Sustainable refurbishment: Rising to the challenge part 1


Sustainable refurbishment: Rising to the challenge part 1
In our look at sustainable refurbishments for commercial buildings, Sunil Shah considers some of the challenges of transforming existing properties.

The question of how to refurbish a building in a sustainable manner has been asked frequently over the past few years, but increasingly has also come with a question of how this can be measured and achieved. And that is where the difficulties started – and where the originations of my latest book came from.

Refurbishments are becoming increasingly recognised as a valid alternative to new build after many years being seen as simply a way to cheaply extend the life of a building. Historically, the focus has been placed upon new build as a way to develop additional space or the regeneration of areas that have fallen out of favour. New build benefits from starting with a clean slate and with a structured building process requiring planning approval, design and building standards to be met and the introduction of operational strategies to suit the investor. Refurbishments are altogether more complicated with a structure and services already in situ requiring adaptation. It is also arguably a more complex and challenging type of project to get right.

Legislation, corporate responsibility and the reduced access to capital for investment have all contributed to the increased level of refurbishments taking place, together with technological improvements to enable us to better utilise existing buildings. This latter point has helped bring down costs to refurbish, but also has the ability to provide Grade-A rentable space back to the market. Conversely, the lessons learnt with integrating sustainability measures in the design and importantly operational phase of the building from new build has not been transferred across.

A major gap is the relatively little experience in delivering sustainable refurbishment projects, which is commonly delivered as a one off project, rather than a major programme moving forwards. The lack of experience brings with it a host of contributing factors from materials which are not cost effective due to economies of scale, lack of exemplar projects and a reduced level of understanding by the client and design community on how to refurbish in a sustainable manner.

‘Sustainable Refurbishment’ seeks to respond to each of these challenges and has been written to enable the reader to combine the technical aspects of refurbishments together with the regulatory, market and financial aspects. The first section provides a framework to integrate the lessons learnt from sustainable buildings into the refurbishment market together with exemplars. The middle section reviews the carbon agenda within buildings, including the materials to review how a low carbon design and operational philosophy can be used. The final section provides a review of the environmental considerations that can be incorporated including material choice, biodiversity enhancement, water use and transport.