Retrofitting buildings for sustainability can prepare UK infrastructure for the long-term impact of climate change while improving quality of life. Ageing buildings across the UK are causing several major issues, including high utility costs, poor heating, high carbon emissions, health and safety risks, and more. Retrofitting is a sustainable and practical solution to these challenges with many amazing benefits for British residents, businesses and homeowners.
Reducing carbon emissions is one of the top benefits of retrofitting buildings for sustainability. Buildings can generate excess emissions due to ageing, poorly designed building envelopes, outdated HVAC equipment, lack of renewable energy access and more. Retrofitting addresses these issues while utilising the existing structure.
Additionally, retrofitting can eliminate the need to demolish structures and build new ones in their place. Construction processes generate large amounts of embodied carbon throughout the supply chain. At least 65% of embodied carbon is generated during the raw materials and manufacturing stages before construction begins. So, it’s difficult for any new construction project to eliminate embodied carbon.
A retrofit can often resolve concerns and challenges in older buildings without tearing them down or replacing them. It reduces the need for new construction, thus reducing embodied carbon generation.
One great example is the large-scale updates at the 20 Water Street office complex in London. New fit-outs throughout the building reduced embodied carbon by 42% and transitioned parts of the building to 100% renewable energy.
Energy costs are one of the most pressing issues facing UK residents today. The Ofgem price cap has decreased a few times during 2023, offering much-needed relief for many people. Unfortunately, most households still pay an average of £1,923 per year on energy.
Making updates to homes and buildings can help. Retrofitting buildings for sustainability improves efficiency, significantly lowering electricity expenses.
For example, a simple power efficiency retrofit is replacing lighting equipment with LED bulbs and high-efficiency fixtures. Retrofitting can also include replacing or updating HVAC equipment and insulation.
The quality of a structure’s envelope can make a monumental difference in energy efficiency. Thus, updating insulation is a more involved retrofit but often has a high ROI. Studies show retrofitting UK homes to upgrade them by even one letter grade can reduce gas demand by 20% due to more efficient heat retention.
Housing and real estate costs are already high in the UK, so construction is not feasible for many homeowners and organisations. Retrofitting older structures is often a more affordable alternative that’s also better for the environment.
Unused buildings and equipment can be highly valuable. When builders opt to retrofit buildings for sustainability instead of demolishing them, they can maximise the value of existing structures, materials and goods.
Retrofitting and reusing also reduce waste and overall project costs. For example, builders can get a used generator in good condition for significantly less money than a new one. Used generators also require less paperwork and allow builders to avoid supply chain delays. If a building already has a generator and other functional electrical equipment on-site, it’s often worth retrofitting or reusing it rather than replacing it.
The same goes for structures themselves. Retrofitting allows construction teams to add new features to areas of the building that need updating, all without significantly altering the existing facility. This approach can lead to truly unique and stunning renovations for older buildings.
For instance, someone could purchase a disused building at a low price, retrofit the interiors and keep the historic brickwork on the exterior. At the end of the project, they could have a charming, sustainable hotel or a new school for a fraction of what new construction would cost.
Retrofitting buildings for sustainability is also good for people. Outdated or low-quality HVAC systems reduce energy efficiency, and pose risks to indoor air quality and respiratory health. Updating them can lead to safer, healthier spaces that are also better for the environment.
Poor indoor air quality and temperature control are associated with several severe health risks. These include dry eyes, dry throat, asthma, respiratory infections, COPD and more. Outdated or poorly maintained HVAC systems can also increase the spread of diseases.
Additionally, older buildings with poor temperature management pose unique health risks that will worsen alongside climate change. Research shows the likelihood of summer heatwaves will increase by 2050, leading to indoor overheating across the UK. Indoor overheating can lead to heat sickness and potentially be life-threatening for older adults.
Retrofitting buildings for sustainability now can prepare UK infrastructure for increasing temperature and air quality risks. Improvements like high-efficiency HVAC and optimised ventilation can improve the safety of homes and buildings while also reducing their carbon footprint. For instance, more efficient cooling can prevent indoor overheating and minimise energy consumption during hot months.
Retrofitting buildings for sustainability is about preparing UK infrastructure for the long-term impact of climate change. Energy efficiency and renewables integration are important, but structural resilience is also essential.
Retrofitting can strengthen ageing buildings so they are better equipped to survive increasingly harsh weather across the UK. Climate change will cause hotter summers, colder winters, more severe storms and a higher risk of flooding. Fortifying infrastructure is critical for minimising damage, expenses and emissions due to extreme weather.
Improving resiliency is a core part of the Green Deal — a financial support programme to help homeowners pay for retrofitting and updates. Green Deal projects and retrofits include updated insulation, drought-proofing, high-efficiency heating, renewable energy integration and more. By utilising Green Deal funding and similar programmes, UK residents and construction companies can kickstart efforts to prepare their buildings for climate change.
The UK is home to over two dozen World Heritage sites and hundreds of thousands of listed historical buildings. It’s challenging to update these structures for modern sustainability standards without compromising historic preservation. Site managers can opt to retrofit buildings for sustainability to find a balance between those priorities.
Retrofitting is uniquely suited for historic and cultural buildings since it involves little to no alteration of exteriors. There is no demolition, either. Retrofitting is all about adding new features to preexisting structures, which is ideal when preservation is a top priority.
A UK retrofit renaissance would be transformative for sustainability, cost of living, public health and more. It’s an affordable and practical solution to many challenges facing British infrastructure today. Retrofitting offers amazing opportunities to improve energy efficiency while preserving historic structures and saving homeowners money.