Retrofit for purpose: Old buildings get a green facelift

Waltham Forest College interior The retrofit of Waltham Forest College has helped reduce energy costs by £127,000 a year so far

One of the best ways of reducing energy consumption and saving money is retrofitting - in effect, adding new tech to old kit.

Technologies, such as thermally-efficient cladding, LED lighting, heat exchangers and smart metering, could save UK businesses £3bn to £5bn a year, according to the Carbon Trust, the energy saving advisory body.

 Technology of Business

Old buildings are leaky, wonky and inefficient with heating, cooling and lighting systems that often work in competition with each other rather than in harmony.

We can either knock them down and start from scratch - an expensive and often impractical option - or use what technology we have to give them a green facelift and bring them into the 21st Century.

Waltham Forest College, a further education college in North East London with buildings dating from the 1930s, has managed to reduce energy costs by 25% so far - or £127,000 a year - following an extensive retrofit programme involving new cladding for "1960s excrescences", double glazing, solid wall insulation and a heat exchange system for the swimming pool.

The project recently won Non-domestic Retrofit Project of the Year at the 2013 Retro Expo awards.

Lowery Building Waltham Forest College's Lowery Building: Before its facelift...
Waltham Forest College Lowery Building Waltham Forest College's Lowery Building: After its facelift

"We're aiming for zero carbon emissions by 2016," says Richard Hopkinson, the architect overseeing the project in collaboration with Platform 5 and Waltham Forest College's in-house team.

Changing the college culture towards sustainable energy use has been as important as the physical upgrade, he argues.

"Now that people see how their run-down building is being cared for again, they're taking far more care over how they use energy," says Mr Hopkinson.

The next phase of the £35m project will see a switch to a gas-fired combined heat and power system that will use waste heat to warm the swimming pool and then extract heat from it overnight, as well as a new centre for engineering excellence.

Precision engineering

Gumpp & Maier UK was another Retro Expo winner for its timber-based energy system (TES) facade - a sort of precision engineered, thermally-efficient cladding.

"Creating an air-tight layer is always the most difficult bit of retrofitting," says Martin Montgomery, the firm's UK managing director, "because old buildings are not uniform - they lean and the walls are never straight."

Kindergarten in Yutz, France Kindergarten, Yutz, France: Pre-fabricated wooden cladding can be thermally efficient and beautiful

This entails building up a highly accurate 3D model of the building using traditional surveying technology, such as a theodolyte, with newer gizmos, such as mini-helicopter drones equipped with laser scanners.

Start Quote

Residents currently spend about £40 per week on their gas bills. After the retrofit the bills should come down to about £4 per week.”

End Quote Martin Montgomery MD, Gumpp & Maier UK

The 3D model, which can take months to develop, is then transferred from computer-aided design software to computer-aided manufacturing software for off-site pre-fabrication.

The complicated jigsaw puzzle of parts is then assembled on-site without the occupants having to vacate the building, thus minimising disruption and saving time and money. Mr Montgomery says the company recently clad 400 sq m of a building in six days. A typical terraced house would take about four days, he says.

The cladding is essentially a sandwich of thermally efficient materials, including double or triple glazed windows, that creates an airtight shell around the existing building to retain heat. This can reduce energy consumption by as much as 10 times, he says.

Referring to the firm's current £2.8m social housing project at Parkview Hub, Thamesmead, south-east London, he says: "Residents currently spend about £40 per week on their gas bills. After the retrofit the bills should come down to about £4 per week."

But the technology isn't cheap - £30,000 to clad the typical terraced house, for example - which is why Gumpp & Maier is focusing on office blocks and factories that can afford to spend about £1m to £2m improving their energy efficiency.

Wood panel being crane-lifted in factory Gumpp & Maier's thermally-efficient panels are manufactured off-site

"Other cladding products, such as polystyrene that you simply stick on to existing walls, may be cheaper," Mr Montgomery admits, "but they're certainly not as effective."

The company claims its TES technology can bring buildings up to EnerPHit standards - the equivalent of "Passive House" certification for refurbished buildings. Technically speaking, this means the building's specific heat demand falls to 25kWh/m2 per year or less. In other words, the building is so well insulated traditional heating systems become virtually unnecessary.

Computer generated image of Parkview Hub, Thamesmead Parkview Hub housing development will be wrapped in Gumpp & Maier's insulated timber panels

"We thought [TES] was innovative, flexible, widely applicable and contributing to very high energy performance as well as economic retrofit at scale," the Retro Expo judges said.

Seeing the light

Myles McCarthy, the Carbon Trust's director of implementation, says rising energy costs are a key driver in the retrofit movement.

"Over the past 10 years, the cost of energy has roughly doubled and the government's forward projections suggest these prices will increase by a further 50% over the coming 10 years," he says.

One of the simplest and most cost-effective retrofits is to replace old lighting with the latest LED bulbs and controller technology, argues Mr McCarthy.

"A business, such as a warehouse or large hotel, can save up to 70% of its electricity costs by switching to LED lights with motion sensors," he says, "and receive a payback on the capital outlay within two years."

Longer-life bulbs reduce maintenance costs as well, he added, and replacing them causes minimal disruption to the business.

The bottom line is that greener businesses are more competitive businesses, he argues.

Retrofitting may sound backward, but it could give your business a sustainable future.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    KITTY NOT CAT 10:20:
    Kitty visa card

    With something of a jolt, Business Live stumbles on this story from our youthful colleagues at Newsbeat. Japanese top icon Hello Kitty is not a cat. An anthropologist from the University of Hawaii who is organising an exhibition about the cartoon character, says owners Sanrio got in touch: "That's one correction Sanrio made for my script for the show. Hello Kitty is not a cat. She is a little girl." And, incidentally, an English one, she was told.


    It is worth noting that the raison d'etre of the FLS scheme may have expired. As the bank pointed out earlier this month, overall bank lending to non-financial businesses rose slightly in the second quarter of the year. That was the first such increase since 2009 and the bank expects it to keep on improving.


    Figures from the Bank of England show that its Funding for Lending Scheme, which has revived the mortgage industry, has still not increased lending by participating banks to small, medium sized, or large businesses. The Bank says in the second quarter of this year, banks and building societies borrowed a further £3.2bn from it under the scheme. But in fact lending by those banks to their business customers shrank again, by a further £3.9bn.

    FRACKING CASE 09:29:

    Frackers have some backers. A court will hear a case later from farmers and landowners trying to evict anti-fracking protestors from sites in Lancashire. The group of 10 landowners say the protests on sites at Little Plumpton and Rosacre Wood have been affecting business. Their legal action is being supported by the shale gas company Cuadrilla.


    European shares have opened lower. The FTSE 100 is down 15 at 6,815. Frankfurt's Dax is 64 lower at 9,505 and Paris's Cac 40 is down 17 at 4,378. London shares are lower after key mining companies' shares fell in response to a fall in the price of iron ore in China. The pound is not much changed at $1.6585 and at 1 euro 25.56.


    Our World Service colleagues are reporting that the FBI is investigating reports that Russian-backed hackers are suspected of launching a co-ordinated attack on American banks' computer networks. The FBI says it is trying to find out whether the attack on JP Morgan, one of the biggest US banks, along with four other financial institutions, was in retaliation for sanctions against Russia. The hacking is reported to have involved the theft of sensitive customer data.

    PADDY POWER 08:29:
    David Moyes statue outside Anfield

    The betting business says it has experienced a record 35% rise in the number of new customers at 795,000 more punters. It says it has done this without increasing spending on marketing. Spending on stunts, however, included these: "We put an 'In case of emergency break glass' encased Alex Ferguson wax model outside Old Trafford... and erected a giant bronze statue of Moyes for services rendered - outside Anfield before the Liverpool versus Chelsea showdown."


    More airline news. Russia's state-controlled Aeroflot reports a loss of 1.9bn roubles (£35m) for the first half of 2014. That compares to a 45m rouble profit a year ago. The slowdown in the economy and a fall in the value of the rouble against other world currencies are among the reasons.

    QANTAS 08:03:

    Shares in the Flying Kangaroo are up 7.3% at A$139 in the wake of its hefty loss. "We are focused now in the short to medium term on the transformation program," said chief executive Alan Joyce. "We are not actively out there looking for an airline investor." Investors are actively buying its shares though - a new law is opening the doors to foreign investment in the international arm of the airline.

    AA logo

    There seems to be some upheaval at the top of the AA. Its chief executive Chris Jansen is resigning immediately. The chief financial officer Andy Boland is leaving too.

    ICE SALES 07:39: Radio 5 live
    Alex Brown of Exeter Chiefs takes part in the Ice Bucket Challenge

    The charity ice bucket challenge appears to be boosting the sale of ice cubes. Tesco says they're up 20%. Paul Doughty, managing director of The Ice Company told Wake up to Money his firm had been busy restocking supermarkets - which saw big sales last weekend. But he explained that this was a bit of a challenge. "At this time of year, we are actually ramping down production, sales get run down over the summer, and we start to reduce our staffing levels in our factories through August."

    LIVING WAGE 07:31:

    What is is? It is set at £8.80 an hour for London and £7.65 for the rest of the UK. Find out here. The minimum wage - the government's base line, is £6.31.

    PADDY POWER 07:26:
    Paddy Power pic from website

    Betting giant Paddy Power says pre-tax profits are down 13% at £62m for the first half of the year. The company says many football punters had "dream weekends" in January and March, with 16 and then 17 teams of the 21 most backed winning. "This proved costlier than John Cleese's divorce", says Paddy.

    HAYS RESULTS 07:16:

    Profits have risen at the recruitment business Hays, which operates in 33 countries. Profits rose 12% in the past year to £132m. Dividends are up 5%. "In many of our global markets, the vast majority of professional and skilled recruitment is still done in-house, with minimal outsourcing to recruitment agencies which presents substantial long-term structural growth opportunities," the company said.

    LIVING WAGE 07:05: BBC Radio 4

    On the TUC Living Wage story: TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady tells Today that women come off worse because there is low value attached to the jobs women tend to do, such as care working and shop work.

    LIVING WAGE 06:53: BBC Radio 4
    Care worker

    Today is discussing the Living Wage concept. In many parts of Britain, women working part-time earn less than the Living Wage, says the TUC. Three quarters of part-time women workers in Lancashire do, as do two thirds of part-time women workers in West Somerset. TUC chief Frances O'Grady explains: "The minimum wage is an absolute floor, the Living Wage is the level that means you can take your children on holiday for a week - nothing fancy." The minimum wage is £6.31.

    QANTAS 06:42:

    Can Qantas solve its huge financial problems? The BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney says: "The airline's annual accounts have become a horror story of decline as it tries to chart a path back to profit and sustainability". Read more.

    MALAYSIA AIRLINES 06:32: BBC Radio 4

    Can an airline survive two major plane disasters in a single year? Today says that's the question for Malaysia Airlines. Those who have flown on the airline recently report near empty cabins. Can Malaysian Airlines survive? David Learmount from Flightglobal thinks so. "Malaysia will be given a chance by the government and it will be given some money. People don't like seeing airlines go bust," he told Today listeners.

    BUSINESS LENDING 06:22: Radio 5 live

    Wake Up to Money looks forward to later this morning when the Bank of England will give us an update on its Funding for Lending scheme - introduced two years ago to encourage banks to lend to small businesses. It's not been a rip-roaring success: a previous report said, despite all that help, the amount of money being lent was down £2.7bn over the first three months of this year.

    QANTAS 06:12:
    A Qantas Airline plane gets takes off at Sydney Airport in Sydney on August 28, 2014

    Overnight Australia's national airline Qantas reported a huge loss of A$2.8bn for the past year - its biggest ever. That was partly due to writing down the value of its planes by A$2.6bn. Qantas added weak domestic demand, poor consumer spending and rising fuel costs also contributed. Chief executive Alan Joyce tried to put some gloss on the figures: "There is no doubt today's numbers are confronting... but they represent the year that is past".


    Pro-independence business people in Scotland have hit back. 200 of them have signed a letter, appearing in the Herald online, saying that the business case for independence "has been made - and it's strong and ambitious". They add: "The real threat to Scotland is the real possibility of a British exit from the European common market".

    Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    The monitor has been fitted and off we go. You can plug in to us or @bbcbusiness. Here until 13:00.

    06:00: Ian Pollock Business reporter, BBC News

    Good morning, the Business Live page will have its finger on the business pulse, just for you.



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.