Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Shared housing is good for the planet

In today’s world, where housing shortages and environmental concerns are increasingly pressing issues, it’s time to rethink our approach to residential living. A common misconception is that the solution lies in the constant construction of new homes. Instead, there are several reasons we need to turn to the efficient utilization of existing housing stock. By […]

June 12, 2024

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In today’s world, where housing shortages and environmental concerns are increasingly pressing issues, it’s time to rethink our approach to residential living. A common misconception is that the solution lies in the constant construction of new homes. Instead, there are several reasons we need to turn to the efficient utilization of existing housing stock. By subdividing single-family homes into separate rental units or converting them into duplexes, triplexes, or quads, we can address both the housing crisis and the environmental impact of construction.

One of the most significant environmental benefits of repurposing existing housing is the reduction of embodied carbon. Embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the construction of a building, including the extraction, manufacturing, and transportation of materials, as well as the construction process itself. According to the World Green Building Council, the embodied carbon of a building can account for up to 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By reusing existing structures, we can significantly reduce the need for new construction, and the associated embodied carbon emissions.

When a new building is constructed, a considerable amount of energy and resources are consumed in the process. The production of building materials such as concrete, steel, and glass requires large amounts of energy and releases significant quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Additionally, the transportation of these materials to the construction site further contributes to the carbon footprint of the project. By repurposing existing housing, we can avoid these initial carbon emissions and make use of the embodied energy already present in the structure.

Moreover, the demolition of old buildings and the disposal of the resulting waste also have environmental consequences. Construction and demolition waste accounts for a significant portion of the waste stream in many countries. By extending the life of existing buildings through repurposing, we can reduce the amount of waste generated and conserve valuable resources.

The concept of subdividing single-family homes into separate rental units or converting them into multi-unit dwellings is not new, but it has gained traction in recent years as a viable solution to housing shortages. This approach not only provides more affordable housing options but also promotes a more efficient use of space. By creating multiple smaller units within a single structure, we can accommodate more individuals and families without the need for additional land or new construction.

In addition to the environmental benefits, repurposing existing housing has social and economic advantages. It can revitalize neighborhoods by bringing new life to underutilized or vacant properties. It also provides opportunities for homeowners to generate additional income by renting out portions of their homes, which can help offset the costs of homeownership and improve financial stability.

Furthermore, repurposing existing housing can contribute to the creation of more diverse and inclusive communities. By offering a range of housing options, from single-family homes to multi-unit dwellings, we can accommodate the varying needs and preferences of individuals and families at different stages of life. This diversity fosters a sense of community and promotes social interaction among residents.

To facilitate the repurposing of existing housing, governments and local authorities can play a crucial role. They can provide incentives and streamline the permitting process for homeowners who wish to convert their properties into multi-unit dwellings. Additionally, they can update zoning regulations to allow for more flexible use of residential properties, making it easier for homeowners to adapt their homes to changing housing needs.

It is important to note that while repurposing existing housing is an eco-friendly solution, it should be done with care and consideration for the existing community and infrastructure. Proper planning and coordination with local authorities and utility providers are necessary to ensure that the increased density does not strain existing resources or negatively impact the quality of life for residents.

In conclusion, reusing and repurposing existing housing is a smart and sustainable approach to addressing housing shortages while minimizing the environmental impact of construction. By reducing embodied carbon emissions, conserving resources, and promoting a more efficient use of space, we can create more affordable, diverse, and inclusive communities. As we face the challenges of a growing population and climate change, it is crucial that we embrace innovative solutions like this to build a more sustainable future for all.

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