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What is retrofit construction and how can we really tackle it?

What is retrofit construction, and why is this such a hot topic in the industry today? Let’s start with the inevitable industry wide shift toward sustainability. Sustainable building practices now use new technologies, materials, and procedures in new construction projects. This is the new standard per laws and building codes. But what about existing structures?

Renovation, retrofit, and refurbishment of existing buildings represent an opportunity to upgrade the energy performance of commercial building assets for their ongoing life. —Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

What is retrofit construction?

Retrofit projects aim to make buildings more energy efficient and save money. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy describes retrofits as “modifications to existing commercial buildings that may improve energy efficiency or decrease energy demand. In addition, retrofits are often used as opportune time to install distributed generation to a building. Energy-efficiency retrofits can reduce the operational costs, particularly in older buildings, as well as help to attract tenants and gain a market edge.”

Why does retrofit construction matter?

Besides the obvious motive of avoiding hefty carbon fines and other penalties, there are many reasons to retrofit a building. Retrofit construction will help guide the industry through its inevitable clean energy transition. And save tons of money in doing so. Some examples of retrofitting include:

  • Changing out lights from incandescent to LED to use less electricity

  • Updating mechanical equipment to ensure spaces are heated and cooled and controlled by thermostats, which allow the equipment to use less energy and save money

  • Preventing the debris that is generated during demolition from reaching landfills

How can we tackle retrofit construction given the industry’s rampant labor shortage?

Before we can tackle the gamut of retrofit projects, we must address the labor shortage. Business owners need to ensure the trades understand the need for retrofits. Then build with sustainability in mind.

Current projections estimate the construction industry’s labor shortage to be 650,000 workers shy of what is needed. Addressing this issue is multifold:

  • Expose younger generations to the industry so they’re more willing and likely to get involved

  • Lessen the mental health burden of construction workers, specifically tradespeople

  • Close the gap on the number of needed workers, and the industry may be able to take on the tremendous task of updating our country’s aging buildings and infrastructure

This does present a unique opportunity. A whole generation of workers can join the industry and be taught the importance of sustainable building. If we capitalize on this advantage—a new generation of workers uninfluenced by long standing building practices—we can turn the tide toward sustainable building as a new standard.

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