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Revolution retrofit – Commercial property

By: Kelly Bellerson

Refurbishment has always been an option, but the idea of rebuilding has been subjectively more attractive for commercial property owners, until now.

For years, commercial properties weren’t developed with longevity in mind and when buildings began to falter (be that broken lifts or worn-out windows) landlords would sentence their property to demolition.

What is retrofitting?

The UK is experiencing what journos are dubbing the “retrofit boom” driven by the Government’s focus on Net Zero and the public’s sustainable ideologies.

Different from refurbishing or renovating, retrofitting is the conscious move of implementing new fixtures at a property, such as air conditioning or heating.

These additions upgrade the building, giving it a longer life expectancy, as well as improving its energy efficiency – which is great for landlords looking to become greener and save a few pounds down the line.

Retrofit potential

It wasn’t that long ago when the standard practise was to ‘knock it down and rebuild’, but with rising build costs and interest rates (along with a nationwide labour shortage) landlords are turning to retrofitting.

Disused factories, mills, and Georgian townhouses are prime examples of popular types of retrofitted properties that now serve as anything from retail outlets to office spaces.

There is huge potential to generate £35bn in economic output by retrofitting these buildings alone, as well as creating more jobs and helping the Government reach their sustainability goals.

The British Property Federation (BPF) has openly supported a ‘retrofit first’ attitude and has even called on the Government to introduce the likes of tax incentives to encourage others to retrofit first.

Energy output

The World Green Building Council has stated that construction accounts for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions through energy needed to power, heat and cool buildings – with around 98% of a building’s impact accredited to the materials used in the construction.

Retrofitting allows landlords to upgrade existing building materials to more sustainable alternatives, keeping the building as it is without any noticeable changes rather than demolishing the property and starting from scratch.

It is estimated that the average office block development emits around 35% of its lifecycle carbon before operations even begin, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

There are so many ways commercial landlords can improve the sustainability of their build through retrofitting, even just switching to more energy efficient light sources can create 80% of energy savings.

Is retrofitting suitable for my property?

Marks and Spencer’s made headlines towards the end of 2022 when they warned their flagship Oxford Street store would close if they weren’t allowed to rebuild it, pledging it was “unsustainable” to continue to operate at that location unless it was demolished.

However, it emerged that they hadn’t even considered retrofitting a possibility and argued this was because the historic building was “riddled with asbestos” and outdated materials.

When landlords choose to retrofit, their building’s energy efficiency increases significantly and ultimately lowers running costs and energy bills. In the current climate, it’s clear to see why it’s gained a lot of traction.

It is by far the most cost-effective option for those looking to give their building a new lease of life. Here are some of the works that could be implemented.

  • Ventilation systems
  • Insulation systems
  • Double/triple glazed windows
  • Low energy lighting
  • Floor insulation
  • Draft proof doors
  • External cladding
  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Thermal energy storage systems

Retrofitting benefits all manner of builds. The extent of works and types of upgrades needed will be individual to the property and will depend on a number of variables such as size and age.

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