come (and soon) that these pieces of natural-gas-fired equipment will be replaced by electric-only devices.
Burning gas is now a bigger source of greenhouse gases than burning coal, and nearly a third of that gas is burned in homes and commercial buildings. If we changed those buildings over to electricity-only, we would reach increased efficiency, potential cost savings, and be able to take advantage of an increasingly greener electrical grid.
It’s true that “the greenest building is the one that is already built” (-Carl Elefante, FAIA, FAPT, LEED AP), but so is the most authentic building. Rehabilitation of existing buildings creates authentic spaces that people crave.
Repurposing old structures for contemporary use is a great way to breathe new life into an area with limited investment. Excellent examples of this approach include New York City’s High Line, a public park and gathering place built on a historic freight rail, and QEA’s own Garden Theater Block project in Detroit.