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Area: Design, planning and building

Environmental Retrofit

Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of carbon emissions in the EU (European Commission, 2021). Environmental retrofit, green retrofit or low carbon retrofits of existing homes ais to upgrade housing infrastructure, increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, tackle fuel poverty, and improve comfort, convenience and aesthetics (Karvonen, 2013).

It is widely acknowledged that environmental retrofit should result in a reduction of carbon emissions by at least 60% in order to stabilise atmospheric carbon concentration and mitigate climate change (Fawcett, 2014; Johnston et al., 2005). Worldwide retrofit schemes such as RetrofitWorks, EnerPHit and the EU’s Renovation Wave, use varying metrics to define low carbon retrofit, but their universally adopted focus has been on end-point performance targets (Fawcett, 2014).

This fabric-first approach to retrofit prioritises improvements to the building fabric through: increased thermal insulation and airtightness; improving the efficiency of systems such as heating, lighting and electrical appliances; and the installation of renewables such as photovoltaics (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). The whole-house systems approach to retrofit further considers the interaction between the occupant, the building site, climate, and other elements or components of a building (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In this way, the building becomes an energy system with interdependent parts that strongly affect one another, and energy performance is considered a result of the whole system activity.

Economic Retrofit

From an economic perspective, retrofit costs are one-off expenses that negatively impact homeowners and landlords, but reduce energy costs for occupants over the long run. Investment in housing retrofit, ultimately a form of asset enhancing, produces an energy premium attached to the property. In the case of the rental market, retrofit expenses create a split incentive whereby the landlord incurs the costs but the energy savings are enjoyed by the tenant (Fuerst et al., 2020).

The existence of energy premiums has been widely researched across various housing markets following Rosen’s hedonic pricing model. In the UK, the findings of Fuerst et al. (2015) showed the positive effect of energy efficiency over price among home-buyers, with a price increase of about 5% for dwellings rated A/B compared to those rated D. Cerin et al. (2014) offered similar results for Sweden. In the Netherlands, Brounen and Kok (2011), also identified a 3.7% premium for dwellings with A, B or C ratings using a similar technique. Property premiums offer landlords and owners the possibility to capitalise on their  retrofit investment through rent increases or the sale of the property. While property premiums are a way to reconcile          split incentives between landlord and renter, value increases pose questions about long-term affordability of retrofitted units, particularly, as real an expected energy savings post-retrofit have been challenging to reconcile (van den Brom et al., 2019).

Social Retrofit

A socio-technical approach to retrofit elaborates on the importance of the occupant. To meet the current needs of inhabitants, retrofit must be socially contextualized and comprehended as a result of cultural practices, collective evolution of know-how, regulations, institutionalized procedures, social norms, technologies and products (Bartiaux et al., 2014). This perspective argues that housing is not a technical construction that can be improved in an economically profitable manner without acknowledging that it’s an entity intertwined in people’s lives, in which social and personal meaning

are embedded. Consequently, energy efficiency and carbon reduction cannot be seen as a merely technical issue. We should understand and consider the relationship that people have developed in their dwellings, through their everyday routines and habits and their long-term domestic activities (Tjørring & Gausset, 2018).

Retrofit strategies and initiatives tend to adhere to a ‘rational choice’ consultation model that encourages individuals to reduce their energy consumption by focusing on the economic savings and environmental benefits through incentive programs, voluntary action and market mechanisms (Karvonen, 2013). This is often criticized as an insufficient and individualist approach, which fails to achieve more widespread systemic changes needed to address the environmental and social challenges of our times (Maller et al., 2012). However, it is important to acknowledge the housing stock as a cultural asset that is embedded in the fabric of everyday lifestyles, communities, and livelihoods (Ravetz, 2008). The rational choice perspective does not consider the different ways that occupants inhabit their homes, how they perceive their consumption, in what ways they interact with the built environment, for what reasons they want to retrofit their houses and which ways make more sense for them, concerning the local context.

A community-based approach to domestic retrofit emphasizes the importance of a recursive learning process among experts and occupants to facilitate the co-evolution of the built environment and the communities (Karvonen, 2013). Involving the occupants in the retrofit process and understanding them as “carriers” of social norms, of established routines and know-how, new forms of intervention  can emerge that are experimental, flexible and customized to particular locales (Bartiaux et al., 2014). There is an understanding that reconfiguring socio-technical systems on a broad scale will require the participation of occupants to foment empowerment, ownership, and the collective control of the domestic retrofit (Moloney et al., 2010).


Bartiaux, F., Gram-Hanssen, K., Fonseca, P., Ozoliņa, L., & Christensen, T. H. (2014). A practice-theory approach to homeowners’ energy retrofits in four European areas. Building Research and Information, 42(4), 525–538.

Brounen, D., & Kok, N. (2011). On the economics of energy labels in the housing market. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 62(2), 166–179.

Cerin, P., Hassel, L. G., & Semenova, N. (2014). Energy Performance and Housing Prices. Sustainable Development, 22(6), 404–419.

European Commission. (2021). Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. Available at: performance-buildings-directive_en (Accessed: 19 ¬¬October 2021)

Fawcett, T. (2014). Exploring the time dimension of low carbon retrofit: Owner-occupied housing.

Building Research and Information, 42(4), 477–488.

Fuerst, F., Haddad, M. F. C., & Adan, H. (2020). Is there an economic case for energy-efficient dwellings in the UK private rental market? Journal of Cleaner Production, 245.

Fuerst, F., McAllister, P., Nanda, A., & Wyatt, P. (2015). Does energy efficiency matter to home- buyers? An investigation of EPC ratings and transaction prices in England. Energy Economics, 48, 145–156.

Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute. (2012). Retrofit strategies. Key Findings: Retrofit project team perspectives.

Johnston, D., Lowe, R., & Bell, M. (2005). An exploration of the technical feasibility of achieving CO2 emission reductions in excess of 60% within the UK housing stock by the year 2050. Energy Policy, 33(13), 1643–1659.

Karvonen, A. (2013). Towards systemic domestic retrofit: A social practices approach. Building Research and Information, 41(5), 563–574.

Maller, C., Horne, R., & Dalton, T. (2012). Green Renovations: Intersections of Daily Routines, Housing Aspirations and Narratives of Environmental Sustainability. 29(3), 255–275.

Moloney, S., Horne, R. E., & Fien, J. (2010). Transitioning to low carbon communities—from behaviour change to systemic change: Lessons from Australia. Energy Policy, 38(12), 7614– 7623.

Ravetz, J. (2008). State of the stock—What do we know about existing buildings and their future prospects? Energy Policy, 36(12), 4462–4470.

Tjørring, L., & Gausset, Q. (2018). Drivers for retrofit: a sociocultural approach to houses and inhabitants. 47(4), 394–403.

van den Brom, P., Meijer, A., & Visscher, H. (2019). Actual energy saving effects of thermal renovations in dwellings—longitudinal data analysis including building and occupant characteristics. Energy and Buildings, 182, 251–263.

Created on 16-02-2022 | Update on 07-10-2022

Related definitions

Energy Retrofit

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)

Area: Design, planning and building

Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU (European Commission, 2021). Energy retrofit is also referred to as building energy retrofit, low carbon retrofit, energy efficiency retrofit and energy renovation; all terms related to the upgrading of existing buildings energy performance to achieve high levels of energy efficiency. Energy retrofit significantly reduces energy use and energy demand (Femenías et al., 2018; Outcault et al., 2022), tackles fuel (energy) poverty, and lowers carbon emissions (Karvonen, 2013). It is widely acknowledged that building energy retrofit should result in a reduction of carbon emissions by at least 60% compared with pre-retrofit emissions, in order to stabilise atmospheric carbon concentration and mitigate climate change (Fawcett, 2014; Outcault et al., 2022). Energy retrofit can also improve comfort, convenience, and aesthetics (Karvonen, 2013). There are two main approaches to deep energy retrofit, fabric-first and whole-house systems. The fabric-first approach prioritises upgrades to the building envelope through four main technical improvements: increased airtightness; increased thermal insulation; improving the efficiency of systems such as heating, lighting, and electrical appliances; and installation of renewables such as photovoltaics (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). The whole-house systems approach to retrofit further considers the interaction between the climate, building site, occupant, and other components of a building (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In this way, the building becomes an energy system with interdependent parts that strongly affect one another, and energy performance is considered a result of the whole system activity. Energy retrofit can be deep, over-time, or partial (Femenías et al., 2018). Deep energy retrofit is considered a onetime event that utilises all available energy saving technologies at that time to reduce energy consumption by 60% - 90% (Fawcett, 2014; Femenías et al., 2018). Over-time retrofit spreads the deep retrofit process out over a strategic period of time, allowing for the integration of future technologies (Femenías et al., 2018). Partial retrofit can also involve several interventions over time but is particularly appropriate to protect architectural works with a high cultural value, retrofitting with the least-invasive energy efficiency measures (Femenías et al., 2018). Energy retrofit of existing social housing tends to be driven by cost, use of eco-friendly products, and energy savings (Sojkova et al., 2019). Energy savings are particularly important in colder climates where households require greater energy loads for space heating and thermal comfort and are therefore at risk of fuel poverty (Sojkova et al., 2019; Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018). Similarly, extremely warm climates requiring high energy loads for air conditioning in the summer can contribute to fuel poverty and will benefit from energy retrofit (Tabata & Tsai, 2020). Femenías et al’s (2018) extensive literature review on property owners’ attitudes to energy efficiency argues that retrofit is typically motivated by other needs, referred to by Outcault et al (2022) as ‘non-energy impacts’ (NEIs). While lists of NEIs are inconsistent in the literature, categories related to “weatherization retrofit” refer to comfort, health, safety, and indoor air quality (Outcault et al., 2022). Worldwide retrofit schemes such as RetrofitWorks and EnerPHit use varying metrics to define low carbon retrofit, but their universally adopted focus has been on end-point performance targets, which do not include changes to energy using behaviour and practice (Fawcett, 2014). An example of an end-point performance target is Passivhaus’ refurbishment standard (EnerPHit), which requires a heating demand below 25 kWh/(m²a) in cool-temperate climate zones; zones are categorised according to the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) (Passive House Institute, 2016).  

Created on 23-05-2022 | Update on 20-09-2022

Life Cycle Costing

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)

Area: Design, planning and building

Life Cycle Costing (LCC) is a method used to estimate the overall cost of a building during its different life cycle stages, whether from cradle to grave or within a predetermined timeframe (Nucci et al., 2016; Wouterszoon Jansen et al., 2020). The Standardised Method of Life Cycle Costing (SMLCC) identifies LCC in line with the International Standard ISO 15686-5:2008 as "Methodology for the systematic economic evaluation of life cycle costs over a period of analysis, as defined in the agreed scope." (RICS, 2016). This evaluation can provide a useful breakdown of all costs associated with designing, constructing, operating, maintaining and disposing of this building (Dwaikat & Ali, 2018). Life cycle costs of an asset can be divided into two categories: (1) Initial costs, which are all the costs incurred before the occupation of the house, such as capital investment costs, purchase costs, and construction and installation costs (Goh & Sun, 2016; Kubba, 2010); (2) Future costs, which are those that occur after the occupancy phase of the dwelling. The future costs may involve operational costs, maintenance, occupancy and capital replacement (RICS, 2016). They may also include financing, resale, salvage, and end-of-life costs (Karatas & El-Rayes, 2014; Kubba, 2010; Rad et al., 2021). The costs to be included in a LCC analysis vary depending on its objective, scope and time period. Both the LCC objective and scope also determine whether the assessment will be conducted for the whole building, or for a certain building component or equipment (Liu & Qian, 2019; RICS, 2016). When LCC combines initial and future costs, it needs to consider the time value of money (Islam et al., 2015; Korpi & Ala-Risku, 2008). To do so, future costs need to be discounted to present value using what is known as "Discount Rate" (Islam et al., 2015; Korpi & Ala-Risku, 2008). LCC responds to the needs of the Architectural Engineering Construction (AEC) industry to recognise that value on the long term, as opposed to initial price, should be the focus of project financial assessments (Higham et al., 2015). LCC can be seen as a suitable management method to assess costs and available resources for housing projects, regardless of whether they are new or already exist. LCC looks beyond initial capital investment as it takes future operating and maintenance costs into account (Goh & Sun, 2016). Operating an asset over a 30-year lifespan could cost up to four times as much as the initial design and construction costs (Zanni et al., 2019). The costs associated with energy consumption often represent a large proportion of a building’s life cycle costs. For instance, the cumulative value of utility bills is almost half of the cost of a total building life cycle over a 50-year period in some countries (Ahmad & Thaheem, 2018; Inchauste et al., 2018). Prioritising initial cost reduction when selecting a design alternative, regardless of future costs, may not lead to an economically efficient building in the long run (Rad et al., 2021). LCC is a valuable appraising technique for an existing building to predict and assess "whether a project meets the client's performance requirements" (ISO, 2008). Similarly, during the design stages, LCC analysis can be applied to predict the long-term cost performance of a new building or a refurbishing project (Islam et al., 2015; RICS, 2016). Conducting LCC supports the decision-making in the design development stages has a number of benefits (Kubba, 2010). Decisions on building programme requirements, specifications, and systems can affect up to 80% of its environmental performance and operating costs (Bogenstätter, 2000; Goh & Sun, 2016). The absence of comprehensive information about the building's operational performance may result in uninformed decision-making that impacts its life cycle costs and future performance (Alsaadani & Bleil De Souza, 2018; Zanni et al., 2019). LCC can improve the selection of materials in order to reduce negative environmental impact and positively contribute to resourcing efficiency (Rad et al., 2021; Wouterszoon Jansen et al., 2020), in particular when combined with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is concerned with the environmental aspects and impacts and the use of resources throughout a product's life cycle (ISO, 2006). Together, LCC and LCA contribute to adopt more comprehensive decisions to promote the sustainability of buildings (Kim, 2014). Therefore, both are part of the requirements of some green building certificates, such as LEED (Hajare & Elwakil, 2020).     LCC can be used to compare design, material, and/or equipment alternatives to find economically compelling solutions that respond to building performance goals, such as maximising human comfort and enhancing energy efficiency (Karatas & El-Rayes, 2014; Rad et al., 2021). Such solutions may have high initial costs but would decrease recurring future cost obligations by selecting the alternative that maximises net savings (Atmaca, 2016; Kubba, 2010; Zanni et al., 2019). LCC is particularly relevant for decisions on energy efficiency measures investments for both new buildings and building retrofitting. Such investments have been argued to be a dominant factor in lowering a building's life cycle cost (Fantozzi et al., 2019; Kazem et al., 2021). The financial effectiveness of such measures on decreasing energy-related operating costs, can be investigated using LCC analysis to compare air-condition systems, glazing options, etc. (Aktacir et al., 2006; Rad et al., 2021). Thus, LCC can be seen as a risk mitigation strategy for owners and occupants to overcome challenges associated with increasing energy prices (Kubba, 2010). The price of investing in energy-efficient measures increase over time. Therefore, LCC has the potential to significantly contribute to tackling housing affordability issues by not only making design decisions based on the building's initial costs but also its impact on future costs – for example energy bills - that will be paid by occupants (Cambier et al., 2021). The input data for a LCC analysis are useful for stakeholders involved in procurement and tendering processes as well as the long-term management of built assets (Korpi & Ala-Risku, 2008). Depending on the LCC scope, these data are extracted from information on installation, operating and maintenance costs and schedules as well as the life cycle performance and the quantity of materials, components and systems, (Goh & Sun, 2016) These information is then translated into cost data along with each element life expectancy in a typical life cycle cost plan (ISO, 2008). Such a process assists the procurement decisions whether for buildings, materials, or systems and/or hiring contractors and labour, in addition to supporting future decisions when needed (RICS, 2016). All this information can be organised using Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology (Kim, 2014; RICS, 2016). BIM is used to organise and structure building information in a digital model. In some countries, it has become mandatory that any procured project by a public sector be delivered in a BIM model to make informed decisions about that project (Government, 2012). Thus, conducting LCC aligns with the adoption purposes of BIM to facilitate the communication and  transfer of building information and data among various stakeholders (Juan & Hsing, 2017; Marzouk et al., 2018). However, conducting LCC is still challenging and not widely adopted in practice. The reliability and various formats of building related-data are some of the main barriers hindering the adoption of LCCs (Goh & Sun, 2016; Islam et al., 2015; Kehily & Underwood, 2017; Zanni et al., 2019).

Created on 05-12-2022 | Update on 16-01-2023


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