The 8020 Method: Adaptive Reuse/Remodel

You can’t be a part of the development and construction business these days without at least hearing about concerns of environmental responsibility and sustainability of buildings and building practices. Many of us are directly involved in projects pursuing a LEED certification or something similar. New efforts and measurements seem to pop up almost monthly.

This is for good reason. According to the US Green Building Council (USGBC), building operations account for 41% of the world’s energy use. Extraction, fabrication and transportation of the materials used to construct these buildings also uses a lot of energy and further increases the “footprint” this industry leaves on the earth.

All that is simply an introduction into why this topic is important to us. This is not a discussion on the value of the different rating systems or even the systems and materials we put into our buildings. What I want to focus on is a trend I see happening in the industry that is related to this very important issue and that’s the increasing prevalence of renovations of existing buildings to create new spaces.

Now, the emergence of this method is not solely related to environmental concerns. The pace of construction today has created an increase in costs across the board, from the price of raw land to material inputs to construction to labor to put it all together. With demand still high for ‘new’ space across most sectors, savvy developers are looking to renovations as a way to make the numbers work. Utilizing an existing structure saves a significant portion of the work of a new build (foundations, structure, skin systems, site infrastructure, etc) and that can make all the difference in an already tight proforma. In addition, demographic trends are pushing the need for space closer into city cores where the proverbial “greenfield” sites typically just don’t exist anymore. Older buildings in need of retrofit, however, are plentiful in many urban locations. Hence the growth of this new sector.

At 8020 Builders, we welcome this new trend for all the reasons stated above. Additionally, we see it as an opportunity for us given our approach to business and the particular need this work has in order to be successful. Remodel and adaptive re-use of older buildings is not easy. The complications extend beyond the usual issue of hazardous material abatement and associated environmental issues. Structural assessments and modifications, upgrades to site infrastructure and updates to a building program to match current needs are just a few of the added concerns. Overall the process can be full of unknowns that can derail a project well after the initial budgets are developed and approved.

Doing this work successfully therefore requires planning. I submit that it requires a different level of planning than a ground-up build. The specific areas of focus will vary by building type and the type of final product anticipated. This means the specific expertise needed to uncover surprises will vary. It is very difficult to access these varying expertise’s without the help of your general contractor. At this level of detail it takes the interpretation of the GC to fill gaps between the various subcontractor’s scopes and evaluate fully the cost of an issue.

We believe in early engagement and loyal partners. In the early phases of adaptive reuse and/or remodel projects, the hard work required must be done in a collaborative way to prevent running in circles with the budget and scope. How do we know when viable, legitimate collaboration is happening? There are lots of questions being asked; there is some discomfort as budget and scope are defined while detailed information is shared between parties; there can be a feeling of vulnerability as proverbial cards are laid on the table. When this collaboration is done well, though, there are fewer unknowns, better alignment around project success factors, better stability within the team and a level of planning that keeps everything in the open so challenges can be faced quickly and efficiently.