How refurbishing existing buildings opens the door to decarbonisation

The construction industry is responsible for 37% of global carbon emissions, of which 16% represents embodied carbon mainly from material manufacturing, embodied carbon being defined as the emissions already produced from manufacturing and transporting these materials.

As both a main contractor and responsible member of the business community, at ADCO we believe decarbonising our industry is about striking a balance between desirable development and the protection of the environment. Key to achieving this balance is accepting that “desirable development” does not necessarily always have to mean NEW development.

There is a huge role that existing buildings have to play in the decarbonisation and sustainability of the real estate industry. Take central London, for example, where refurbishments accounted for 70% of office real estate construction versus 30% new builds in 2020, rising to 75% refurbishment in the City of London versus 25% new build. As of May 2023, London has seen the highest number of office refurbishment starts in nearly 20 years.

Refurbishment for decarbonisation

The refurbishment of existing structures is a development approach that makes sense for both financial and environmental reasons. Why would you want to go to the expense of tearing down a perfectly good building (assuming it is perfectly good) and disposing of all the waste it creates, only to spend more time, resources and money to put something else up in its place? Constructing new buildings is very carbon-intensive, in addition to the emissions produced during a building’s life cycle.

In a society and economy so committed to recycling, that would be incredibly wasteful. With the foundations and structure of a building preserved, refurbishing it can save between 50 – 75% of embodied carbon emissions compared to constructing a new one.

In many cases, an existing building can be stripped right back to its bare bones and have a new façade as well as a more energy efficient heating and cooling system installed.

Retrofitting to maximise energy efficiency

Decarbonisation is not concerned only with limiting the amount of embodied carbon in the construction materials, but also with reducing the carbon emissions the building will produce over its lifetime.

A retrofit  focused on increased energy efficiency will see the potential replacement of a building’s existing equipment, including its heating, cooling and air conditioning systems, lighting, and insulation with more efficient up-to-date alternatives.

Refurbishing an existing building can increase its value

Energy-efficiency retrofits can reduce a building’s operational costs, particularly in older properties, as well as help to attract tenants. Different types of energy efficiency retrofits can provide a variety of different benefits to a building. For instance, LED lights as part of a lighting redesign can reduce the lighting system’s energy consumption by 70% or more, resulting in lower utility bills and ongoing costs. 

Inspiration: One of the world’s most energy efficient buildings

An extreme example, but a shining beacon of how retrofitting an existing property can deliver supreme energy efficiency, all of the 6,514 windows in New York’s Empire State Building have been replaced, reusing 96% of the original frames and glassware. The installation of 67 elevators that generate electricity instead of heat when braking have already contributed to helping the building reduce its energy consumption by more than 40%, with annual energy savings of $4.4 million.


ADCO Project: The Irish Aviation Authority, The Times Building

This project saw the refurbishment of this listed building on Dublin’s D’Olier Street.

It included the demolition and drylining of several internal walls, the installation of oak skirting and fireproof doors, as well as the addition of ironmongery on site. 

With many nearby businesses operating as normal, we successfully implemented acoustic attenuation to minimise interruption to work at neighbouring offices.

Read more about The Irish Aviation Authority project here


Work with ADCO on your next refurbishment project

At ADCO, we incorporate sustainability in our projects. If you’re looking for a main contractor with a stated commitment to environmental responsibility and a proactive attitude to sustainability built into their business, contact the team at ADCO today to find out more.

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