Retrofit insulation work in building

The UK has to retrofit 3% of its building stock every year to meet its 2050 net zero target. Credit: Erik Mclean


Net zero transition depends on ‘retrofitting revolution’

JLL has modelled an over 70% reduction in energy use in some office refurbishments, highlighting the major role retrofits must play in decarbonisation.

Although the amount of energy savings – and, therefore, cost savings – depends on the age of the building and when it was last refurbished, JLL said its findings were cause for optimism.

Net zero refurbishments can “typically” produce at least a 50% reduction in energy use, its research found.

Energy consumption in offices needs to fall to 55 kWh per sq m to meet net zero targets, according to the London Energy Transformation Initiative. The current average for new office buildings is 160 kWh per sq m.

In one of JLL’s case studies, a central London office from the 1920s – and refurbished in 2006 – cut its energy use intensity by 70%, leading to annual savings of £285,000 and close to 200 fewer tonnes of emitted CO2. Over a 10-year period, the retrofit would lead to a 225bp increase in total return.

The building’s energy use also fell from 200 kWh/sq m to 55-60 kWh/sq m – within touching distance of the LETI target, suggesting that refurbishments could make a significant dent in emissions.

However, JLL did not say what the upfront cost of the refurbishments was, and other case studies it referred to showed smaller reductions of between 46-66%.

The study focused on the UK, which has a legally binding target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Reaching that target would require the country to retrofit 3% of current stock every year, according to JLL.

Emma Hoskyn, head of sustainability at JLL UK, said: “The UK has set ambitious targets and there remains a strong will to reduce the outsized impact of the built environment on emissions, particularly in our largest cities. But we will need a retrofitting revolution if we are to achieve our targets and reduce emissions.”

She added: “While this represents a significant challenge, it is also a major opportunity: carbon refurbishment and higher standards for new buildings will result in long-term energy cost savings.

“In a time of high fossil fuel prices and volatile supply levels, this should focus minds on what we need to do realise this ambition and accelerate the shift in how we power buildings. We also need to be aware of the quick wins we can make in a time of high energy costs. Upgrades to fittings and more sophisticated controls can cut electricity bills by a quarter.”

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