Why Retrofitting Existing Buildings Offers Greater Opportunities for Energy Efficiency

Published on 6 Mar, 2024read time 5 mins
Engineers doing Retrofitting for energy efficiency

The demand for sustainable and energy-efficient buildings is steadily increasing. While new constructions are increasingly designed with energy efficiency in mind, a majority of existing buildings were not built with sustainability in mind. Given that a significant percentage of buildings are older structures, there is a pressing need to prioritize making them energy efficient. Retrofitting these existing buildings is essential, as constructing entirely new structures isn't always feasible due to the high carbon footprint and energy consumption associated with construction processes.

It is extremely important to recognize that the majority of today's buildings, which is around 80%, will still be in use by 2050. Considering many of these buildings are older and less energy-efficient, improving their energy performance becomes even more crucial and practical. Therefore, focusing on retrofitting existing buildings with modern technologies and equipment is essential for achieving net-zero carbon emissions and addressing the sustainability challenges of the built environment.

What is Retrofitting? Why do we need to retrofit existing buildings?

Retrofitting a building is the process of replacing old or obsolete equipment and technology with newer, more efficient components and systems to improve performance, efficiency, and safety. This approach is crucial for a number of reasons, which involves improving building energy efficiency, operational efficiency, and increasing climate resilience of the building. 

Retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency is an effective solution for Net Zero buildings and sustainability initiatives. Retrofitting existing building equipment helps to overcome energy inefficiencies found in old buildings by introducing modern technologies such as energy-efficient HVAC systems, insulation, and lighting. By reducing energy consumption, retrofitting not only reduces utility costs but also contributes to environmental sustainability by minimising carbon emissions. 

The goal of retrofitting is to achieve net zero carbon performance similar to that of a new building. It can provide this opportunity by lowering the carbon footprint of building assets while also increasing the existing building stock's condition. We cannot overlook the existing building stock because these structures are valuable assets due to their historical significance. Furthermore, they can be the most expensive to operate and are now forced to fulfil Net Zero standards that they were never designed to accomplish. 

If we want to make a difference, we need to lessen their carbon footprint. Addressing the carbon emissions of existing buildings and upgrading them with advanced technology and energy efficiency retrofits will be fundamental in achieving net zero buildings

Importance of Energy Efficiency

Existing buildings account for a significant portion of the built environment, and increasing building energy efficiency can result in significant savings in energy consumption and carbon emissions. This is necessary for addressing climate change and achieving sustainability goals. Furthermore, energy management in older buildings can result in significant cost savings for building owners and facility managers by reduced electricity bills. This not only improves financial stability, but also increases affordability and accessibility to housing and commercial spaces.

Benefits of Retrofitting Existing Buildings

Retrofitting existing buildings provides significant benefits at different levels.

  1. Energy Efficiency: Retrofitting enhances energy performance by upgrading systems and components, resulting in lower energy consumption, utility costs, and carbon emissions. Energy efficiency retrofits can be a superior replacement for ageing parts that consume more energy and result in frequent downtime.
  2. Cost savings: Retrofitting extends the life of building systems and assets, eliminating the need for frequent maintenance and replacements. This, in turn, helps lower energy bills and maintenance costs, resulting in considerable long-term savings for building owners and facility managers.
  3. Improved Comfort: Upgrades such as better insulation, efficient HVAC systems, and improved ventilation enhance occupant comfort by maintaining consistent temperatures and air quality.
  4. Enhanced Property Value: Energy-efficient retrofits raise the value of properties, making them more interesting to buyers or tenants while also providing a competitive advantage in the market.
  5. Regulatory Compliance: Retrofitting assures adherence to changing building codes and minimum energy efficiency standards regulations, avoiding penalties and legal problems.
  6. Preservation of Historic Structures: Retrofits allows for the continued preservation and adaptive restoration of historic buildings, maintaining their cultural and architectural significance while improving functionality and efficiency.
  7. Environmental Sustainability: Retrofitting reduces the environmental impact of buildings by minimizing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, therefore supporting Net Zero and sustainability goals and mitigating climate change.

Challenges in Retrofitting Buildings for Energy Efficiency

Retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency poses several challenges that need to be addressed to ensure successful implementation:

  1. Cost Considerations: One of the most significant challenges is the initial cost of retrofitting projects for building energy efficiency. While energy-efficient modifications can lead to long-term savings in utility bills, the initial investment may be costly for some building owners or operators.
  1. Technical Complexity: Retrofitting existing buildings can be technically challenging because of the need to integrate new energy-efficient systems with older infrastructure. Compatibility concerns, space constraints, and structural limitations can all hinder the retrofitting process.
  1. Disruption to Operations: Retrofitting projects can disrupt routine building operations, causing inconvenience to occupants. Construction activity, noise, dust, and temporary closures of specific sections can all have an influence on occupant comfort and productivity.
  1. Access to Financing: Financing for energy-efficient retrofitting projects may be limited, especially for small building owners or those who have limited financial resources. The lack of available capital can impede the implementation of retrofitting solutions.
  1. Lack of Awareness and Expertise: Many building owners and stakeholders may be unaware of the many retrofitting alternatives and the potential benefits of energy efficiency retrofits. In addition, there may be a shortage of skilled workforces with experience in energy-efficient retrofitting practices.
  1. Regulatory and Policy Barriers: Inconsistent or unclear idea about the minimum energy efficiency standards regulations and policies could hinder adoption. Uncertainty over compliance requirements and incentives might deter investment in retrofitting projects. 
  1. Building Age and Condition: Retrofitting existing buildings for energy efficiency can be challenging due to their age and condition. Older buildings may have outdated infrastructure, deteriorating materials, or structural flaws that necessitate costly modifications to meet energy efficiency requirements.

To address these challenges, building owners, facility managers, and other stakeholders must work together to overcome barriers, raise awareness, enhance financing access, and develop innovative energy-efficient retrofitting solutions.

Future Trends and Opportunities in Retrofitting

The future of energy-efficient retrofitting looks bright, thanks to ongoing technological advancements. As energy efficiency standards change and new solutions emerge, retrofits will become increasingly crucial in creating sustainable and resilient built environments.

Innovations in deep energy retrofits, smart building technology, and the pursuit of zero-energy building status will drive future trends in retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency. The integration of IoT, sensors, and building automation enables real-time monitoring and optimization of energy consumption. Deep energy retrofits are extensive modifications that result in significant energy savings, often incorporating high-performance insulation and renewable energy systems. Another breakthrough is energy performance contracting, which offers building owners a low-risk financing option, while decarbonisation initiatives focus on switching to cleaner energy sources. Green funding alternatives and occupant engagement strategies incentivize energy-efficient retrofit projects, emphasizing the growing role of retrofits in creating sustainable built environments.