Did you know that 80% of the homes that people will inhabit in 2050 already built and up to 75% of today’s buildings likely to still be in use by 2050? These statistics alone indicate the importance of retrofit in delivering a healthy and vibrant built environment fit for the future. Buildingspecifier.com Editor Joe Bradbury investigates:

As carbon emissions continue to accelerate global warming, an ever-increasing need for action to be taken to mitigate climate change has emerged.

Buildings currently account for the highest percentage of worldwide energy-related carbon emissions (39%) in both operation and construction, with operations emissions accounting for 28%.

With 80% of the homes that people will inhabit in 2050 already built and up to 75% of today’s buildings likely to still be in use by 2050, the construction sector must prioritise renovating existing buildings on a large scale to if we are to have any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement’s energy-saving targets.

The message is plain and clear; in order to reach carbon-cutting targets, the building industry must prioritise retrofitting existing assets.

While climate change is definitely a global concern, the path to decarbonisation must take regional differences into account. More than half of the building stock required in developing countries by 2050 has yet to be constructed, reducing the requirement for retrofits in those areas. As a result, more industrialised countries must bear the burden of addressing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions connected to the built environment, as much of the future building stock is, in fact, already in place.

However, existing issues, as well as a variety of other impediments in these areas are currently blocking the large-scale retrofitting so sorely required to reach global decarbonisation ambitions.  From financial and skills-based barriers to concerns with inadequate building rules and underperforming buildings overall, these obstacles vary in complexity from region to region. While some progress has been achieved in overcoming these obstacles, it is evident that more urgent action is still required.

What role will technology play?

Technology may hold the key to bolstering our efforts to cut carbon emissions and overcome current roadblocks preventing us from achieving our aims at present. Furthermore, technology enables better network interconnection among areas, which is critical for a worldwide strategy.

The recovery and reuse of materials, which is a critical component of the retrofit process, can be aided by establishing long-term circularity in the built environment through the formation of a circular economy and the widespread use of material passports.

Smart technology integration will also aid the industry in meeting its decarbonisation goals. Smart buildings and smart grids, for example, use information and communications technology (ICTs) to collect activity data and allow components to “speak” with one another and to a central system, so we can run our buildings more efficiently and lower their environmental effect.

Buildings needn’t be new to be efficient

It is a common misconception that older or outdated buildings need to be replaced entirely with more modern counterparts in order to achieve any tangible results with energy efficiency. In reality, a building needn’t be new to be efficient.

Anyone can create something from the ground up, but Great British values are based on a “make do and mend” approach. It has served us well in the past, and it continues to serve us well in the present. While many building owners work diligently to improve particular technologies such as heating or lighting, a holistic strategy to energy consumption is eventually required to combat inefficiency and increase savings. This is where we, as industry professionals, must take the lead and educate the sector about the products and technologies that we as refurbishing and retrofit professionals have at our disposal.

It is our responsibility to convey that, while the initial cost of incorporating numerous technologies and processes into a refurbishment may be higher, the upgrades are more than offset by energy savings over time.

Take lighting, for example: doing a lighting upgrade alone can save your organisation up to 50% on energy costs. It’s simple to understand where money may be saved when you consider that lighting accounts for 30-40% of a business building’s electric cost. These savings would be substantially greater if other energy-saving strategies were implemented alongside.

Time is critical

Commercial properties alone account for a large component of the built environment, even before housing and private sector structures are taken into account. They provide a platform for most of the country’s key sectors, as well as locations for the general population to work, shop, socialise, study and rest. In the 21st century, commercial buildings are undeniably important. Despite the fact that investment in this burgeoning industry is on the rise, commercial buildings are among the worst performers in terms of energy efficiency.

The commercial sector is responsible for roughly 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions from buildings in the UK, according to the Committee on Climate Change. The world’s population currently consumes 1.6 planet’s worth of resources every year. According to the Global Footprint Network, if we continue to consume at our current rate, we will deplete the global carbon budget and lock in more than 2 degrees of global warming in around 17 years… The entire world requires a retrofit!

It starts at school

The proposed national funding formula attempts to ensure that funding in schools across the country is consistent. However, there are fears that if this were to be implemented, it would cause huge financial changes for some schools, potentially making them worse off.

When you throw in the apparent education funding problem, as well as teacher retention and recruitment issues, it’s no surprise that many schools are under pressure to cut money wherever they can.

In light of this, there are a variety of ways that schools can adjust their energy usage to save money while also becoming more environmentally friendly. Retrofitting schools so that they were not only better for the environment but also cheaper to run would be a fantastic lesson to teach our children; one they could carry on into the future as we gradually take more and more responsibility for our planet.

In summary

A productive building is one that is efficient. We can help counteract manmade climate change while also reaping a slew of profitable ancillary benefits as an industry, simply by being thoughtful in how we generate and use energy. We can also set an example for future generations, ensuring that professionals in the built environment continue to work in a healthy, dynamic environment for many years to come. The act of retrofitting is to look back and learn from our mistakes and improve upon them, to keep moving the industry forward to a brighter future.

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