Retrofitting – Giving Older Buildings a Greener Future

Recent environmental disasters around the world have been directing more and more focus onto the state of the environment, and the need to do what we can to secure a greener future. This impacts the whole of society, but in particular, when it comes to energy saving, residential and commercial property.

Whilst we are seeing increasing legislation about the environmental measures that must be in place in new buildings, the other side of the coin is to look at what can be done with existing properties. After all, it would potentially be even more damaging to the environment to destroy everything that we already have, to then replace them with more modern, more environmentally friendly buildings.

According to JLL’s Future of Work survey, 74% of organisations today are willing to pay a premium for a commercial property with leading sustainability or green credentials. This proves how important it is for businesses – both in the impact that they are having on the world, as well as in their customer and staff’s eyes – and, of course, in the amount of money they are paying for their energy bills! In addition to this, the likelihood is that government regulations are only going to get tighter concerning a business’s impact on the environment (the government’s plans to upgrade the minimum energy efficiency targets, for example) meaning that they are likely to be looking to snap up the ‘greener’ buildings faster.

In order to accommodate these newer requirements and demand from businesses when it comes to their commercial property, we are seeing an increase in the retrofitting of existing commercial properties.

What is Retrofitting?

According to the government website, retrofitting is “the introduction of new materials, products, and technologies into an existing building to reduce the energy needed to occupy that building”.

Given the UK’s broad and diverse range of existing commercial property, retrofitting seems to be the best way to enable existing commercial buildings to possess the environmental credentials that businesses are looking for now and in the future.

Every building is unique in their energy-saving needs, but some of the key retrofitting measures include:

  • Changing processes within the building to electric – in other words, adapting processes such as water or gas central heating, or diesel-powered machinery to electric, significantly saving direct and indirect energy emissions.
  • Improving lighting – installing LED lights can save energy use for lighting by up to ¾. Other considerations could be using motion sensors to ensure that lights are only on when there is somebody in the room.
  • Monitoring – giving businesses the monitoring technology (such as smart meters) for them to be able to easily monitor their energy use, and, consequentially, look at places where they can improve their energy efficiency.
  • Insulation – it is estimated that a commercial property can lose up to 35% of its heat through uninsulated walls, and 25% through an uninsulated flat roof. Of course, not every property will be suitable for all types of insulation, but by doing what is possible, this can be a great way to reduce energy use.
  • Updating appliances – ensuring that the boiler, air-conditioning systems, or fridges are up-to-date and working well is another way to ensure that the building is as efficient as possible. As a bonus, tools such as smart thermostats can also help.
  • Building condition – the concept of whole-life carbon emissions looks at the energy efficiency of a building from construction to destruction – including how long it lasts. By keeping a commercial property in excellent condition, it can last longer, and will, ultimately, be more energy efficient.

For commercial property landlords, it seems to be a given that regulations will become tighter and the demand for sustainable, environmentally friendly (at the least) properties, higher. Retrofitting appears to be the most cost-effective way to ensure that the property meets the requirements, and, ultimately, improves the chance of a good rental yield and ROI. It also, of course, makes it cheaper to run for tenants.

Whole-Life Carbon Cycles

The key to retrofitting is the idea of a whole-life carbon cycle. The concept behind this is that a building’s energy efficiency is not only based on how energy efficient it is now, but also on when – and how – it was built, to its impact in the future. It takes into account a range of factors, from the insulation and heating systems to the materials used in its construction – including how far they have travelled to get there.

Building a brand new building, no matter how ‘green’ it is, may not be as energy-efficient in the long run as just adapting an existing building to new regulations. And this is why retrofitting is being seen as a quicker, and, in many cases, better way to direct the country through to the net zero target.

At any given time, there are often various incentives and funding options available to commercial landlords to help with the costs of retrofitting, so it is worth looking around to see what is available.

Great Retrofitting Examples

Retrofitting a commercial property can start by being as simple as changing the lightbulbs. However, there are some buildings in the UK (and around the world) that have managed to accomplish impressive feats, boosting their energy efficiency, through retrofitting.

West Yorkshire’s Hardcastle Crags, for example, have got their mill turbine working again, generating energy through the water flow, as well as adding solar panels to the roof and a battery storage system. They also have a wood-fuelled boiler, which is used to heat the water in their café, and have installed compost toilets (using tiger worms).

Battersea Power Station has recently re-opened, with a massive focus on the environment. In addition to generating energy in a much more energy-efficient way, they also use water from an existing on-site borehole (not drinking water) to supply air-conditioning, as well as having an on-site thermal storage unit, enabling additional energy that is generated to be stored and used at a later time.

Final Thoughts

In a world where individuals, businesses, and governments are increasingly looking to reduce energy waste, retrofitting older buildings is essential.  Whether it is changing a few processes within the building or a larger piece of work, it is important work, and the way that buildings are moving in the future.

If you have a commercial property to rent, or, indeed, are looking to rent one, get in touch with us here at Boxpod today!