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To Raze or To Retrofit? That is the Question

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer, Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Aug 21, 2021

The debate that once questioned the need for energy efficiency has been won.  Experts agree that energy efficiency is the fastest way to energy savings and emission reductions.   Architect Carl Elefante once quipped: “The greenest building is one that is already built.”  Albeit cost-effective and energy efficient, some buildings present pricey challenges that have property owners, investors and developers asking if it’s better to raze or retrofit old buildings.  In well-established metropolitan areas, space constraints slow progress for retrofitting.  Replacing bulbs, cooling systems, appliances and windows will only get you so far.  So adequate space is needed to make bigger changes and greater measures are required to better insulate older buildings.  

It’s been said energy efficiency is the lowest hanging fruit but Associate Professor Kua Harn Wei of the Department of the Built Environment at National University of Singapore says the “lowest hanging fruit is actually using sensors and automated control systems that control the use of electricity.”  Energy management systems have advanced and improved the energy efficiency of countless buildings.  U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said, “Investments in research to develop cost-effective, more efficient technologies is key to meeting our growing energy needs while leveraging existing resources and with improved environmental stewardship.” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said, “Americans spend about $100 billion every year on wasted energy from buildings, heating and cooling units, and more – increasing energy bills and needless emissions that dirty our air and worsen the climate crisis.”  Recognizing the need for versatility, she continued, “By pursuing advancements that make both existing and newly constructed buildings more energy efficient, we can save consumers money and reduce the climate impacts of the places we live and work.”   

Another challenge owners face is identifying suitable retrofits and beginning the process.   The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is lending a hand.  The DOE has authorized $82.6 million in funding for 44 energy efficiency projects, spread across 20 states, ranging from building technologies and thermal energy storage to lighting and heating solutions.  To aid their development, the DOE will offer training, educational programs, and other technical support to participants.  Whether it’s best to raze or retrofit depends on the scope and scale of each project.  However, the time and money spent researching how best to proceed will be well worth it in the long run.  Both new and existing buildings can take advantage of energy management tools and technologies.  According to research completed by FLEXLAB®  'systems-based retrofit strategies in commercial buildings have significant energy-savings potential, providing anywhere from 49 percent to 82 percent in additional energy savings compared to component-only upgrades (such as a lamp or chiller).'

The potential for savings is there but how will property owners assess and decide which route is right for them?  Are invested funds better spent on retrofitting or rebuilding?  


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