Construction workers and architects at a construction site viewed from above.
Technical Summary

Building Retrofitting

Project Drawdown defines building retrofitting as: the renovation of building components (including building envelope, appliances, and controls) to include high-efficiency solutions. This replaces the conventional practice of retrofitting buildings with conventional solutions. 

Building retrofits can be undertaken in a myriad of ways, initiated by either the building owner or manager, the tenant, or an external party, and with a suite of different financing models. The most suitable measures can also vary considerably depending on the climate and the building location, shape, and form. Most building retrofits focus on either passive design measures such as improving the building envelope (e.g. installing better insulation and double-pane window glazing), or active design measures to improve the efficiency of lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), water heating, and plug loads.


Retrofitting encompasses several solutions in the Buildings Sector that have been modeled individually by Project Drawdown. Building retrofits can involve installing better insulation, energy-efficient glazing, more efficient lighting, heat pumps, and efficient water heating. Since these solutions were modeled separately, retrofitting was not modeled in order to avoid double-counting. Modeling retrofitting was also impractical, since building retrofits vary greatly depending on the size of the building, its location, the climate where the building is located, and other factors.


The emissions and financial impacts of retrofitting are included in individual solutions in order to avoid double counting. For more information, see the Sector Summary: Buildings link below.


While many initiatives focus on new buildings, in most countries the majority of the buildings that will make up the urban environment by the year 2030 already exist. Improving building energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective and fastest ways to reduce electricity demand and associated fuel imports, while indirectly slashing carbon emissions as well as improving local air quality and public health. Energy-efficient buildings are also believed to be healthier buildings, resulting in lower health-related absenteeism or productivity drops. Retrofitting buildings is increasingly used for public relations and brand management, contributing to a company’s ‘social license to operate’, while the green credentials can often also be used to satisfy reporting, procurement, or investment requirements. A retrofitted building is therefore less likely to lose value and be subject to functional obsolescence. For all these reasons, retrofitting for the world’s existing commercial, industrial and residential buildings is compelling.

Often, building the case for retrofitting also means proving the value of investing in energy savings beyond the simple ‘energy cost savings’ story. To do so, it is helpful to tap into what really motivates key decision-makers and show them how energy efficiency can contribute to those goals. The rise of better financing and contracting models that mitigate or eliminate the risk and burden of high upfront cost and somewhat uncertain operational cost savings, as well as schemes that provide incentives to utilities to help their customers save rather than consume more energy, are also increasingly important drivers for greater uptake of building energy-efficiency retrofitting. In addition, a number of global trends are likely to drive interest in retrofitting. For example, new building risks have emerged, such as increased volatility of fuel prices for electricity generation and energy insecurity from dependencies on scarce fossil resources and the locations from which these are sourced.