Retrofit in Buildings

Grove Cottage Retrofit by Simmonds-Mills

You might have heard the term retrofit but still not know exactly what it means. In the climate debate last year they were all talking about retrofit yet when you search for it online all you get is images of modified old cars?! In this post we look at clearing up exactly what we mean when we say retrofit…

So what is retrofit?

The word is in a sense self-explanatory in that retrofit is the fitting of new technologies to something older. With regard to buildings, I would define retrofit as:

upgrades to the existing building fabric and building services to improve energy efficiency and thermal performance’.

Retrofit is in fact not a new thing. People have been upgrading buildings ever since they were built. Most homes in the UK still have chimneys and fireplaces – indicating that they were once heated by open fires – and yet most have since had central heating systems installed. That’s a retrofit. If your windows have been changed from single glazed to double-glazed unit that’s also a retrofit. If you have had insulation installed in your loft or wall cavity then that’s a retrofit too!

So why has the term started to come to the fore now and what’s different about it?

If you were having your loft insulation topped up then you probably wouldn’t say that you were having your house retrofit but if you are planning to take a whole group of energy efficiency measures at one time then perhaps you are getting closer to it. There is an underlying logic to doing this which I explore in another post looking in more detail at the Whole House Plan. An essential difference in how we are now using the term comes down to making a set of interventions very intentional and having a coordinated approach to doing so. This involves having a Whole House Plan and a Retrofit Coordinator.

There are different types of retrofit which can be opted for; from from a full blown deep retrofit to a light retrofit and of course the cost varies depending on the depth to which it is carried out. There is a lot to say about these different degrees of retrofit and I will address that in my next blog post rather than here. When considering a retrofit, as well as deciding how deep to go it is necessary to consider the time-frame over which the measures are going to be taken – another set of considerations which will also form another separate post.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the choice of the term retrofit has been a slightly unfortunate one as it already has a history of being used in relation to cars. So when you put ‘retrofit’ into your search engine or look for posts with #retrofit you’ll get a lot of results of great looking cars before you get anything about how to go about improving your home!

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