Opinion: New Construction Is Safer, Better for the Environment

The emotional attachment to old homes can obscure the benefits of new buildings, which consume less energy and provide more amenities for residents.

January 14, 2022, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


As housing prices continue their astronomic rise and the supply of housing remains inadequate, writes M. Nolan Gray, "Americans are paying ever more exorbitant prices for old housing that is, at best, subpar and, at worst, unsafe." Despite sentimental attachments to old homes and historic properties, Gray argues that new construction is objectively better: safer, more cost-effective, and more energy-efficient than older houses. Gray points to lead house paint(legal until 1978), lead pipes(common until the 1980s), faulty electrical systems, and poor accessibility as some of the issues that should make older homes less desirable. Modern homes provide mandatory safety features such as sprinkler systems, use less energy for heating and cooling thanks to improved insulation and HVAC technology, and include amenities like larger bathrooms and in-unit laundry.

Despite this, cities across the country make it difficult or nearly impossible to redevelop old housing stock, often in the name of affordability or historic preservation. "Between apartment bans, strict density limits, and minimum parking requirements, taking an old home and turning it into an apartment building, or even two or three modern townhouses, is in many cases illegal," asserts Gray. 

By contrast, Japan takes a different approach to redevelopment: the average home in that country is demolished after 30 years, with 87 percent of homes sold being new, while a steady supply of newly constructed homes keeps Tokyo affordable for its growing population.

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