While all sustainability initiatives may not require retrofitting, every retrofitting exercise impacts sustainability in the built environment. This impact could be on the energy efficiency of the building or the wellness of its occupants, and in both cases it may be accompanied by reductions in recurring operational and maintenance costs.

Today, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) retrofitting is popular, primarily for savings in energy or water costs. However, this should not be the only reason for retrofitting. In fact, reasons for retrofitting vary depending on building type.

The most common type of retrofitting is for commercial offices within open-plan settings, either when a new tenant moves in or when an existing tenant rebrands. In other instances, retrofitting is required to replace non-functional equipment, sub-metering for utilities, or to solve an operational problem such as an improper indoor environment quality. What unites the majority of retrofits is that they are done either because they are unavoidable or to cut utility costs. There are few cases of continuous retrofitting being practised in the GCC.

FORWARD PLANNING

Most buildings have recurring retrofitting needs: replacement of fused lamps or burnt motors, replacement of carpets, and repainting work are among the common examples. The prevalent approach is to carry out ‘breakdown maintenance’ only when unavoidable. But these are ad-hoc initiatives that at best are allocated a budget based on historical requirements, and at worst are unplanned.

Sustainable retrofitting involves not only planning in advance, either on a short-, medium-, or long-term basis, but also ensuring that retrofits have bottom-line benefits.

When planning a sustainable retrofit, considerations ought to include operational and maintenance costs, equipment conditions, budget allocations for planned and unplanned retrofits, and an analysis of how new technology can be used. As with a corporate enterprise’s research and development budget, a proactive retrofit budget will enable buildings to stay ahead of the technology curve, ensuring its asset value is maintained. The headquarters of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a prime example of sustainable retrofitting in the regional marketplace.

A CULTURED APPROACH

Embedding a sustainable retrofitting regime within the management culture can yield numerous benefits, and save time when it comes to the procurement process. Sustainable retrofitting regimes can help to achieve sustainable development goals, and mitigate against unpleasant financial surprises. Fundamentally, sustainable retrofitting empowers building operators to make improvement decisions. And by engaging operators in the decision-making process, a sense of ownership is gained.

A sustainable retrofitting programme must start with the finance and procurement departments, using a sustainable procurement policy as the framework. Such a policy needs to define the goals, ownerships, and annual budgets for sustainable retrofitting, and technical criteria must be set for MEP equipment to qualify it as sustainable.

Simple examples of such retrofits include buying exclusively LED lamps with specific energy ratings. Sophisticated examples could involve upgrading the software and hardware of a building management system; recalibrating or replacing sensors, devices, and meters; or identifying the most high-tech chillers.

Minor sustainable retrofits such as the installation of motion detectors or the reduction of plumbing fixture flow rates can be adopted through a regular procurement proces. Here, a business case for each retrofit could be developed and automatically approved if it meets the organisation’s return on investment criteria.

A sustainable retrofit regime is an ongoing investment, which should be viewed as a continuous improvement programme for a building’s bottom-line performance, occupant wellness, and maintained asset value.

Such a concept enables buildings to sustainably improve from the original design and development in the most convenient, cost- and time-efficient way possible. Major sustainable retrofits may need significant budgets, even if they are planned, but a forward-looking retrofit strategy enables a building owner to stay ahead of the game in the GCC.