What is Retrofitting, and What Role Does it Play in the UK’s Net Zero Target?

27 June 2023

By 2050, the UK will be a net-zero carbon emitter – a target established by the Committee on Climate Change to reduce the UK’s emissions and tackle climate change. Everyone knows, theoretically, what that means. Businesses must plan, budget, and work to make the necessary changes to reach this target. But how does that actually happen?

For most businesses, the immediate action has been to look inward. What business practices, processes and logistics are contributing to emissions? Identify these, address them and look at what’s next.

What’s next is where you work.

70% of all non-domestic building stock in the UK (old buildings) will still be in use in 30 years – that is, by 2050. And most of these buildings are not up to net-zero standards. The options are demolishing and rebuilding (costly and highly carbon-emitting) or retrofitting.

What Does Retrofit Mean?
Retrofitting is a process whereby existing buildings are modified and adapted, making them more energy efficient. Typically, especially in old buildings far from net-zero, this will require significant modifications to the existing structure, systems, and components to improve energy efficiency, functionality, safety, and compliance with current building codes and standards.

The specific scope of retrofitting for each building depends on its current condition. For most, retrofitting would include:

1. Energy efficiency upgrades: This includes improving insulation, upgrading windows and doors, sealing air leaks, and upgrading lighting systems to more energy-efficient options such as LED lighting. HVAC systems may also be upgraded or optimised for
improved energy performance.

2. Electrical and plumbing upgrades: Upgrading electrical and plumbing systems may be necessary to ensure safety, accommodate increased electrical load, improve water efficiency, or comply with current codes and regulations.

3. Environmental sustainability measures: Retrofitting can include incorporating renewable energy systems such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems, or green roofs to promote sustainability and reduce environmental impact.

4. Technology integration: Upgrading technological infrastructure, including data cabling, networking, security systems, and automation controls, can enhance the building’s functionality and operational efficiency.

5. Maintenance and durability improvements: Retrofitting may address issues related to building maintenance, durability, and longevity, such as repairing or replacing ageing components, addressing water infiltration, or upgrading exterior cladding.

Beyond energy efficiency improvements, buildings can gain a range of benefits from a retrofit, such as modernising the interior for improved staff well-being and business branding.

Although 76% of organisations say they are working toward net zero, less than a quarter, have factored their buildings into their plans. For 2050 net zero compliance, retrofitting is not a maybe. It’s a must.