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Compelling reasons to encourage retrofit first


David Connacher, Marketing Manager at West Fraser, discusses the immediate need to retrofit our buildings to make them energy efficient and sustainable.

The need to retrofit our buildings through improvements that make them energy efficient and sustainable into the future is necessary and urgent. Buildings contribute to around 40%* of global energy-related carbon emissions and, in the UK, it is estimated that 80% of buildings that will be in use in 2050 already exist**. In many cases, replacing buildings is neither practical nor environmentally sound so, rather than being seen as a problem, they should be viewed as a resource. This is certainly the belief of Carl Elefante, a former president of the American Institute of Architects, who said: ‘The greenest building is the one that already exists’.

There is a good reason for this: embodied carbon. In simple terms, embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions associated with the materials and construction processes employed throughout the whole lifecycle of a building. It also includes carbon emissions related to the building’s maintenance and any demolition or deconstruction. None of this takes account of the wider environmental impact of resource extraction and building construction.

A retrofit-first approach that prioritises upgrading and modifying buildings over demolition and rebuilding is increasingly seen as the way forward. Developers and building owners recognise the potential to cut carbon, costs and waste while increasing market value and rental returns. Socially, retrofitting is often less controversial and more cost-effective than demolition. For communities, retaining buildings represents a meaningful link with the past that conserves and enhances existing places and brings cohesion to neighbourhoods.

For architects and designers, retrofit provides stimulating opportunities to transform existing structures into comfortable and useful homes, offices and retail spaces. Undertaking such schemes frequently involves imaginative reuse, adaptation, innovative solutions and opportunities for exciting new design. Some would say that architects have a responsibility to encourage a creative retrofit-first approach to confront climate emergency and create a sustainable built environment for the future.

For further information, call 01786 812 921 or visit https://uk.westfraser.com/


* https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidcarlin/2022/04/05/40-of-emissions-come-from-real-estate-heres-how-the-sector-can-decarbonize/?sh=82826f063b76

** https://ukgbc.org/our-work/climate-change-mitigation/