Homes on the high street?

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell suggests that turning shops into homes could make environmental sense and well as economical.

Rehau is reinforcing the message this week that renovating old buildings, rather than knocking them down and starting again, is the more sustainable option.

While it may seem an obvious point to make when talking to our industry, which has flourished on the thermal (and thus environmental) benefits of modern windows over the ones they are replacing, it’s not something that is readily considered when architects are employed to design new buildings. Instead, they are tasked with designing new buildings using the latest energy efficient components to ensure the life of the building has a small a carbon footprint as possible.

However, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors estimates that a sizeable proportion of a building’s lifecycle carbon is emitted during construction: 35% and 51% for office and residential properties respectively. These findings have prompted campaigns for developers to prioritise the restoration of older properties over demolishing and replacing them at high carbon costs.

This isn’t an easy message to convey when governments attribute a certain amount of success to how many new homes have been built while they’ve been in power.

However, that may well now change. As office workers are encouraged to work from home – first by the government looking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, then by employers looking to cut costs and offer more flexibility – another blow is delivered to an already beleaguered high street.

No-one is entirely sure what the future holds for those companies that rely on busy town centres or, indeed, for the town centres themselves, but the idea of repurposing boarded up shop fronts for housing seems to be gaining traction. In which case, the sustainable message that accompanies new doors and windows could be more important now than ever before.