Retrofit, refurbishment and the growth of connected HVAC technology
This article was originally published by BSRIA in March 2016, as ‘BSRIA launches White Paper on Retrofit, Refurbishment and the Growth of Connected HVAC Technology’.
The vast majority of premises are small-to-medium sized. Much of the existing building stock, both commercial and residential, is inadequately insulated and uses outdated, inefficient HVAC technologies. They often have control systems that function poorly, if they have them at all. Many have never been re-commissioned, even where there has been a change of use.
 Key issues
Some of the requirements, such as the need for improved understanding and qualifications, go beyond the reach of the individual supplier, and require cooperation with other industry players, and potentially with public authorities.
In response to these issues, BSRIA held an executive Diamond Group discussion at the AHR exhibition 2016, involving 34 senior personnel from the industry.
The majority of participants were from North America and so it may be assumed that the findings have a North American slant, even when they discuss issues of international relevance.
 Refurbishment and retrofit the mid-market building
 Drivers and objectives for refurbishment and retrofit
Julia Evans, Chief Executive, BSRIA, said:
“In North America there tends to be a more ruthless attitude towards older buildings than in Europe, unless they are protected. Hence, rather than refurbish buildings, it is quite common practice to demolish old premises and build new on the same site.
“The first and most important criterion is user comfort, closely followed by productivity. When building users begin to complain about the level of comfort the building owner is prompted to refurbish.
“However, although users may complain about discomfort, they typically do not want to pay for the refurbishment. In contrast, the building owner will rarely choose to refurbish the building before any deterioration starts costing him or her money. Interestingly, it was the demand for an enhanced level of comfort that was emphasised as the principal driver for refurbishment, rather than the energy bill, though more energy efficient solutions are sought.
“For the owner or developer, the key objective is to make the building saleable or rentable. Providing effective HVAC is a principal concern and customers want easy, hassle-free and risk-free solutions.”
Lifecycle costing is often cited as a panacea for many building ills. However, while lifecycle costing offers benefits it often sits uncomfortably with existing habits, traditions or priorities, which still tend to attach a lot of weight to the initial ‘up front’ cost, as opposed to the longer term benefit. There is also a need to get over the three-year payback constraint if life cycle costing is to be taken seriously. New solutions, like VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow), are increasingly analysed on the basis of lifecycle costing but for the true implementation of such a practice a change of culture is needed.
Packaged equipment is an attractive solution for buildings of one to two storeys, and rooftops will often be used for retail buildings. Frequently the choice is being made to retrofit using new products such as VRF systems, as well as with more advanced chillers. These can be combined with more energy-efficient devices, such as magnetic compressors. VRF controls are becoming more sophisticated and will include multi-zone solutions and connection to the cloud.
Where boilers are used, the condensing type is taking market share from the non-condensing type. It is thought that traditional technologies in air-conditioning will remain but that their degree of connectivity and operational functions will evolve.
Systems need to become better at registering human behaviour and responding to this, for example, through automatic adjustment of their settings, and also by making it easy for users to input their preferences. This needs to be combined with systems that are capable of modulating their control signals in a more subtle and gradual way, rather than simply cutting in or out. This will result in control solutions that are more refined.
Wireless communications are becoming very popular but soon they will not be considered a differentiator as all companies will offer wireless solutions. Nevertheless, they are well-suited to building retrofits.
Although new innovations will continue to come along, there are plenty of existing, even traditional products, from simple thermostats all the way to more advanced chillers that provide cost-effective solutions when correctly applied. Efficiency can then be improved by equipping these traditional products with more energy-efficient components. A significant advantage of such an approach is that contractors, maintenance and facility management companies are already familiar with existing solutions.
 Weak or lack of regulation or legislation
As far as the USA is concerned, the regulations that exist are often weak. In general, legislation is lagging behind although there are some signs of change. A few states, such as California and New York are leading the way. Legislation is expected to be an important factor in the integration of renewables, energy storage and back-up power generation for buildings. But until there is substantial change in terms of legislation, there is little ‘push’ for building owners to do more than is implied by purely financial concerns.
 Demand for quick return on investment (ROI)
A significant barrier exists in that demand for a quick ROI conflicts with lifecycle models. Achieving a three year payback is a challenge for some investments, and in the commercial sector, emphasis tends to be on the immediate balance sheet impact. Whether the end user is a tenant or an owner will make a difference to whether they invest, and lack of finance for investments can also present a problem.
“There are issues around the availability of skills and understanding at all levels. Designers, contractors, clients, facility managers and operators all need a better understanding of the factors and processes that impact on building efficiency. The much vaunted ‘performance gap’ between a building’s specification, and its measured performance often derives from this lack of understanding.
“Getting a skilled workforce in place to service and support the retrofit of mid-size buildings is a challenge. There is a need for better and more widely used and recognised qualifications, certifications and training from the specialist right down to the routine ‘front desk’ role. A common language across the trades and applications is required.
“Attracting the younger generation is a key challenge for our industry. Not only must the industry be shown to be more than just a ‘dirty building site’, it must be made far more accessible through targeted marketing and pathways to the trades, such as apprenticeships and links to educational facilities.”
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Organisations with conservation links have been collating resources on COVID-19 impacts, including Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS), Historic Environment Forum, The Heritage Alliance (THA), and Historic England, on cleaning surfaces.
Councils are reported to be considering taking up rarely-used executive powers to keep the planning and development system moving during the coronavirus pandemic.
Historic England's 'After a Flood' provides timely advice on how to dry walls properly and avoid further damage to the building fabric.
Context Issue 162 offers a peek into an archive of timber conservation history through the records of the practice of FWB and Mary Charles Chartered Architects.
To meet the government’s target of being carbon neutral by 2050, we must recycle, reuse and responsibly adapt our existing historic buildings, according to this year’s Heritage Counts report, so Historic England and partners are calling for a reduction in VAT rates to incentivise this more sustainable option.
Donald Insall Associates, with the help of Historic England, has completed restoration work of Moseley Road Baths, being converted for use as an arts and culture venue.
Celebrate your local ‘retired members’ and ‘successful learners’ with £500 cash prizes and 2020 Brighton School places!
The Conservation Hierarchy is a new framework developed by the University of Oxford to help construction projects achieve Biodiversity Net Gain.
Jacqueline Hughes, senior risk analyst at Equib, in pbctoday discusses how project managers for town centre developments can get their risk management strategies right.
A new paper from the Adam Smith Institute argues that the problem with the High Street has been totally misunderstood, saying that we need to reform restrictive planning rules and reject a policy of managed decline to reinvigorate our town centres.
The Whole Life Cost of Energy (WLCoE) calculator – issued by government in BETA form – is intended to help building owners and operators to understand the full financial cost of the energy their buildings use, and welcomes feedback
New research published by Historic England (HE) shows the value of heritage to England’s economy as it contributes to economic prosperity and growth through jobs in the heritage and construction sectors and from tourism.