According to studies, buildings in India consume more than 40% of the total energy generated in the country. 19% of the energy-related greenhouse gas emissions are also emitted by the building sector. These figures are only slated to expand in the near future, with the population explosion, depletion of natural resources, the temperature rises due to global warming, economic uncertainty, health issues, and the increased demand for cooling energy. Several multi-story buildings, in current times, were built prior to the recognition of what we call now, the energy crisis. They were designed and constructed during a time when energy utilization was rarely even on a list of design constraints. The energy was plentiful and more significantly inexpensive, relative to other designing and building costs. The carefree days are past, but inefficient buildings remain a legacy, pointing to the need for sustainable development movements across the world. There’s a call for mechanisms that can reduce the negative effects of development, construction, and urbanization on the environment.

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A Typical City ©Dreamstime

What is the Need to Retrofit?

Retrofitting, renovating, and refurbishing an existing building, is one of the most environmentally friendly, sustainable, and efficient solutions to reduce green energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. This is being considered as one of the main approaches to achieving sustainability in the built environment at relatively low cost and high results.

When compared to new buildings construction, this kind of intervention reduces the consumption of land energy as well. There are many instances which display the benefits of retrofitting, with light touch energy efficiency measures, as compared to refurbishing, which entails a much deeper level of refit, with changes to the internal and external fabric of the building. The major typologies of energy retrofits prevalent in the market, for existing buildings, fall into the broad categories of HVAC retrofit, façade retrofits, lighting retrofits, and roofing retrofits. 

What are the Benefits of Retrofitting?

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Benefits of Retrofitting Existing Buildings ©Schneider Electric
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Benefits of Retrofitting Existing Buildings ©FIDIC

Tangible and intangible benefits from greening the existing buildings could be achieved through retrofitting. The tangible benefits are advantages that can be measured in financial terms, such as cost of construction, and intangible benefits are the ones that cannot be measured, but still have a significant impact on a business or project, such as comfort level and satisfaction level.

One of the major benefits of retrofitting is the reduction in waste production while conserving embodied energy. As an example, up to 30% to 40% of energy cost per annum could be reduced by light-touch retrofits, such as the installation of energy-efficient lighting and controls, building services, and management systems and controls. In addition to that, recycling water and waste could also bring significant and positive sustainability and cost impacts.

Another outcome of a retrofit is related to the potency of building occupants. Surveys have shown over 50% of occupants working in environmentally certified buildings have increased productivity. The refined quality of spaces through natural lighting; enhanced corporate image in social responsibility; increase in floor area due to the replacement of heavy mechanical equipment;  tax credits and government incentives; efficient use of natural resources; and lessened ecological impacts, are a few of the benefits of energy-retrofits.

What are the Challenges of Retrofitting?

Not all is hunky-dory with the concept of retrofitting existing buildings. There are several possible challenges to installing a retrofit, such as initial investment might be expensive and inconvenient, internal spaces may reduce upon installation of internal wall insulation, it might harm heritage and archaeological assets due to usage of unproven methods, technologies or instruments.

Apart from this, it is not always easy to find solutions in line with the existing facilities and systems in a building.

Although, the general assumption is that greening a building is a very cost-intensive process, it is a much cheaper alternative to constructing a new building with similar function and capacity.  Retrofitting a building should be undertaken stepwise to avoid financial constraints. Starting with low-cost measures, such as fixing leaks, serving the existing equipment, etc., is a wise decision. Depending on the budget and availability of resources, retrofitting could be undertaken as a long-term strategy. Moreover, green buildings have proven to be 14% less costly to operate than traditional buildings, in the longer run. Some buildings have gained back their investment in less than two years as well!

Further research is needed, especially on the insulation mechanism on walls and the effect of retrofit on buildings fabrics. More education, training, and activities on maintaining and preserving the buildings need to be taught to address issues and to create awareness.

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Energy Consumption of a Typical High Energy Office Building ©ResearchGate Article: Daylight Autonomy as a Driver for Office Building Retrofitting
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Energy Efficiency for Retrofitting ©Natural Building Technologies

The existing building stock in the country is very inefficient in terms of energy consumption. Most of the energy in the existing buildings, specifically in a hot and humid country like India, is consumed by the air conditioners in summers. Thus, cooling the building will lead to energy saving and reduction in GHGs. Combining the issues, green retrofits are an apt solution to the problem and can help save a tremendous amount of energy for the country.

Therefore, green retrofits, if applied carefully in the existing buildings, can save a decent amount of energy and reduce GHG emission of every building. Not only this, but the introduction of plants, in the indoor areas of the building, can improve the IAQ of the space, improving the performance of people, energy consumption of the building, reducing eye irritation, and increasing the oxygen levels. Overall, it will benefit the people and the building in every manner.

In conclusion, proper knowledge and application of green retrofits can save the per capita energy of an individual and a decent amount of money per year as well.

Kavya Jain
Author

Kavya Jain is an architect by profession with a zest for writing, travelling, reading and eating! She is a young designer trying to use her knowledge for the betterment of the society. She spends her free time pursuing her passion of teaching kids in slums across the city. She is a firm believer of living life one day at a time, because the future will come your way, no matter what anyway!

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