Commercial property sector must take a city scale view of retrofit projects

Commercial property needs to 'up its game' on urban retrofit

Some 70 per cent of commercial properties will still be standing in 2050, which is why retrofitting, or re-engineering, a city’s built environment and infrastructure is so essential. However, research led by Professor Tim Dixon of the University or Reading’s School of Construction Management and Engineering  has found that despite examples of ‘light touch’ retrofit (such as LED lighting, improved building services and building management systems), the rate of retrofit in the sector is low; being hampered by complexity, fragmentation and conservatism. And crucially, the commercial property sector does not take a city scale view of retrofit projects and so is ‘city-blind’ to retrofit opportunities, which is also slowing progress.

Tim Dixon said: “This research shows that the commercial property sector still has much to do in order to connect with the wider community in cities. Part of the problem lies in finding a consistent definition for retrofit, but we also need to have an integrated retrofit focus on energy, water and waste, and not just energy.

“This is a very different sector from domestic property, and its diversity, complexity and its risk-averse nature all present big challenges. But if we are to make commercial property retrofit work at scale we will need to see mandatory standards such as DECs, and stronger and more collaborative partnerships at city level, especially based around decentralised energy schemes.”

Given that commercial property produces 10% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and consumes 7% of UK energy, the report says it is surprising that UK business is overlooking a potential cost-saving of £1.6b through under-investment in energy efficiency, with the UK’s commercial retrofit market potential estimated at £9.7b.

The research, which forms part of the EPSRC Retrofit 2050 programme, summarises the key challenges to retrofitting at city scale in the sector, and sets out insights for the future.

Major changes to policy and practice are needed to increase progress in the sector:

  • Mandatory Display Energy Certificates (DECs) are needed in commercial property, underpinned by incentives, for example, through business rates and stamp duty reductions for more energy efficient property.
  • Restructuring of the Green Deal is needed, and increased support from the UK Green Investment Bank is required at city level.
  • An approved products and suppliers list is needed for commercial property retrofit so that users have the best and most appropriate levels of information about retrofit technologies.
  • Better ‘performance in use’ data is needed for commercial property and improved support for new and emerging technologies is needed.
  • There needs to be a clearer consistency in commercial retrofit assessment standards around BREEAM, Ska Rating and other related standards.
  • There should be better consistency in monitoring and verification standards, perhaps based around the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP®).

The report, ‘City-wide’ or ‘City-blind?’ An Analysis of Emergent Retrofit Practices in the UK Commercial Property Sector is part of the wider EPSRC Retrofit 2050 programme of work and can be downloaded here.