Prior to the 20th century, it was common practice to reuse foundations. We have now come full circle and are once again seeing a push towards reuse. This time, the pressure to change approach is being driven by the climate emergency.

Battersea Power Station - credit John Sturrock

Source: John Sturrock

With the built environment directly responsible for 25% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, the sector is looking at more ways it can reduce its impact.

So, what are the benefits of reusing foundations?

Building foundations have the capability to outlast the typical design life of a building by decades and even centuries. It is therefore important to recognise the opportunity to reduce carbon emissions by reusing the existing foundations, rather than building from scratch.

By doing so, you also unlock the potential to reuse the substructure and superstructure, which collectively account for almost 50% of a building’s total embodied carbon.

While the case for foundation reuse is strong, concern over securing insurances and warranties and the potential cost and impact on the programme, remain a barrier to action. The good news is that these risks can be managed through detailed investigation, testing and thorough analysis.

The key to success is to engage with experts at early design stages. Early assessments at the outset of a project mean the risk can be quantified and a judgement made as to whether reuse is feasible.

This approach has worked successfully for a range of projects, including the ongoing £9bn regeneration of Battersea Power Station (pictured). Buro Happold’s involvement from the start ensured the superstructure and foundations could be retained, with both planning authorities and insurers satisfied of their safety.

A shift in mindset is needed across the industry to realise that reuse is not as risky an endeavour as it may seem. By engaging with experts early, we can build confidence around foundation reuse to help maximise carbon savings in our buildings.

Rachel Monteith is a director at consultancy Buro Happold