Benefits of Heritage Building Conservation

Preservation of heritage buildings is a vital component of urban revitalization efforts. There is an impressive variety of ways to look at the many ways that the conservation of heritage buildings helps us all.

Heritage tourism is often rooted by historic buildings. These powerful, tangible connections to our past are the ways in which people today come in touch with the past. Heritage buildings are also increasingly accepted as important venues linking a new generation with an older one, and thus as places to be used for education and citizenship. Revitalizing old neighbourhoods—the buildings and the landscape—ensures that our quality of life is improved and that community cohesion is maintained. The volunteer activity that often goes into maintaining and promoting heritage buildings—walking tours, neighbourhood activities—is also recognized as a valuable way to keep people, especially seniors, active and involved in their community.

Some of the most significant benefits from the conservation of heritage buildings are related to economic issues. The following collection of information is an introduction to this subject, and highlights some of the key issues and statistics associated with heritage building conservation.

Economic Benefits

Some of the key economic benefits associated with the conservation of heritage buildings include:

  • Businesses benefit from locating in heritage buildings and areas

  • The growth in employment in the restoration industry in construction trades, professionals and product manufacturing

  • Enhanced municipal tax base through restored individual buildings and areas

  • Increased tourism

  • Restoration is often cheaper than new construction

Economic Sustainability

The conservation of heritage buildings is often predicated on their economic sustainability, with the following important claims:

  • Creates more local employment than does new construction

  • Uses less energy than new construction

  • Creates less waste then new construction

  • Encourages the enhancement of existing neighbourhoods and infrastructure and opposes decay, urban sprawl and increased infrastructure costs


Restoration projects are also a boon to the labour force, being more labour intensive than new construction. Typically, labour represents 60-75% of project costs in a conservation project. For example the rehabilitation of a historic bank in Neepawa was 62% labour and 38% materials and the restoration of the Bank of Montreal at Portage and Main was over 70% labour.

A study undertaken by the Government of Ontario indicated that rehabilitation was 66% more labour intensive than new construction.

Several major government studies verify various preservationist groups' claims that rehabilitation is among the most labour-intensive industries: according to these reviews, the labour component of renovation proves to be 1.7 to 2.0 times that of new construction. Likewise, in a 1977 document by the U.S. Department of Interior, Conservation of the Urban Environment, it is stated that rehabilitation projects are as high as 75% labour-intensive versus 60% for new construction.

In terms of the actual creation of jobs, testimony by the General Services Administration before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds indicates rehabilitation creates two to five times as many jobs as new building construction.

Energy Savings Benefits

Heritage building conservation is a proven energy saver. The energy required to erect a new building is roughly equivalent to the energy required to operate it for 40 years. Demolishing an average-size house constructed in 1935 and replacing it with a new house in 1975 requires the energy equivalent to more than 1,600 gallons of gasoline.

Less Waste - Environmentally Friendly

A Toronto study indicated that 16% of all landfill waste was from the construction industry and a good portion of that was due to demolition. Demolishing a typical brick house produces an average of 60-100 tons of waste. Due to the large amount of waste, the tipping fee at landfills has risen substantially in most urban centres. For example, in Toronto it rose 600% over a 7 year period.

Tax Base Stabilization

In the Spring, 1992 issue of The Canadian Appraiser, a study of designated historic properties in London, Ontario concluded that 90% of the surveyed properties have performed better than average in the marketplace over the last thirty years. 100% of the historically designated properties surveyed did not lose money or increased in value when sold, and in many cases, the price of a heritage house was not affected by a general downturn in property values.

Other Benefits

One example of the cost-effectiveness of conservation over new construction was the rehabilitation of the historic Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Neepawa which was 22% less expensive than an equivalent new replacement building.

Because the exterior building shell of a heritage building already exists, construction can take place in winter, and take advantage of more competitive pricing for contract work. Construction also can be more efficient due to the work space being warm.

Rehabilitation of an existing building can have zoning benefits. For example, a site with a warehouse building that is tight to the property lines could allow 12 or more housing units whereas a new building would have to conform to current zoning laws which would allow only a duplex to be built on the same site (Winnipeg Housing and Rehabilitation Corporation experience).

Winnipeg Housing and Rehabilitation Corporation experience indicates that, because the quality of materials is much higher in old buildings than in new, the occupants of their units show a greater level of respect to their surroundings, substantially reducing maintenance costs.

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