Project Management: the key to retrofit success

Improving the energy efficiency of our existing building stock is a vital step on our journey to net zero.   If we are to meet our agreed targets and reduce emissions to pre 1990 levels, the wholesale repurposing and retrofitting of our built assets is essential. But work to any existing building or structure can be complex. Matthew Gerken, explains how a robust project management strategy helps clients navigate through the challenges.

Why retrofit?

In the UK, 50% of residential and 39% of non-residential buildings were built before 1970, prior to the introduction of thermal insulation regulations. Assuming an annual building replacement rate of 1-1.5% it is estimated, that in 2050, some 70% of today’s buildings will still be in use, with some 40% of those having been constructed prior to 1985, when Part L of the Building Regulations – Conservation of Fuel and Power - was first introduced.

What do we mean by retrofit?

Retrofit would ordinarily be defined as adding something that a building did not have when it was constructed. However, when considering the terms in the context of energy reduction and Net Zero Carbon targets, it can be said to involve the  “construction  approach  involving  the  action  of  introducing  new  materials,  products  and  equipment  into an  existing  building  with  the  aim of  reducing  the  use  of energy  of  the  building.” (Baeli, 2013)

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Our Project Management approach to Retrofit

A robust project management strategy defined at the outset of a project will ensure goals are delivered on time and within budget. A Project Manager (PM) or Retrofit Coordinator will effectively co-ordinate the project providing management and leadership for retrofit programmes.

Through our role as Project Manager, we provide continuous guidance to steer the team towards successful outcomes through four key project stages:

1. Project Conception

During the conception of a retro fit project, our Project Manager's first step is to define a clear brief, setting out objectives, budget and timescales and defining clear roles and responsibilities.

Understanding the nature and location or locations of the buildings being developed is critical at this stage. The type, age and original construction, the use and the suitability of that use, how the building has been altered and repaired, and its condition all need to be ascertained.

2. Project Planning

In the planning stage of the project, suitable resources need to be allocated, with the appointment of designers with experience of, and a track record in, retrofit projects.

Successful retrofitting requires a careful, considered balance between the different elements being fitted, their effect on the overall performance of the building and each other. So the appointment of the correct consultant team is crucial. Given the interaction between existing and new elements of the fabric, the importance of the mechanical and electrical systems and the number of renewable energy solutions in the market, a coherent design is vital. An ill-informed choice in one part of a building can affect another, and sometimes this only becomes apparent as a result of defects arising.

High level cost planning is perhaps more difficult due to the unique nature of retro fit projects but the appointment of an experienced cost manager will allow for early options to be costed and a project budget set. We produce a development programme to sit alongside the cost plan and brief to support the procurement of required design services as the project evolves.

In addition to the cost plans and programmes produced at this stage, we also keep a register of key risks to the project, to allow for efficient management and mitigation should they arise through the remainder of the project.

"Inappropriate retrofit measures can lead to unintended consequences and potentially risks to human health. The age and status of the building can greatly influence the degree of risk associated, and there are of course risks associated with not achieving expected energy savings, both financial and in terms of the resulting environmental impact".


3. Implementation

During the implementation stage, our PMs retain the focus on the all-important project brief, to see that key decisions retain the project ethos and are directed towards satisfying our clients requirements. With a retrofit project, given the regulatory compliance that will be targeted, and where there is perhaps more interdependency between the various facets of the building, this is particularly key.

As the implementation moves forward, we monitor progress against the project programme, updating clients on the timing of key decisions and instructions required by the wider project team.

As with any project, it is important that costs are also closely monitored, to see that any risks to pre-established limits are highlighted and  controlled. Should an element of the project need to change, the costs associated with such should be agreed, and importantly with a retrofit project, the potential impacts on the overall efficiency of the retrofit proposal need to be rigorously examined by the whole project team.

On the same basis, the quality of construction needs to be closely monitored, with consultant appointments tailored at the outset to include inspections. From the air tightness of the façade to the detailing around penetrations, the performance of the building fabric is of key importance to a retrofit project and ensuring what is installed meets what has been designed, is paramount to achieving the energy efficiency targets set for the project.

With the design responsibilities fully defined and the correct inspection regime in place from the outset, on certifying the project as being complete to the standards prescribed, our PMs can rely on compliance statements from the design consultants, to provide assurance that the building will perform as required.

4. Project Close Out

Following the completion of the works and once the building is fully operational, a post-occupancy evaluation should be completed to determine the overall success of the retrofit works. This ensures lessons are learned for future projects, which is of particular importance to development companies and those owning or managing large estates. These post occupancy reviews can involve the monitoring fuel use, a survey of building occupants or thermographic surveys to see that cold bridges and air leakage has been minimised.

How we can help

Retrofitting our building stock and improving the energy efficiency of our assets is critical if we are to turn the tide on climate change. If you are considering how retrofitting could benefit your property, we can help.

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