Sustainable Retrofitting Of Commercial Buildings

5 Tips For Sustainable Retrofitting Of Commercial Buildings

Sustainability and eco-friendly are at the top of everybody’s mind right now. From media to politicians to corporates and even us, everyday citizens.

A huge Climate Change conference with world leaders concluded in the UK in early November 2021, conclusions of which have kept alive the hope to keep rising temperatures at bay.

Although the world is making a shift to clean energy, most of the global energy still comes from fossil fuels.

While world leaders have committed to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, it’s clear that commitments – however big or small – will be needed from all of us to keep our planet habitable for generations to come.

As a developer or commercial building owner, one step you can take towards sustainability is improving the efficiency of your building by sustainable retrofitting.

In this article, I’ll talk you through what sustainable retrofitting of commercial buildings is, why you may want to consider doing it, benefits, any limitations, and how to go about it.

I’ll also share a couple of real retrofit examples for inspiration.

So stay tuned and read on.


What Is Sustainable Retrofitting?

Why Will You Work On Sustainable Retrofitting Of Commercial Buildings? (Benefit vs Limitations) 

Passive Housing and Active Buildings 

How Do You Convert An Existing Building To A Green Building? 

Verdict — Should You Do It? 


What Is Sustainable Retrofitting?

So what is sustainable retrofitting?

Sustainable retrofitting is the act of taking something existing and modifying it to be more energy-efficient.

In the context of commercial buildings, it’s taking an existing building and repurposing it to be more efficient.

You could retrofit a car, your house, factory, hotel, aeroplane or about anything to be more sustainable.

In this article, we’ll talk about commercial buildings and the various ways you can go about retrofitting these.

Why Will You Work On Sustainable Retrofitting Of Commercial Buildings?

To put it simply, it’s primarily because you care about the environment. Let´s talk about Benefit vs Limitations

With the cost of sustainable technology still high, it can be hard to justify the spending and see ROI beyond marketing benefits.

As an environmentally conscious developer, making a difference to the environment might be enough.

And sustainable retrofitting of commercial buildings can yield the following benefits.

  • Save on energy bills due to lower consumption
  • Marketing benefits — people like to be associated with and value sustainable brands
  • Meet any Corporate Social Responsibility Goals
  • Promote and encourage the sustainable materials supply chain
  • Be eligible for Government Grants
  • Future proof against more stringent regulations
  • Increased staff productivity and boost in morale
  • Improved thermal comfort for the people within
  • Possible increase in valuation

But what about the drawbacks? Why shouldn’t you do it?

Adding sustainable principles to your Sustainable Retrofitting Of Commercial Buildings and retrofitting operation means an increase in cost, often in the region of 20-30%, depending on the design specifications.

Eco-friendly materials and technologies are more costly than traditional ones because they haven’t matured or gained enough widespread use to enjoy economies of scale and reduced cost.

For this reason, as a developer, you should really think about whether the value-added and return of investment via the use of sustainable tech will outclass the costs.

The good news is that the world is getting more sustainable and it will be only a matter of time before these costs will drop.

Another challenge worth mentioning when implementing sustainable strategies is that they often attract planning challenges.

For example, if you wish to install solar panels on a listed building, the heritage department might not allow it.

Familiarizing yourself with sustainable technologies is a good investment in your “Know-How” which can yield a competitive Brand advantage as sustainability becomes essential and in high demand.

Passive Housing And Active Buildings

passive house as defined by Wikipedia is

Passive House is a voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, which reduces the building’s ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling

These houses are an example of how the above ideas can be implemented to improve energy efficiency for space heating or cooling.

A passive house can be a brand-new development or refurbishment enabling a constant comfortable indoor temperature using 90% less energy than conventional means.

Active Buildings” are one such category of Passive Housing.

How Do You Convert An Existing Building To A Green Building?

Let’s say you’ve decided to retrofit an existing commercial building with sustainable technologies to reduce energy consumption.

How to go about it?

An important aspect to bear in mind for energy consumption is Thermal Insulation (or heat preservation).

Thermal Insulation

Thermal Insulation is the act of reducing heat lost to the atmosphere by the building.

This is important as this heat helps regulate the building’s temperature and support other energy needs.

Walls, roofs, flooring and cladding can all be thermally insulated by fitting them with eco-friendly thermal insulation material (e.g. wood fibre, cellulose, wool, mineral wool, fibreglass, Expanded polystyrene (EPS), Extruded polystyrene).

You can replace the windows and doors to be more airtight with improved sealing. Air transports heat so this reduces the amount of cold air that enters the building.

Regular maintenance of HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling) systems helps improve their efficiency.

Sustainable Retrofitting Of Commercial Buildings

Solar Energy

The most common of them all, one that comes to the top of mind when talking about sustainability — Solar energy.

Solar energy relies on deriving your energy needs from the sun. You can achieve this via photovoltaic cells, solar panels, or solar heaters.

Deriving even a tiny % of the building’s energy needs from solar energy can compound to massive savings over time.

Although solar is great, the technology to capture and store this energy is still expensive.

With due time, as this hits a critical mass, the cost of solar technology and storage will come down and become mainstream.

Also, how much solar energy the building generates depends on where it’s located. In areas with lots of sunshine, surplus energy can often be produced.

The use of energy-efficient LED lighting may also help cut energy bills.

Rainwater Usage

Like thermal and solar, another sustainable resource is rainwater.

Capturing rainwater for use is a simple yet creative solution to reducing the amount of water consumption.

Rainwater can be collected and stored in tanks, filtered, and used in gardening or plumbing.

Other ideas include using water from the shower or washbasin to flush toilets instead of using fresh water.

Vertical & Roof Gardens

It’s no secret that plants improve the quality of air, provide more oxygen, and keep the surroundings cool.

The Vertical Forest Towers (Bosco Verticale in Italian) in Milan takes this to another level.

This design by Italian Architects Boeri Studio is a residential complex comprising two towers with a vertical forest of trees and bushes along the exterior of the building.

They chose specific high oxygen generating plants for the project due to the urban dense location of the towers.

Similarly, the presence of roof gardens can capture rainwater and maintain a cool, oxygen dense setting to help counter the heat island effect.

Sustainable Retrofitting Of Commercial Buildings

New Facades and Exterior Design

A creative strategy to improve the Sustainable Retrofitting Of Commercial Buildings is via a facade upgrade.

This involves modifying the exterior sections and elevations to:

  • Include more plants and greenery.
  • Control how much sun enters the building during various times of the year. For example more sun during winter and less during summer. This ensures you capture and keep the most possible heat.

One of the best examples of implementing this practise is the transformation of an apartment block in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Danish studio Tegnestuen Lokal redesigned this six-storey slab block to feature angular, plant-filled blocks on the exterior facade.

This not only improves the appearance but also gives residents a relaxing outdoor space to sit, socialise and observe the streets.

Updates to the exterior facade can also protect the building from winds, collect rainwater, and improve heat insulation and acoustics.

Verdict — Should You Do It?

Now that you have a better understanding and ideas to make a commercial building more sustainable, should you do it?

This is a decision of a Sustainable Retrofitting Of Commercial Buildings that’s based on a lot of variables.

As a commercial building owner — are you looking to get a return on investment, doing it as a marketing strategy or because you think it’s the right thing to do?

The answers to these are variable, personal, and influenced by your goals and ambition.

The high initial upfront cost may be offset by reduced energy bills over the next 10 years.

Or your building may experience a massive boost in valuation due to demand for sustainable office space.

It’s all subjective and depends on your circumstances (financial, time) and goals.

If marketing your building is the goal, the ROI can be measured differently from just an uplift in valuation.

Whatever your strategy, having the right building team and suppliers in place who understand local regulations will be key.


There you have it. Some interesting ideas and tips on how to sustainably retrofit an existing commercial building.

We covered the pros and cons of sustainable retrofitting of commercial buildings, tips and strategies on how to go about doing it.

You also saw a couple of real examples of facade upgrades and vertical gardens from 2 interesting projects.

Lastly, we examined the verdict of whether you should invest the money in a sustainable retrofit of a commercial building (or not).

The answer is personal and depends on your goal.

I hope this article gave you valuable insight into exploring a potential retrofit to help decide if it’s the right action for you.

If you liked this article and want to learn more about me or my company WindsorPatania Architects please get in touch via our website

Originally published in Qandor Property Magazine | Issue No. 18 | December 2021 (Page 44)

Giovanni Patania

Giovanni Patania

(Architect Director, Co-Founder) Giovanni Patania is the Lead Architect and Co-Founder at WindsorPatania Architects. Originally from Siena, Italy, Giovanni worked as a Project Lead Architect at Foster+ Partners, designing Apple stores across the world, An Investor himself, Giovanni understands property thoroughly, both from an investor's perspective and technically, as an Architect. With over 15 years of Architecture experience, working on over 150+ Projects, Giovanni has the expertise and credentials to help you on your journey.


Sustainable luxury

Sustainable architecture 101: 15 sustainability terms you need to know

Sustainable architecture seeks to minimise the negative environmental and social impact on the built environment. And as architects, we combine strategic design methods, materials and technology to develop projects that have a positive impact on the surrounding ecosystem and do not jeopardise the health of the inhabitants. 

5 years of WindsorPatania Architects – Where we started

Normally people assign only one role to outdoor living as a lounge place; however, it’s much more than that. Outdoor living space can be a home office, a dining room, a workshop, and more. But it’s important to remember that outdoor space is…